August 6, 2009

Comment: Support Local Businesses

Many strong opinions on the state/future of Noe Valley's retail/dining scene in the La Boulange comments. This one deserves its own post:
I don't think anyone is blaming the closure of Real Foods on the protesters, especially not me. I do think the fact that they didn't finish the work they had planned and won't give the space out to other renters has been influenced by the fact that people got involved, started marches, opposed permits for renovations, etc. without considering what a huge anchor store like Real Foods could do to the neighborhood if they boarded up their doors for over 5 years. Why they are continuing to be stubborn and not even feign a reopening plan is beyond all of us.

It's definite that laying off their workers was brash and shouldn't be condoned but you have to take multiple things into consideration and the effect that store has had on the neighborhood by being closed instead of getting even a small iota of support to get them back in the store to hire *new* or rehire old employees and bring shoppers back to the neighborhood.

At this point there is no panacea to fix Noe Valley. The simple fact is that customers are just not there. The best anyone can do is consider the local businesses if they want to keep the few that are holding on for dear life in business and shop with them whenever they can. It would also be good to consider circumstances, if you oppose a liquor license permit for a new local business (La Boulange is local with several stores, does that make it a chain?) a license that was already held by the previous tenant in that location does that hold the possibility that La Boulange will give up and look elsewhere opening the door to another nail salon or possibly a real chain like Gap kids?

LibertyHiller also has a point, people do talk big about support and at times do not stand true to that. But I have seen that Noe Valley customers are our saving grace, they do come to our aid in real times of need. Their support has kept us in business all this time. We shouldn't be chastising our Noe Valley customers in a crisis like this, we should be asking for their help.

As a small independent business owner I am asking, begging you all to support us to the extent you can. By shopping locally or by simply considering possible outcomes when you protest.

There is also another aspect of all this to look at, supporting your local business comes full circle when we in turn donate to the local schools and churches in their parades and auctions. We are also the ones turned to on Halloween when the schools and parent come to our doors with trick or treaters galore. You trust us to be there and we have been. But it is hard to hand out several hundred dollars of free candy to those innocent faces when we close at $32 or our personal worst, $13 dollar days.


LibertyHiller said...

"Rocking the boat" in these times is a little bit like playing economic chicken, I agree.

My take on the Real Foods saga: people in the neighborhood forgot that Nutriceuticals (sp?) is run by Utahns with a reputation for being stubborn. But as I recall, there were plenty of attempts made, both officially and unofficially, and we know how far those have gone.

Here's an anecdote for the old-timers: long before there was a See Jane Run, there was a Noe Valley Sports. The store lasted about 10 years and through a couple of owners, but died around 1989 because the neighborhood wouldn't support it. The founder told me once that she couldn't even get her neighbors to shop there, because they preferred to see if they could save a dollar or two by going to Sears or REI. How little has changed since then.

Anonymous said...

This "shop local" mantra really bothers me. If you open a store that sells food or merchandise that people desire, you will succeed. Money talks, and money follows those that have found a niche in the market. La Boulange sells tasty food at reasonable prices in a nice atmosphere using organic ingredients and compostable forks. They are based in SF, but I could care less if they were based in France.

What if a Noe Valley resident decided to open up a shop that became wildly popular and they opened a second location in the Marina. Should I stop patronizing the store on 24th street? What if instead of opening up a second location they donated all of their profits to Sarah Palin's 2012 presidential campaign or they spent all of their profits on meth? Should I still try and give them as much of my money as possible because they are "local"? "Local" does not equal "good".

Anonymous said...

I've been dying to put this out there with all the brouhaha about Real Foods. But knew I'd have to keep it Anonymous or risk being belted with rotten vegetables by the PC brigade.

Does anyone agree with me that the whole staff at Real Foods DESERVED to be fired. Every last one of them was rude, surly and unhelpful. The Real Foods shopping experience was so frustrating and unpleasant, I often found myself going over to Bell where the long-time employees were sweet, helpful and remembered my name.

And I for one am absolutely convinced that if we'd had the REal Foods anchor store (strengthened with a newer and more well-trained staff) many of the little businesses that couldn't make it without the outside traffic would still be in business. the reality is that the neighborhood itself doesn't generate enough traffic for a business to survive. They rely on a "destination store" like Real Foods to bring in the additional traffic.

Unknown said...

People have commented on the Real Foods 'tude before. But I didn't think it was anything special. I got some attitude from some Bells cashiers, too. Real nice is nice, but I hate that fake corporate-enforced-nice. I don't think Real Foods workers were shafted for being mean to customers, either. Based on their current behavior, I'd say it's management that's always been the d*cks in this narrative. If only we could get that spot condemned, it would look better than it is now.

Anonymous said...

If there are things I want and need to buy in Noe Valley I'll buy them there.
Unfortunately that is often not the case.
I agree with the statement that local does not equal good.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with 5:53pm Anonymous. The staff at RF were the most attitude-riddled bunch around. Yeah I could sort of tolerate their high prices but I couldn't tolerate the people. They deserved what they got but Noe Valley deserved a replacement natural food store there (or something else, for crying out loud! How about a really good and cheap - i.e. authentic - SOUTH Indian restaurant?). Neutraceutical is clearly run by a bunch of numbskulls. How can you blow such a great opportunity? The "Retail loser of the decade award" is clearly theirs!

Bell was OK, but it had it's challenges. Now you want real "corporate attitude" you can go to Safeway...that's simply annoying. I'm happy that Whole Paycheck is going to replace Bell, but there are only a few things to buy there. The ownership at Church Produce, where I used to religiously shop, changed hands and now prices are higher and produce just seems less fresh. So little Noe Valley continues to have its grocery store-related challenges.

Oh, and 5:28pm Anonymous, Boulange, while indeed wonderful (yet still no match for Noe Valley Bakery), does not have "reasonable prices" - since when is a $10 sandwich "reasonable"? Heck, we've already got $7+ hamburgers at Barney's...which my kids love. "Reasonable" calibrates very differently based on your experience and perspective...I just got laughed out of the conversation when a buddy in Texas berated us for such ridiculous burger prices! Yeah maybe, but I live in San Francisco and YOU don't! Neener neener neener! :o)

kaya said...

At this point, I'm ready to capitulate and agree that Whole Paycheck's opening is something to look forward to. I used to shop a lot on 24th, but it's true that without the groceries to bring me there, I just don't much anymore.
Now I'm at odds because before Bell's closure, I vowed to myself only to shop at WF only in an absolute emergency. But if the groceries don't bring me there, I don't know what will.
Is there no middle ground between living in Yuppieville where people don't bat an eyelash doing their daily grocery shopping at a shrine to overpriced food and a souless suburb where people drive to a stripmall offering a sample selection of 10 of 20 possible national chainstores?
I think the situation is a vexing question with implications that reach well beyond Noe Valley.

Anonymous said...

Just a note - nice post (the main one on the webpage). Well written.

Anonymous said...

Offer me products that I want to buy at a reasonable price and with a pleasant attitude and I'll buy. Quit whining about supporting "local" business.

caroline said...

personally, i'm excited for boulange to open. there is no other place for a decent sandwich in this lost hood, and sometimes i just need a flan. i really think calling bay bread a chain is a stretch. started here, flourished here, isn't that why we live in san francisco? quit whining, just like the american apparel who protested in their american apparel t-shirts. i bet you were there with your cute little sign....

Anonymous said...

Real Foods closed YEARS ago. Why on earth are you people still beating that dead horse? Let's move on.

I live in Noe and shop locally when I can. I miss having a supermarket though I loathed the high prices, poor selection, and unprofessional workers at the Cala/Bell. I have since discovered the produce market at 30th and Church and adore it; I will try to continue going there even once WF opens, even though it's a much longer walk.

I buy gifts and whatnot locally. I am sometimes hampered by high prices here, but my time is worth money too, so it's not worth it to me to drive a long distance to save $3 on a purchase.

However, times are tight for everyone, me included.

Anonymous said...

@ Caroline -

Noe Valley Deli is a great place for better-than-decent sandwiches in this "lost hood." Try 'em out sometime!

Anonymous said...

I used to do a lot of my shopping in Noe Valley. But then Real Foods closed (which I LOVED - never had a problem with the staff) and good coffee shops opened in other neighborhoods. I only have so long to go get coffee and run errands - if there was good coffee in Noe Valley, Blue Bottle/Ritual/4b standard, I'd spend more time & money there. Good, organic produce on a daily basis would help too, but I doubt I'll do my main shop at the Whole Foods there.

The person who talked about the stores being too frou frou and impractical (The Urban Nest) is right on. There are a lot of gift style stores and clothing that fits size 0 to 6 but not a lot else. A real gardening store, more stores like the Tuggey's hardware store & the cheese store... Noe Valleyans aren't all made of money anymore, and the stores need to reflect that.

caroline said...

i used to hit up noe valley deli for lunch but just got tired of the grouchy owner. i haven't been back in years, maybe he's nicer now, but i gave up.

Anonymous said...

I'm a recent transplant from over the hill in Cole (home of Boulange de Cole), and have followed this discussion with interest. I have one point of information and one question to add:

First, as to the "reasonable" prices at Boulange. The prices for the prepared foods at Boulange seem similar to what you'll find at other local (meaning throughout the city) cafes. This isn't a deli where you'll get a $5 turkey sandwich wrapped in butcher paper and handed to you in a paper bag. It's a restaurant with table service (you order at the counter), real plates and cutlery, a restroom, high chairs, polite service, and your $10 sandwich is often served hot and with a side of fruit and dressed greens or soup. I like $5 delis and I like Boulange - it's nice to have both. But if you want a good deal at Boulange, here's my recommendation. The demi-baguettes are around $1 (maybe $1.25), you can have them split and toasted and served on (you guessed it) a real plate, and they come with unlimited and delicious butter, housemade preserves (2 flavors) and Nutella. And the staff (at least at Cole) is lovely and doesn't care if you come in and spend $1, leave a small tip (meaning whatever change you have in your pocket), and enjoy your baguette (which is big enough for two, by the way) and a book or some conversation all afternoon. Now that's affordable! Their housebaked breads are also delicious and in many cases comparable to grocery store prices, but fresh and, dare I say it, locally made.

Now for the question. I'd like to get more involved in my new community. I see the links here to Friends of Noe Valley, Noe Valley Association, and Noe Valley Merchants. I'm not a merchant, just a homeowner, resident and parent. I do want to support local businesses (and not just by grousing on sites like these, though that's fun, too :) and a strong local community, and it seems like voices like mine are often absent in the wild fray of San Francisco neighborhood politics. Like a lot of people right now, I'm working less than I'd like, so I have some time to volunteer. What's the best way to get involved in a meaningful way? I'd appreciate your suggestions, and thanks in advance!

Anonymous said...

Contact Friends of Noe Valley and tell them you want to get involved.