Ugly-Ass Roll-Up Door Removed from Former Park Bench Cafe Space

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Sometimes, when you put on your sparkly red shoes and click your heels together three times, your wishes are granted. For a lost girl named Dorothy, that meant returning home to Kansas. Yet for many residents of Precitaville, one such wish would be to remove the heavy steel roll-up door that covers the former Park Bench Cafe on Folsom; the one that makes the streetscape seem so dismal.

Neighbor Nina lives just up the street from the former Park Bench space, and she has spent a lot of time wearing her sparkly red shows and clicking her heels together. Yesterday she finally got her wish: The heavy steel door was removed from the storefront. Hurrah!

But wait … Does the removal of the steel door mean that something exciting and new is coming to the former Park Bench Cafe space, which has been dormant and empty for several fallow years?!?

Why, yes it does. It means exactly that.

But then the question becomes: What’s gonna happen there?!?

Bernalwood doesn’t have many details right now, but lets just say that if you were to put on your sparkly red shoes and click your heels together three times and wish for a delicious gourmet pizza place founded by another longtime Precitaville neighbor… well, we have reason to believe your wish might soon come true.

PHOTO: Neighbor Nina

Epicurean Trader Opening This Morning on Cortland

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This morning, The Epicurean Trader will open for business at 401 Cortland, on the corner of Bennington, for the very first time. Grand Opening! Woo hoo!

That said, when your Bernalwood editor first heard that the business would be called The Epicurean Trader, I was gravely concerned. Sure, the fetishism of San Francisco food aficionados can be a bit obnoxious at times. But a business dedicated entirely to the buying and selling of epicureans? As if they were human chattel? Well, let’s just say that seemed a bit extreme.

Fortunately, co-proprietor Holly McDell helped clear things up. Rest assured, she says, the Epicurean Trader will not engage in the buying and selling of epicureans. Instead, it will facilitate the the buying and selling of artisanal food products to epicureans. Whew! Bernalwood is very relieved.

Here’s what else Neighbor Holly has to say about The Epicurean Trader:

My husband Mat and I moved to Bernal (on Putnam) a few years ago, after having our first child. We fell in love with the neighborhood and the sense of community.

The store is called The Epicurean Trader. Inside the store you’ll find hand-selected small batch artisan products from across America, chosen for their incredible flavors and fusions, natural ingredients, and beautiful packaging.

As you are probably aware, there are many amazing products out there that struggle to get into large wholesale accounts for a number of reasons (reliance on distributors, lack of capital or brand awareness etc). Our goal is to be a brand ambassador for these smaller brands, sharing their unique stories, and bringing many of them to San Francisco for the first time.

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We aim to provide a space for Bernal residents to discover and taste the best artisanal foods from across the country. In addition, we will have a curated selection of wines, craft beers, and small batch distilled spirits. On the wine side we are working with Bernal local Jason Moore of Alluvial Wines, as well as Alex Finberg (former sommelier of Farina, and trusted consultant for some of San Francisco’s top restaurants and markets). They have kindly shared their experience and palates to develop a wine program specifically for the Bernal demographic. We aim to have a selection of amazing wines at every price point, to enjoy both mid week, as well as on special occasions.

By working directly with brands and avoiding distributors wherever possible, we aim to offer these products at affordable prices. We see our product selection as being complementary that of The Good Life and Avedano’s.

We’re also going to have in-store tastings where the artisans and wine makers etc can come and share their stories.

Neighbor Holly says The Epicurean Trader will be open at 11 am today. We say: Welcome!

PHOTOS: Courtesy of The Epicurean Trader

Bernal Neighbors Co-Found High-Tech Veterinary House Call Startup

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Against the backdrop our our recent neighborly conversation about pet etiquette and urgent pet care, Bernalwood learns that a team of Bernal neighbors have banded together to launch VetPronto, a new pet-tech veterinary startup.

Neighbor Joe writes:

Hi. My name is Joe Waltman and I recently moved to Bernal Heights (north slope) with my wife (Lindsay) and two kids (Maddie – 6 months and Will – 2.5 years).

I wanted to let pet-owning Bernalese know about our company, a house-call veterinary service called VetPronto.

We would like to think that house calls are more convenient for the owner and less stressful for the pet. If your furry friends need to see the doctor, please consider a VetPronto house call. And, if you have any questions about your pet’s health, we provide free answers from licensed veterinarians here.

Folks seem to be digging it on the Yelp, and VetPronto even got a fancy write-up on TechCrunch:

A new company looking to make it more convenient for pet owners to see their local veterinarian, VetPronto, is now live in San Francisco. A member of the Y Combinator Winter 2015 class, VetPronto is offering on-demand house call veterinary services for dogs and cats, allowing customers to skip a visit to the clinic or just see a vet at a more convenient time – like on evenings and weekends, for example.

The company was founded last spring by Brian Hur, Joe Waltman, and Soren Berg, the latter two who previously sold their email marketing company to Twitter. Meanwhile, Hur is a former Microsoft systems engineer-turned-vet.

“Once I got into the veterinary industry, I noticed there were a lot of gaps in technology all the way through,”Hur explains. “And since getting out and practicing medicine, I’ve really focused on bridging those gaps and making sure that veterinary medicine can be upgraded for the dot-com era.”

A practicing vet since 2011, Hur did the first 100 or so VetPronto appointments himself, before the company contracted with other area veterinarians. Today, it has five vets working part-time and is soon adding a sixth to serve its customers in San Francisco, which is the startup’s main geographic focus for now.

Here’s the pitch video:

PHOTO: Neighbor Joe Waltman and family, via VetPronto

History Reveals Checkout Lines at Bernal Safeway Have Been Ridiculously Long Since 1972

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Remember how the Citizens of Bernalwood recently took up cyber-pitchforks and -torches to complain about the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway on Mission Street at 29th?  And remember how we hoped — naively, perhaps — that perhaps maybe someone at Safeway corporate might hear our gnashing of teeth, and take pity upon our sad souls, and remedy the situation?

Well, don’t count on it.

Recently, while browsing through a back issue of the Bernal Journal from 1972, your Bernalwood editor was darkly entertained to find an impassioned article complaining about… the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway!

I wish I was kidding about this, but I am not. Behold, a time capsule from 43 years ago, written by Bernal Journal reporter “Vera Disgruntla” (click to embiggen):

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The similarities between this Bernal Journal article from 1972 and the comments section of Bernalwood’s recent post about the Bernal Safeway are comical in their utter sameness.  Here’s a depressing excerpt pulled from the 1972 article shown above:

One man has vowed never to shop there — he gets his meat at the Pioneer Market dry good at 30th and Mission Market, and fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market at the foot of Bernal Hill. Another man goes once a week to the Marina Safeway. A woman told me she and her husband always drive the five minutes further to get to the Diamond Heights Safeway, where, because they never have to wait to check out there, they actually save time! These may be the only real alternatives.

But I am still mad – for me, and everyone around here who continually has this frustrating time waste wait at our store. The faces in the lines seem to say, “it’s always been like this; we’ve ALWAYS had to wait.”

So there you have it. Long lines have been a fixture at our local Safeway since even before 1972, and after 40+ years, it would seem that Safeway management still does not give a flying Fig Newton about the problem. But hey, at least they’re consistent.

In light of these facts, Bernalwood would now like to officially propse the following:

1) Let’s bulldoze this Safeway, since it so obviously suffers from intergenerational corporate indifference.

2) Let’s save that cool Taoist Safeway mosaic, for posterity, or for use in a replacement structure (see below).

3) Let’s build a few hundred units of much-needed housing on this long-neglected site, with the new ground-floor space dedicated to a more modern supermarket (something kind of like that new mixed-use building that was recently erected on Ocean).

4) While we’re at it, let’s get serious about asking BART to build that 30th Street infill station they’re thinking about again. Hurry up, please.

… because really, after banging our Bernalese heads against the walls at this Safeway for five decades, it may just be time to give up and try something else.

And in the meantime, you can read the rest of that 1972 issue of the Bernal Journal (PDF). Here’s another blast from the past from that same issue, featuring a shout-out to all the party people on Mullen and a handy guide to your Precita Park merchants of yesteryear:

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IMAGE: Bernal Heights Safeway, via Google Earth

 

Bank of America Plans to Eliminate Human Bankers from Cortland Branch

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Action Alert: Bank of America has announced plans to eliminate human tellers from the bank’s Cortland Branch.

Bernalwood visited the Cortland Branch yesterday to confirm the rumors that have been swirling around the neighborhood for the last few days.

We were told that BofA does indeed plan to turn the Cortland Branch into an Express Banking Center. That means the building is slated to undergo significant remodeling, with human tellers replaced by a zeal of indoor ATM machines. Safe deposit boxes will be eliminated along with the tellers, but the site will be staffed by non-banker humans to assist with account-management issues. The remaining humans will be customer support people, basically.

As currently envisioned, remodeling will begin in April, with the branch set to reopen in July.

The B of A on Cortland has been there for a long time. A really long time; almost 100 years, practically since the time of the ancient Bernal druids. Which is to say, the B of A on Cortland is very much a local institution. During Bernalwood’s visit yesterday, the Cortland branch was bustling; There was a short line to visit the tellers, as a few more customers waited patiently on chairs to talk with a personal banker. While they still can.

Neighbor Darcy Lee from Heartfelt on Cortland was very sad to hear about BofA’s plan for the Cortland Branch, and she is rallying to keep the human bank tellers there. Neighbor Darcy writes:

As you might know, the B of A plans on renovating our branch to make it indoor ATMs.

I just went in the bank; There were 4 senior citizens waiting for service and 3 merchants in line. I could have made a video right then and there why a neighborhood branch is so important. B of A owns the building, and they want to make it an indoor ATM. They want to stay in Bernal, but just change what they provide.

This has a big impact on us as merchants, and that further extends to our customers that use the bank. There are many senior citizens that use this as a resource in Bernal.

All of us as merchants need money — actual coins and bills — sometimes multiple times in one day. We also make large cash deposits (or, at least hopefully large). From my observation over the years, this bank takes the time to explain to their elderly population often not English speakers what is going on with their accounts and statement charges.

B of A has made this announcement when their process is pretty far along, but I want to fight it.

Stay tuned for more details, but if you’d like to find out more, check in with Neighbor Darcy at Heartfelt.

UPDATE: In the comments, Neighbor Darcy adds:

HI all, Darcy here… thanks for your input- it is helpful to hear what you have to say. Please note that many folks that bank there do not read Bernalwood. There have always been safety issues with this branch, a few botched robberies over the years thus the bullet proof glass, a senior citizen mugged at the ATM. A door that opens during business hours without having to use your ATM card seems important to me, literally and symbolically. I do not feel it is an issue of “yeeesh old folks can learn to use a technology that has been around a long time”. For me it is an issue of letting an institution know that their decision made many miles from 94110 is affecting us. If you have ideas for the cause email me at info@heartfeltsf.com and if you have an account you will close because of this change please also let me know.

PHOTO: “Crowd of people standing outside the Bernal Heights branch of the Bank of America, on Cortland Avenue, after a bank robbery” December 24, 1936, via SFPL Image Library

Valentine’s Day Pro Tip: Floral Popup at Pinhole Coffee Today and Tomorrow

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Here’s a special way to get your Valentine on. Natasha Lisitsa is a ridiculously glamorous Bernal Heights floral designer, and just in time for the arrival of Cupid, she’s doing a pop-up floral boutique today and tomorrow, February 13 and 14, at the fabulous Pinhole Coffee on Cortland.

Natasha says:

My name is Natasha Lisitsa, and I own a floral design studio in Bernal Heights at 1501 Cortland. We don’t have a storefront since we focus on special events and floral art installations, so you probably never seen us.

This weekend I am doing a Valentines Day popup shop at Pinhole Coffee. It will be open from 12-6pm on Friday, and from 9-6pm on Saturday. We will have fresh floral bouquets in variety of colors and prices.

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PHOTO: via Waterlily Pond on Facebook

Bernal Neighbors Exasperated by Long Lines at Local Safeway

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Our Taoist Safeway, is indeed timeless and unchanging. Although, not always in a good way…

Sure, the interior received a sporty makeover a few years ago. But one part of the Bernal Safeway experience never seems to get better: There are seldom enough cashiers, so the checkout lines are infuriatingly long.

This is sad, because in theory, there’s a lot to love about our local Safeway. The location is very handy, and the store’s compact footprint means that finding what you need can be done efficiently. And the prices are reasonable enough by contemporary ridiculous post-gentrification standards. Yet all that is overshadowed by one grim fact: The checkout lines are so insane at our Safeway that many Bernalese have given up on the store entirely.

Complaints about the long lines pop up regularly on social media, but a recent blow-up even got the attention of the hapless soul who staffs the official @Safeway Twitter account. It all started here:

That prompted this Official Response…

… which only generated further rancor, because the long-line problem has been so bad for so long. Pretty soon, the trickle of complaint turned into a flood:

No surprise, then, that the Bernal Safeway gets a paltry two-star ranking on the Yelp. Typical comment:

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So will anyone at the Safeway Mothership actually do anything about this?

Last year, the entire Safeway chain was acquired by a group of private equity investors led by Cerberus Capital Management, which also merged Safeway with the Albertson’s supermarket chain. That does not bode well for the long lines at the Bernal Heights store, because it generally suggests the new leadership team is likely focused on the tricky task of integrating management teams and meeting near-term profitability targets, rather than on the nuts-and-bolts tasks of local staffing and customer satisfaction.

Coincidentally, on January 30, 2015 — one day before the local Twitter blowup — a Supermarket News article marking the completion of the Safeway-Albertsons merger included this comment from Safeway’s CEO:

“We plan to be the favorite local supermarket in every community we serve,” said Safeway president and CEO Robert Edwards, who becomes president and CEO of the newly combined company, effective immediately, in a statement. “We will do this by knowing, listening to, and delighting our customers; providing the right products at a compelling value; and delivering a superior shopping experience. We will also continue to be active members of our local communities.”

Memo to Safeway CEO Robert Edwards: NOT SEEING THIS IN BERNAL HEIGHTS.

But who knows. Maybe someone at the Safeway Mothership will read this and realize they have a problem on their hands at 3350 Mission Street. Maybe they will understand that our Taoist Safeway is a store that many Bernalese want to love, if only the management didn’t make that so difficult. Here’s hoping…

PHOTO: Another long line at the Bernal Safeway, on January 31, 2015, by Li Jiang