Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Coolest Garage in Town

Liz Winsor’s shop in a garage is a vintage haven and a thrifter’s wonderland

Liz Winsor, owner of Decor Galore on the corner of Sanchez Street and 24th Street

Liz Winsor, owner of Decor Galore on the corner of Sanchez Street and 24th Street

Liz Winsor opened Decor Galore to enter the trade of finding and selling vintage items, not convincing people that her business is not a garage sale. Upon first glance the space could look like a sidewalk sale or a space where a tenant from upstairs is trying to make a few bucks.

“Lots of people assume that I live here. And I don’t,” said Winsor, 54, a San Francisco resident and the woman behind the business. The boutique in a garage has sparked some confusion among customers. “This is a commercial space. I’m in the same building as Pressed Juicery,” clarified Winsor.

Located on the corner of where Sanchez Street meets 24th Street is one of the only shops in San Francisco that is housed in a garage. The space belongs to the lower level of a commercial building that could easily be mistaken for an apartment complex. The bay windows and arched entryway may contribute to this mistaken identity.

Winsor has transformed the space. Once bare walls are now covered with antique mirrors and wall decorations and the tables are lined with numerous vintage items from books to brooches. The shop’s set up is entirely intentional, unlike a randomly thrown together garage sale.

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Everything from new and vintage clothing to posters cover the walls of Decor Galore.

Richard De Pointe, 46, a Noe Valley resident of 18 years and friend of Winsor was there at the beginning. “It didn’t look like a boutique at all. There was no organization,” said De Pointe.

Winsor opened Decor Galore, previously known as The Garage Store, in 2007. “It’s been shops for 30 years, probably more than that,” said Winsor. “It was an antique shop, cigar shop, a computer repair store and a mystery bookstore.” Now decades later, Decor Galore celebrated its fourth anniversary this month on September 16.

Though Winsor happily celebrated another year in the neighborhood, she admits running her business has its moments. “There’s a lot of challenges because I’m in a garage,” said Winsor.

Winsor explained how it’s difficult to physically maintain the space and to maintain its image. Customers often think of the shop as a garage sale and not as a commercial retail store. This has sometimes lead them to think that haggling for prices is acceptable. Winsor also makes it a priority to price items reasonably while balancing her profit margin.

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Winsor’s Decor Galore offers a variety of vintage home decor and accents.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Winsor, “but I do love it.” Not only does her small shop give her a sense of fulfillment, but her customers keep her happy. Winsor’s focus on customer service shows when people come back whether it be to see what’s new or just to say “hi.”

“About fifty-percent of my customers are regulars,” said Winsor. “I’ve gotten really positive feedback. It’s a sweet neighborhood.”

Being the force behind this one-woman operation, Winsor can’t always leave work at work. When she’s buying for her store she keeps her customers in mind. “I always shop for my customers and keep track of what they’re looking for,” said Winsor.

Winsor also makes an effort to buy what she likes. “Now I’ve made the store my store and buy things I like to sell, rather than what I had to sell before,’ said Winsor. Her customers seem to respond well to her choices. “People really enjoy her taste,” said De Pointe.

Winsor is constantly making changes to her store, whether it be the merchandise or the displays. She independently runs her shop with hopes to consistently please her customers. “I’m it. Everything here I’ve done. It’s all me,” said Winsor.

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Winsor adorns the outside of her shop with eye-catching staples and deals.

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Bernie’s: The Place to Be

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There’s always that one place where people go to connect with others, be productive, have fun or simply, just to be. For residents and visitors of Noe Valley, that “third place” is Bernie’s. The small coffee shop with no more than seven tables is tucked into the first floor of a beautiful three-story Victorian. It takes the “warm and homey” feel to a literal level.

The walls are tastefully decorated with black and white photos, but the wall of comical children’s drawings add the perfect touch. The coffee menu has all of the basics with a few seasonal items and just enough food options to crave an unexpected appetite. Free Wi-Fi is provided for all customers, which is as good as gold.

Bernie’s is heaven for the cafe campers of Noe Valley.

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Bernadette Melvin, or Bernie for short, is the woman who provides for the neighborhood’s families, passers-by and coffee fiends. It seems that none would disagree with the fact that Bernie is a friend that you can depend on. Granted that she’s not running between her Noe Valley location that opened in 2007 and her newest downtown location that just opened its doors this past February, she will happily stop to chat.  Dedan Hyatt, who just started working at Bernie’s last week said, “She’s definitely the anchor of the place.”

Isabel Pedraja has been a frequent Noe Valley visitor since 2004. During the last three years she has spent working on the block, she has stopped in for a coffee or a chat almost daily. Pedraja pointed out that Bernie’s “sure has a lot of competition,” with Philz Coffee, Starbucks and Martha & Bros. Coffee Co. residing on the same street, “but Bernie has a great way of making you feel special, and she does a good job of instilling that skill in her staff.”

Hyatt said that people probably keep coming back because it’s “a comfortable place to be.”IMG_0404

Bernie’s coffee shop has come to represent more than just good, local coffee, but has grown to be a Noe Valley staple. The neighborhood just wouldn’t be the same without it. Though it is essentially a business, the coffee shop can be seen as one unofficial community center. Its visitors gather here for meetings, to catch up with friends or just to relax.

Besides providing local coffee and food that won’t break the bank, Bernie’s provides its customers with real human interactions that isn’t easily found in the busy lives of the average San Franciscan.

“[Bernie’s] makes me feel warm inside. It’s kind of cheesy but true,” said Pedraja.

Hey there, Noe Valley!

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If you live in San Francisco, you’ve probably heard someone’s two-cents about Noe Valley. From the things I’ve heard, a lot of them may be true but only seem to brush the surface. Yes, Noe Valley seems to be part of a perfectly-cut, bunch of cookies. The streets are well maintained, youthful parents enjoy brunch with their children and everyone appears to be happy. In comparison to other neighborhoods, it’s on the verge of feeling Stepford Wives-ish.

Noe Valley is quite obviously an affluent neighborhood. Beautifully designed apartments line the strip of Noe Street as far as you can see in both directions. Buzzing coffee shops are full of patrons working away on their MacBook Airs while beautiful young couples load their Whole Foods groceries into their Fiats. During early afternoons, the streets become quiet as everyone is away at work, probably at their tech job. Mostly dog walkers and nannies are scattered throughout the blocks.

Though Noe Valley seems to be a quiet little neighborhood with not much happening, the sense of a strong community definitely exists. I could literally feel it. Sure, the streets can be empty with a few coming and going but there is much more than meets the eye.

It was hard to ignore my initial assumption that this San Francisco neighborhood might be, well, bland. However, when the people I met entered the picture, excitement filled that dull void. I talked to longtime business owners, new residents and people who just like hanging out in Noe Valley. They all seemed to share a common enthusiasm.

Of the people I talked to, several have lived or owned a business in Noe for over a decade. These people had a long history with the neighborhood and unique understanding of it. They have seen all the changes, good and bad, and continue to love the community that supported them for so long. They also all know each other. After mentioning my intent to report on the happenings of their neighborhood, most immediately suggested other people I should talk to.

To an outsider, Noe Valley may appear to be pretty predictable, normal and maybe even lacking diversity. This is the opposite of the reality. During the last few days I’ve spent in the neighborhood, my curiosity has grown and I’m looking forward to sharing the experiences of its community.