When you spend most of our life in one area, you get attached to familiar retail shops and restaurants, even if you rarely enter them. They are anchors for memory, or aesthetic development, or even relationships. But like anything, they eventually fade away. There are a few that should be preserved for cultural reasons, but mostly the attachment is just personal. It’s all personal.
Walking down Sutter Street, I noticed that Klaus Murer Swiss Jeweler, a small, intimate jewelry shop, had closed. It had been there before I moved to San Francisco in January 1977. The interior was so understated and timeless. The lights were usually low, and it looked like a small, almost parenthetical work by the decorator Billy Baldwin.
The other great jewelry store of that period was Tiffany, when it was just around the corner in the first floor of the old White House on Grant Avenue. It had some fine Billy Baldwin touches, right down to the Bielecky rattan chairs, parsons tables, and slipcovers. There was a hush when you opened those heavy doors. This was when Van Day Truex was the company’s design director. Recently, Tiffany renovated the big shiny store on Post Street, and it feels like corporate anywhere retail. Those two modest jewelry shops were part of the mosaic of my San Francisco of the 1970s and 1980s. They embodied an informal but elegant style that seems mostly lost now.
At the other end of the retail spectrum, it appears that Adolph Gasser Photography is finally closing. It’s amazing that it held on this long. I remember going in there with my photographer pals in the 1980s and 1990s when there were a lot of product and architectural photographers shooting film. The place always smelled like a darkroom, and I never understood the order, if there was any. But I loved the “we are all just trying to create stuff” clubhouse vibe.
Over on Columbus Avenue in North Beach, Rose Pistola has closed after 21 years. It was one of the first of a new wave of Italian restaurants that cared about freshness and aesthetics. I loved the simple sketches on the menu. Some meals were excellent, some were mediocre, but you didn’t imagine that it would not be there. But once the valet parking went…
Over in Berkeley, Andronico’s on Solano Avenue was just Park N’ Shop when we were growing up. Every Thursday evening, I went grocery shopping with my father. I loved looking at the magazines while he helped the ladies bag. No scanners, no plastic. He always liked to guess the total before they were done ringing us up. I even remember asking him that if he got it right, did that mean the groceries were free?
When the market got fancier, the owners started using the family name, because it sounded more sophisticated—at least by the 1990s. But in 1929, “Andronico” probably sounded too much like the name of a Greek immigrant. After the market rebranded, they remodeled the original store and I was forever lost. I could remember where everything—including the United Farm Workers lettuce—was in the old store.
Our Thursday evenings rolling around the cart was an intimate time alone when we didn’t squabble and just enjoyed the routine. Founder Frank Andronico was on my brother’s paper route and was a generous tipper—if you laid the paper at the front door. Next door his son and grandson (our age) lived behind a gate in one of the fancier houses. I remember when it was published in Architectural Digest! (I think the only other houses with real gates were the UC president’s house, aka the Blake Estate, and the monastery for the secret order of Carmelite nuns next door.)
The current state of the global economy makes it hard to run a small regional grocery chain. Safeway bought the last few Andronico’s stores and has announced plans to retrofit the original store. That seems odd, given that Safeway already has a branch a few blocks away. But another slice of my childhood is really gone.