Western Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to the history of San Francisco's Richmond, Sunset, OMI and West of Twin Peaks districts.   read more ...

Streetwise: Changing Westside Businesses

by Frank Dunnigan
October 2022
Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -
Neighborhood shopping has surely changed over the years—particularly in the present millennium. An errand that might once have required a short walk or bus ride can now be accomplished via one’s laptop computer or smart phone. More convenient? Yes, but such changes have limited our exposure to the varied sights and smells of a stroll through San Francisco’s various neighborhood shopping districts. We have explored this topic via STREETWISE in a couple of past columns several years ago--in a July 2013 Streetwise and in an October 2016 Streetwise--but it’s time to look at even more changes in the neighborhood shopping landscape, including some that have taken place fairly recently.
Coliseum Furs, Ed's Togs, and Lick Market on Clement near 6th Avenue, 1949 - Jack Tillmany Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
The corner of 6th & Clement Streets was a literal crossroads for the #2 streetcar and the #21 streetcar lines in the past. The Coliseum Theatre (out of sight behind the photographer) operated from 1918 to 1989 (becoming a “talkie house” in 1929) until it was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. It sat vacant for more than a full decade until it reopened after an extensive refurbishment in 2002 as a multi-unit residential building with ground-floor retail. A variety of retailers also operated nearby in 1949, including a sandwich shop, a bakery, and a market (at left) and a barber shop, clothing store, and fur salon (at right). The long-gone Coliseum Furs represented a business model that was once common in many neighborhood shopping areas as well as downtown, but was outlawed by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors in 2018, and that decision was upheld in a court ruling announced in early 2021. Hear more about Clement Street Businesses in Outside Lands Podcast Episode #418.
Miz Brown's Feed Bay at 3401 California, 1951 - SF Assessors Office Negatives / WNP Collection.
The Feed Bag Restaurant, Hanken’s Delicatessen, Joe Klein’s Choice Meats, and the Winfield Sage Laundromat represented a modern mix of Laurel Village businesses in this 1951 image. Other adjacent storefronts extending west along California Street included a Danish pastry shop, dry cleaner, hardware store, furniture showroom, beauty salon, supermarket, produce store, Standard 5 & 10, liquor store, florist, television store, and real estate/insurance office. Today, only the grocery store, CalMart, and Standard 5 & 10 (now partnered with Ace Hardware) remain.
Roth's Rexall Drugs at 2001 Irving, 1951 - SF Assessors Office Negatives / WNP Collection.
Just like the neighborhood market or movie theatre, the local pharmacy was also at the crossroads of the community. It was usually open longer hours than many other businesses, fulfilling many needs—medicines, toiletries, tobacco, alcohol, gift items, greeting cards, magazines, plus friendly, knowledgeable advice about how to quiet a cranky baby, deal with minor cuts and bruises, and settle an upset stomach. In earlier times, these locations were also reliable sources of frozen desserts and private telephone booths for everyone in the neighborhood. Also shown in this 1951 image are the long-gone Edward’s Beauty Manor, Margaret Wren Gift & Card Shop, and a See’s Candy store that remained in place until the 1980s. Read more about other local pharmacies in the November 2014 Streetwise.
Mike's Delicatessen at 4307 Irving, 1951 - SF Assessors Office Negatives / WNP Collection.
More than 70 years ago, some residential garages in the Sunset were being used as ground-floor retail—an era when there were far fewer cars per resident! This space near 44th Avenue and Irving Street was converted into residential use many years ago.
Columbo's Liquor Store on Broad near Plymouth, 1952 - Ralph W. Demoro / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
In 1952, this small cluster of shops along Broad Street near Plymouth in OMI included Colombo Liquor Store and (hidden behind the streetcar) Morgan’s Barber Shop, Ocean View Cleaners, and Victoria Meat Market. Out of sight to the right were the Ocean View Branch of San Francisco Public Library, Ocean View Variety Store, and Engine Company 33 of the San Francisco Fire Department. Since 1977, the old fire house has been restored as a private residence. Read more about Engine Company 33.
Stonestown Shopping Center, 1950s - Morton-Waters Co. image - SCRAP Negative Collection / Courtesy of SCRAP.
Stonestown, first opened in July of 1952 and shown here a few years later, underwent a significant expansion/remodel into an enclosed two-story “Galleria” in the late 1980s, with further significant changes in recent years. The elimination of both of its anchor stores in pre-Covid times—Macy’s, which closed in March of 2018 (having taken over the Emporium’s spot nearly 22 years earlier) and Nordstrom, which closed in September of 2019 (after 30 years in business at the south end of the mall where Bullock’s, City of Paris, and Butler Brothers once operated) changed the center’s mix of stores considerably. New movie theatres, an upscale grocery store, and other options are now present, with the 1970 UA Twin Cinemas at the west side of the property headed for demolition. Even bigger changes are set to come, as planners envision residential towers and underground parking to replace many of the asphalt surface lots. Here's moe about Stonestown's future plans.
Zim's at southwest corner of 19th Avenue and Taraval, September 1957 - Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner.
The iconic Zim’s anchored the SW corner of 19th & Taraval from 1957 until the chain’s demise in 1995. With 24-hour operations, it drew people from all walks of life while providing tasty food at reasonable prices. Adjacent Taraval merchants and throngs of patrons from the nearby Parkside Theatre (closed in October of 1990) contributed significantly to Zim’s business here. The location was different from most others in the chain because there was no table/booth seating—only fixed stools around the horseshoe-shaped counter. A number of different enterprises have occupied the space over the last quarter-century. Read more about Zim's, its locations, see many of the chain’s artifacts, and learn more about the Zimmerman family and how it all began.
Carlotta's Toys, Adeline Bakery, and Empire Theatre on West Portal Avenue, July 1957 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Carlotta’s Toys (later renamed Toy Village), West Portal Floral Shop, Adeline Bake Shop, and Shirley’s Children’s Shop dominate this 1957 scene on the first block of West Portal Avenue. Toy stores, in particular, are far fewer in number today, given San Francisco’s dwindling child population since the turn of the millennium. Barbagelata Realty occupies the toy store space today. Extending to the next corner at Vicente Street were: Allstate Insurance, Electrolux Vacuum Cleaners, West Portal Beauty Shop, Band Box Knit Shop, Family Liquor Store, 2nd Church of Religious Science, Empire Theatre, Fellhauer Realty, Sue Sherwood Insurance, Minudri Furs, and Portal Wood Pharmacy. All these small businesses have since left the area, including the theatre. Originally opened as the Portal, a silent film house in 1925, it was later wired for sound, then renamed the Empire in 1936, and split into 3 screens during the 1970s. (This author once saw LOVE STORY there while PATTON played in the adjacent space, with the sounds of the North African campaign clearly coming through the too-thin walls.) The theatre closed at the start of Covid in March of 2020, and Cinemark, which had been operating it as CineArts at the Empire since 2003, announced in February of 2021 that the closure was permanent.
View west on Geary toward Cala Foods and Coronet Theatre, May 10, 1960 - Courtesy of George Fanning/SFMTA.
This 1960 image was taken a few years after the removal of the B-line streetcar tracks along Geary. Since then, the Dever Realty Company office at left has been replaced with a 4-story residential building, while the McKale’s 76 gas station is now a 4-story condo building known as ONE STANYAN STREET. The building that once housed Cala Foods is now vacant after serving as home to Pier One Imports for many years. The adjacent night club has been home to a variety of dining spots over the years, and the Coronet—one of San Francisco’s newer movie theatres (1949-2005)—was demolished in 2007 and replaced with a large, multi-story senior-housing complex.
Sugar Bowl Bakery and Balboa Theatre on Balboa Street, July 1968 - Jack Tillmany Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Long an anchor in this Outer Richmond shopping area, the Balboa opened in 1926, underwent a remodel after a fire in the 1940s, was twinned in 1978, and suffered from a year-long Covid-related closure in 2020-21. It reopened in May of 2021 and continues to define the area, alongside variety of adjacent dining and personal care businesses. The Sugar Bowl Bakery closed its storefront in the 1990s and soon became the largest food-service bakery in the Bay Area. Expanding to new commercial facilities, the firm now supplies its delectable Brownie Bites, Madeleines, and Palmiers through large retailers across the US. Read more about the bakery's history with the Ly Family.
Safeway on Ocean Avenue near Brighton, August 1970 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Ocean Avenue (from its very beginning at Mission Street) meandered west to 19th Avenue where it suddenly switched from business to residential before ending at Sunset Boulevard. This particular section, photographed in 1970, was anchored by a 1950s-era Safeway store and also included a variety of dining places, clothing stores, a Richfield gas station and the El Rey Theatre in the distance at right, plus the Hanson-Theroff Pontiac dealership at left. Today, this neighborhood is becoming more heavily residential with multi-story apartments and condos that feature a variety of ground-floor businesses. The old Safeway site is now home to a large 4-story apartment complex with new ground-floor grocery store. Read more about the many changes to this area.
View east on Irving Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, 1970s - Bill Whyte, photographer / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Photo processing stores and typewriter repair shops (both at left) have definitely declined in popularity since this image was recorded in the 1970s. Delicatessens and liquor stores also seem to be fewer in number today, perhaps due to healthier lifestyle choices. Many independent neighborhood drug stores such as West Coast Pharmacy, near the front of the streetcar, began to vanish as the large chains expanded. The Embers, a well-known self-described “dive bar” with many mournful clown portraits on the walls operated from 1969-96, and the nearby Wishing Well maintained its own “dive bar” status until the turn of the millennium when it was purchased by new owner Lisa Merrall who converted the place into the clubby Fireside Bar. Finally, Compton’s Shoe Repair, with the classic sign, stands out as a “splendid survivor” at 621 Irving. Now known as Sunset Shoe Repair, it prides itself on being the oldest of that business model still operating in San Francisco—since 1900.

Contribute your own stories about western neighborhoods places!

More by Frank Dunnigan
Related Content

Save SF History