Valencia Street just got a major upgrade. It involves exotic horns from buffaloes, oxen and rams, with organic bamboo bedding and cherry-blossom dining sets thrown in. Yes, it has high end written all over it.
Aldea Home, a furniture and accessories store specializing in organic gear with a modern touch, is replacing the older furniture store X-21 at 890 Valencia Street. It opens today.
Directly next door, Fine Art Optical, an optical company that manufactures glasses but doesn’t do operative work, will soon replace the old Modern Times Bookstore. It will open at the end of October.
The opening of two stores means two less empty storefronts, to some.
“It’s about time that it starts turning around and getting better,” said Jean Feilmoser, special events vice president of the Mission Merchants Association. “Less vacancy means a better economy.”
Aldea’s next-door neighbor, Susan Malak, co-owner of 28-year-old Golden Eagle Market, is happy to see the space open again. “Nice people, nice place, nice stuff,” she said. Alvin Orloff, manager of Dog Eared Books, is also glad that Modern Times’ old space will soon be filled.
As long as the new businesses are local, people don’t seem to mind. “We love local people,” said Borderlands Books barista Z’ve Jenerick.
“It’s better than a Starbucks or American Apparel,” added nearby neighbor Paxton Gate’s events manager, Monica Shaefer.
Even adjacent furniture and card stores that sell similar items to Aldea don’t seem to be fazed by the competition. “We’re oriental; they’re more modern,” said Jenny Tan, owner of Tokyo Futon & Tea.
That’s echoed by David Chen, owner of the nearby vintage furniture store The Touch. “We always welcome new stores, and anyway our store is totally catered to vintage.”
At Serendipity, a card and gift store across the street from Aldea, sales associate Cynthia Torres believes the new business will be beneficial to all on the street. “It brings businesses to everyone,” she said.
But all that is not to say the old stores won’t be missed. Malak recalls the time when X-21 was open as “the good old days,” when she had dinners with its owner. The people at Dog Eared Books feel the same way about Modern Times Bookstore. “We were always good friends,” said employee Ryan Smith as he cleaned vintage books. “We definitely miss Modern Times.”
But as the new businesses come in, Aldea owner Johanna Bialkin said, “It’s lovely to be on the same street as Paxton Gate and Shoe Biz.” Because the store is so new, when staff at Paxton Gate and Shoe Biz were asked how they felt about being on the same street as Aldea, they didn’t even know it existed.
But people at both were quick to mention the business benefits. “The less empty space on Valencia, the better,” said Schaefer. “Especially if they have cool stuff.”
Shoe Biz manager Allie Anderson agreed. “We’re fine with it as long as it’s not a shoe shop.” She added that it can only bring more traffic to Valencia.
Next-door neighbor Tsige Abay, owner of Café Ethiopia, said that Aldea is “a good blend for the neighborhood,” adding that it will bring in a different kind of clientele.
At Fine Art Optical, the windows are covered with gray paper, making it difficult to peer in. No one at the businesses mentioned above, except for Golden Eagle Market, knew about its opening.
Even Modern Times Bookstore collective member Lex Non Scripta said that she hadn’t heard anything about a new lease. When Mission Local informed her, she was surprised. “That’s funny. It’s so large that I assumed it was going to be a restaurant.”
Some people are glad that the new space has nothing to do with food. Like Chen, they say there are too many restaurants on Valencia.
Blinkers and Baggage
Fine Arts Optical will open its doors — all 4,000 square feet — at the end of October for people to browse; the official opening will happen by Thanksgiving.
Owned by Dr. Raymond Ascher, the company has been manufacturing glasses since 1930, with factories in France and Italy, Ascher said. They grind their own lenses and use exotic material, like buffalo, oxen and ram horn, to outfit the specs for vintage looks.
“If you want an everyday look, you go to Lenscrafters,” Ascher said, sporting shiny ram horn specs of his own. “But here, no one else has the glasses we carry.”
“We have one of the largest …” Ascher paused. “No, we have the largest warehouse in the Bay Area.” He’s not kidding. Fine Art Optical will house 4,000 frames from the 100,000 stocked in warehouses and his two other stores in San Francisco and Rockridge.
The thought of competition among local optometrists makes him laugh. “They’re nothing,” he said, dressed in a crisp navy blazer and causal jeans, of the 400 to 500 frames he believes they may hold. “It’s like comparing a little private practice to UCSF hospital.”
Along with the exclusive specs, Fine Arts Optical will carry a line of Glaser bags — finely crafted leather luggage and briefcases running for a cool $1,000 a pop — from the company based on Folsom Street.
“There’s a small group of people who want specialty glasses,” Ascher said. He envisions that group here in the Mission. “The whole area seems to be changing,” he said, caressing his two dark-brown Huskies.
“It’s a fun area — very enjoyable.” So enjoyable in fact, that Ascher opened this store for fun. He says he used to have 39 stores around the world, but sold them to private business owners when he retired.
“I call it the new SoHo.”
Furniture and Frills
Aldea’s Bialkin says the Mission reminds her of New York, too — of Brooklyn, with its mixture of people, restaurants and vibrancy. She also says that being on Valencia “feels a lot nicer than being on 17th Street,” referring to her old location. She believes the Mission needed a new, urban furniture store that isn’t astronomically priced. She sells cards from $2 and couches from $3,000.
When she lived in New York, she would buy, redo and resell houses, infusing her passion for design and change into spaces. Since opening Aldea six years ago, she has been able to change that space any time she pleases.
The new store, 7,500 square feet, boasts nearly a dozen mini staged rooms or “vignettes,” showcasing living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and office spaces, to name a few. “We design according to how we live and how we think other people live,” said Leslie Bamburg, Aldea’s interior designer.
In most rooms, art is hung on the walls, many of the pieces created by local artists. Root Division artist Dana Hemenway created an entire wall of leaves with neon paint behind each one, for a glowing effect. “You always hope that if your artwork sells it will go to someone who will appreciate it, and that the artwork will enrich their daily lives,” she said.
And that’s exactly the point, at Aldea. “You see how art can function in a space instead of on white cubes,” said Deric Carner, Aldea’s artistic director. “It has a different impact here, it’s not so stiff.”
Another local artist, Leah Rosenberg, creator of the striped paintings in the window display, explains the concept as “a well-designed mug that looks good on a shelf, but better with coffee in it.”
Music also helps. “Sometimes furniture stores are quiet and awkward,” said Bialkin. But at Aldea, tunes by Lily Allen, Aimee Mann and MGMT rule the space. They play what they like, they design what they like — it definitely goes with Valencia Street.
Although Monday marked the store’s soft launch, customers are already buying. One came out with an orange coffee-table rug. “It’s good for friends who spill things,” said Greg Chapman, an artist and small business owner who plans to visit the store again.
Ultimately, both Aldea and Fine Art Optical do the same thing: Help customers find the perfect object — whatever it may be — just for them.
Aldea Home is now open at 890 Valencia Street, Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.