Conditional use: getting rid of 20,000 pairs of shoes to create a jungle 

Two summers ago, Naz Khorram was on the cusp of clinching a prime Mission Street spot for a greenhouse-restaurant, Arcana. But this green business dealing had strings attached — more than 40,000 pairs of shoe-strings, to be exact. 

Because Khorram needed to own the building at 2512 Mission St. to start the permit process, they needed to buy the space right away. The owners of the shoe store, Bonita Trading, were ready to sell, but had one little problem: some 20,000 pairs of well-made shoes they needed to get rid of. If Khorram wanted the space quickly, they would also have to buy the kicks. Anything for a “dream” location, right?

How do you get rid of 20,000 shoes? In the fall of 2019, Khorram was set to find out. They and and three other staff members started peddling hundreds of shoes for $5 a pop. Dozens of people began darkening Arcana’s doorway, clamoring at the entrance and blocking the door, Khorram said.

By Christmastime, 15,000 pairs of shoes were gone. Khorram donated the final 5,000 to community groups, including Dolores Street Community Services, St. Anthony’s, and Bay Area Border Angels. 

One volunteer came with a little cart, Khorram recalled. “And I was like, ‘no, you don’t get it.’ They had to come back with, like, a 16-footer truck.”

Before becoming Arcana, Khorram needed to give these shoes the boot. Courtesy of Arcana’s Instagram.

Fast-forward a pandemic year later, and Arcana finally opened on Mother’s Day weekend 2021. Arcana, named for “magical mysteries,” seemed fitting to this reporter. I stepped inside and immediately took in the fresh draft of air and hypnotizing green, feeling like I had stepped into an indoor jungle instead of a store. 

Khorram will launch a tea house and vegan/vegetarian restaurant this summer. I’ll admit, a plant store/teahouse/restaurant sounded odd. But then, Khorram explained how they used to work at a plant store, and always felt something was missing. Finally, I understood how this store was really a love letter to Khorram’s life and dreams. 

I noticed all of the traces of Khorram gracing the store: the metal “Arcana” sign and the spiraling staircase, both which Khorram fashioned as a metalsmith. Lingering between leaves is an LGBTQ flag, symbolizing their queerness. The Middle-Eastern tea selection and vegetarian food menu derives from Khorram’s childhood — their father was a farmer back in Iran who insisted on a diet of home-grown corn, wheat and beets. 

These are pieces Khorram hopes to share with the community. Workshops that teach home gardening and veganism to youth (“aren’t you nervous about the little cow-ies?”) are also in the works. “I would love to see everybody In this neighborhood come in and feel welcome,” Khorram said. 

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Can we patch things up?  

There’s a hole in the fence between 2519 and 2531 Mission St. Peer in and it’s not a wonderland, but more of a garbage dump. Unsurprisingly, neighbors aren’t happy. 

The mysterious hole appeared a few weeks ago, and since then, mounds of soiled clothes, empty beer boxes, and four upturned recycling cans have appeared.  

A homeless visitor (or visitors?) frequents the lot, perhaps living there. “From time to time they’ll set up things outside,” said an employee at nearby Evergreen Market. He’s seen a woman in the morning, and just before he closes shop at 7 p.m. A trio of men who were parked three feet from the hole to “catch some sun” surmised a similar story.

And though overall it’s probably harmless, workers in the adjacent buildings are annoyed, to say the least. 

“I need to get the problem fixed right away. It is a danger to everyone, and has made people not want to come near the store,” said one cashier at the check-cashing place next door, who believes the culprit is a certain man she’s seen laying out belongings on the sidewalk. She claimed she filed requests to 311 (this reporter was unable to locate those, however) and called the city countless times, but nothing was resolved. 

“I’ve been calling, calling. The city, the owner of the building. Nothing.”

A hole in a boarded part of fence that surrounded a vacant lot emerged, allowing some visitors to stockpile trash and other items inside. Photo by Annika Hom. Taken May 2021.

A lot, pregnant with promise

Don’t get it twisted. Martha Ryan, the founder of the nonprofit Homeless Prenatal Program, isn’t interested in establishing herself in San Francisco’s affordable housing developer scene. But she is interested in one specific warehouse at 2530 18th St. near Potrero Ave. — the one her nonprofit bought for $7 million last summer, in the hope of converting it into 100 percent affordable housing. 

“I don’t want you to think that HPP is in the business of buying buildings,” warned Ryan at the Planning Commission meeting Thursday. “This particular building was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a nonprofit to better serve its constituents.”

That vision made significant progress this past week, when the Planning Commission gave unanimous approval to some necessary zoning changes. Now with an Urban Mixed Use designation, Ryan can shift some of the program’s preexisting job-training programs to the warehouse, as well as develop housing units in the future. 

The only hiccup at Thursday’s meeting was confusion over an initial demand that the housing be geared toward those between 30 and 80 percent of the area median income level. Aides from both Shamann Walton and Hillary Ronen’s office, however, clarified that this was a “miscommunication” — “bad on us for not catching it.” That 30 percent floor will be erased, and the plan now moves to the Land Use and Transportation Committee. 

Community members might recognize the Homeless Prenatal Program as one of the prime spots for accessing free food, diapers, and baby formula, or know it for its robust programs aimed to aid the city’s homeless women and families. Snagging the building next door to the program’s flagship, Ryan argued, “makes a whole lot of sense.”  

Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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1 Comment

  1. A couple suggestions about how to report problems like that on the Mission Street lot:
    1) Call 311 and ask to report blight on a private, vacant lot. (Calling is better because there isn’t an option for this on the app or website.)
    2) File a DBI complaint about the broken fence and the trash inside the lot.

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