San Jose Avenue features the BART station, Balboa Park, classic 1920’s houses and a few shops quietly doing business parallel to the raised Interstate 280 freeway. I recently took a tour of the avenue to get a better feel for its character.
At Crazy Pepper, a restaurant across the street from the BART station that serves Schezuan and Mandarin food, “a lot of Muni drivers enjoy coming here as a group to have lunch,” said Audrey Cheng, a server. “Every day we get different drivers, and the same group of regulars.”
Crazy Pepper stands out as a popular business in a station area surrounded by auto traffic, and Best Auto Care at the intersection of Ocean and San Jose serves the neighborhood’s drivers. Unfortunately, Best Auto Care’s building was damaged in a fire in the early morning of Aug. 26th.
Across the street, the Community Assembly of God opened its doors to provide a place for the Red Cross to provide disaster relief for the fire, which affected three buildings in total but caused no injuries.
Five organizations collaborated in the relief effort, providing food, counseling and other help. “I have not seen this many partners collaborate like this, except on national incidents,” said Marianna Thomas, the on-site director from Red Cross.
“What’s good about San Jose Avenue is that we’re close to a lot of schools, Ingleside Police Station, and we’re five blocks from Mission Street,” said Peter Tannous, owner since 1973 of Roxie Food Center at 1901 San Jose Avenue, which has been honored by the Small Business Administration and the Bay Guardian.
Tannous is a neighborhood dynamo, sponsoring the New Mission Terrace Improvement Association’s annual Fourth of July barbeque in Balboa Park. Roxie has also sponsored sports teams at Balboa High School, City College and others.
Further down from Roxie, where most of San Jose Avenue’s retail businesses are, things look characteristically sleepy. Paddy Wagon Furniture features a compellingly odd assortment of knickknacks, but only lists weekend hours. And though 1844 San Jose Avenue is entirely vacant, the Sports Memorabilia sign remains.
“We lost a lot of car traffic over the last five, six years,” said Harry Reibenstahl, owner of Economy Auto Parts at 1836 San Jose. Reibenstahl has been an observer of the street for thirty-seven years, when he opened his shop.
Next door at the San Jose Coin-Op Laundromat, owner Ning Yu takes care to run a clean and well-organized business. “There has never been much crime, but we used to get vandalized,” Yu said. However, referring to Balboa Park, she said that “the skate park is good,” and she doesn’t get vandalized now that kids have something to do.
At GJ Cleaners, Vivian Chan has been in business since 1991. To her, the street is a “very good place to live,” with more merchants over the last several years, bringing more eyes on the street, keeping the community alert. The close proximity of Balboa Park police station doesn’t hurt Chan’s sense of safety, either. A row of cleaned and pressed SFPD uniforms hung behind her as she spoke.
Further down the avenue, Tasty Coffee has a stream of regulars and newcomers throughout the day. “We get a good crowd,” said owner Rafael Jimenez, “and business has gotten better in six years,” referring to the length of time the café has been open.
One of the newest businesses on San Jose Avenue is City Racquet Shop, which has been open since 2010. It is owned by Shiela MacKay and Marla Reid. They sell equipment, and string and maintain tennis racquets. Their business is “growing every year” Reid said.
They came to San Jose Avenue because of the competitive rents for business spaces and the proximity to Balboa Park’s tennis courts.“When the courts were closed (during park renovation) we were a little worried,” Reid said, “but it didn’t end up affecting us that much.”
The owner of Red Sea Market, Sam Abuelezam, is “very happy” to do business on San Jose Avenue. “It’s safe, close to transportation,” Abuelezam said, and he noted that he has seen an uptick in business activity over the seven years he has been running the store.
It is important to Abuelezam to support his neighbors in business, and so he gets his hair cut by Nelden Dyogi at Fine Line. The barbershop has been in the current location for eight years.
Dyogi is charismatic when he talks about cutting hair and establishing a business where patrons feel more like members than customers. Word of mouth and “better parking than other neighborhoods” are what Dyogi predicts will bring even more business, to him and to San Jose Avenue.