Business Briefing: Checking off the gift list at Noe Valley shops

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 13, 2023
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Christmas-themed doggie toys are available at Maxwell's Pet Bar. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko
Christmas-themed doggie toys are available at Maxwell's Pet Bar. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko

Just over the hill from San Francisco's Castro district is another neighborhood long a welcoming home to the city's LGBTQ community. In recent years Noe Valley has also seen several gay-owned stores open along its commercial corridors.

They have joined a number of mainstays owned by lesbian proprietors in addition to the other unique shops and restaurants that make the neighborhood an enjoyable outing to check off one's holiday gift list. Strolling along 24th Street or Church Street is also more relaxing than dealing with the crowded streets of the city's Union Square shopping district this time of year.

Starting near the intersection of 28th and Church Street is Maxwell's Pet Bar at 1734 Church, opened by Jen and Kristi Maxwell in late 2020. A hot item this year has been a board game the entire family can play together, both pooch and people, called The Dog's Best Friend Game ($30). When the Bay Area Reporter stopped by the store last weekend, a person had called to inquire about the game and asked for one to be set aside for them to purchase.

Created by West Paw, it can be played with just one dog or several dogs as part of different teams. It comes with several toys and 72 minigame cards aimed at teaching tricks and other abilities to the canine participants.

In addition to being a place where dog owners can bring their pooches in for a wash, Maxwell's has become known for its unique dog treats, like lamb and emu nuggets ($14) and cod skin chews ($2 each).

For Christmas it has put together a special seasonal box ($30) of dog treats that includes a large turkey wing, frog legs, beef jerky slab, chicken feet, quail egg, and either a turkey or duck head. More traditional holiday gift items include Good Boy Elf Hats ($8 for a small, $9 for a large) and different Christmas-themed dog toys like a plush Santa with toy sack ($20) or a shakable elf figure ($16).

Cat fish taco toys are very popular and available at Noe Valley Pet Co. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

A few blocks away is the Noe Valley Pet Co. at 1451 Church Street that couple Paula Harris and Celia Sack have owned since 1999. (Right behind it at 3885A Cesar Chavez Street is Omnivore Books on Food that Sack oversees.)

During this time of year the pet store is packed with seasonal gifts for both dogs and cats. Feline Christmas-themed toys run the gamut from gingerbread figures ($9.99) and stockings ($4.99) to penguins adorned with Santa hats ($8.99) or candy canes ($10.99). There is also a comical fish taco toy ($3.99) with a dead fish wrapped in a taco shell.

The shop also stocks knitted dog sweaters in various sizes ($36) year round perfect for the city's foggy climate. But at Christmastime it carries ones with special holiday designs featuring Santa or candy canes, plus it stocks a reindeer headband ($9.99) for dogs.

It also has special Yuletide dog toys like a plush moose ($14.99) or candy cane bone ($10.99), and a small Santa squeeze toy ($7.99). Along with its usual selection of treats and pet foods are specialty dog cookies for the holidays ($2.99) shaped like Christmas trees, stockings, and festive llamas.

Urban Scout focuses on small houseplants and other items. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

Easy-to-care-for houseplants are the focus of Urban Scout, which owner Santiago Esparza opened at 3848 24th Street last year. The shop carries a wide variety of succulents in various sizes ($10-$14) and has a unique collection of pots, such as ones with painted faces ($68) from queer-owned Bowl Cut Ceramics based in San Francisco. It also carries the company's lip-adorned cups ($48) and pots ($60).

There are also pots fashioned to look like naked torsos ($20) that can fit a two-inch plant, such as a Christmas cactus ($10). Plant-like figures made from growing crystals ($8) on forms resembling a cherry tree, giant sequoia or saguaro cactus make for fun stocking stuffers.

On a larger scale is a 10-inch Norfolk pine tree ($110) for sale that can be decorated for the holidays. It can then be kept year-round in a sunny spot of an apartment, as it does well in direct sunlight.

Across the street at 3845 24th Street is another gay-owned store with household items, Stephen Moore Home. Since 2015 it has been selling dishware, personal care products, and other items interior designer Stephen Moore personally enjoys. For example, square butter dishes ($55) come topped by a fox, rabbit or cow.

There are candles in unique designs, such as striped tapered ones ($38) that come in several colors, Greentree beeswax candles ($38), or ones resembling hickory sticks ($45). For the season are holiday-themed boxes of matches ($15) featuring deer, bears, and other creatures.

The shop stocks handmade paper greeting cards and different sized notebooks made in Japan ($4-$6). It has a nice assortment of cloth napkins ($45-$50 for sets of four) and packaged cocktail napkins ($9) in various designs.

Gift sets are available at Olive This Oil That in Noe Valley. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

Around the corner at 304 Vicksburg Street is lesbian-owned Olive This Oil That, where olive oil sommelier Janell Pekkain has been selling her olive oils and balsamic vinegars for 11 years. She works with olive growers mainly in Madera County and local pressers to produce her olive oils, while her balsamic vinegar she mostly sources from producers in Modena, Italy.

Her Olio Nuovo, meaning new oil, made from the 2023 fall harvest is now available ($32 for 12.7 ounce bottle) right in time for Christmas. She is also selling gift sets combining her 2022 vintage olive oils and vinegars ($52 for two 375 ml bottles and $79 for three 375 ml bottles, or $65 for a trio of 250 ml bottles) that are pre-packaged.

Pekkain also likes to partner with other queer-owned businesses, so she is carrying boxes of bonbons from Michael's Chocolates ($22) and dish towels from The Heated ($18) made from repurposed flour sacks that feature San Francisco landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and the F-line Muni trolley cars.

Perfectly Seasoned offers spices and other items at its shop in Noe Valley. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

She also teamed up with the gay-owned spice shop Perfectly Seasoned at 4017 24th Street for the holiday shopping season. Couple Phuong Mai and Matthew Green opened it last December a week shy of Christmas.

This year they are selling bread dipping sets that feature Pekkain's olive oil with their spices. The Olive Oil Bread Dip Set ($39.99) comes with picual olive oil and jars of Harissa, Morrocan rose, and Zatar spices. The Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Bread Dip set ($44.99) includes roasted garlic olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and jars of Italian and Champs de France seasonings.

For bakers there are various extracts that can be hard to find, such as Brandy ($13.99 for 2 ounces) or peppermint ($9.99 for 2 ounces) flavors. The shop also carries its own tea blends, a spice starter set ($40.39) with six different varieties, and a popcorn seasoning set ($33.39 for four small jars or $46.39 for four large jars) with flavors like pesto, tikka, and beer and cheese.

Customers can also create their own gift boxes with the shop's spices and seasoning blends. Those who bring back their used spice jars receive a 10% discount on their next purchase.

A block away at 3980 24th Street is the jewel box of a store for out clothing designer Basil Racuk. Known for his leather handbags in various designs, Racuk also sells men's shirts in addition to his dresses and jackets for women, (prices vary) which routinely sellout via his online store.

Gay vintners open Napa events space
Husbands Joey Wołosz and Jeff Durham have opened their new events space in Napa County where they will be hosting meals paired with their Gentleman Farmer wines. They held a ribbon-cutting ceremony December 8 for The Bungalow: A Studio for Gustatory Well-Being at 1564 First Street in downtown Napa.

As the Business Briefing column reported in May, the couple had been hosting at their Yountville home special wine-pairing meals for members of their wine club and other guests since 2018. Those will now move to the 1926 California Craftsman bungalow they bought and remodeled in the county seat.

"It has long been a dream of ours to offer a lunch pairing in Napa Valley that's as thoughtful and memorable as the experiences we've shared in Europe," stated Wołosz. "Jeff and I have been using family recipes to prepare lunch experiences for friends and family out of our home for years. People often say it's the highlight of their stay in Napa Valley, so we thought - let's take this a step further and open it up to the public? The Bungalow is a place where we will share our wines alongside great home cooked food and wonderful stories."

The couple started making wine in the garage of a friend shortly after meeting in 1999 while living in the Castro. They relocated to Yountville in 2003 and released their first public vintage in 2005.

A certified LGBTQ business enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Gentleman Farmer is the only gay-owned family winery in the Napa Valley. Next up for the couple is opening their Gentleman Farmer Guest House in a five-room 1888 Victorian building they bought next door to the bungalow space.

For more information about their new event space, click here.

Pour a cider on behalf of trees
In another update on a business profiled in the monthly column this year, Sincere Cider has extended its partnership with nonprofit One Tree Planted to plant trees in the burn scar of the Dixie fire, which ripped through several counties of Northern California in the summer and fall of 2021. For each case of its fall/winter seasonal Blood Orange cider sold, Sincere will pay for the planting of a tree in the fire area.

As noted in the September column, queer California native Bex Pezzullo launched their cider brand in March 2020. With the COVID pandemic raging then, Pezzullo gave up their apartment in Oakland to live out of a van as they traveled across California promoting Sincere Cider.

Living again in the East Bay, Pezzullo had first teamed up with One Tree Planted in June. With the latest promotional effort an additional 713 trees are set to reforest the Dixie area, bringing the total 2023 reforestation effort to 1,300 trees due to the partnership.

Pezzullo, who has family in the area of the burn scar, has pledged to pay for another 500 trees via a social media campaign that kicked off December 10 and runs through December 20. Every tag or mention of Sincere Cider via Instagram and TikTok during that time will result in a tree donation until the goal is met.

"I'm happy we can make such a meaningful impact in just seven months," stated Pezzullo. "We'll continue this campaign to reforest the Dixie area in 2024."

To learn more about Sincere Cider, or to order its ciders online, visit its website at

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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