Recently, two of my favorite small businesses in the Tenderloin have closed. They are Cafe Ariana on Geary Street and K&S Produce Market on Larkin Street and were located very near each other. These places were unassuming and certainly small in size, but they offered quality products at reasonable prices. More importantly, though, they were kind of places where the employees were genuinely friendly and would remember repeat customers. All the talk I heard of potentially impending gentrification I heard while interviewing people around the neighborhood has me wondering if these closures are not isolated events but rather a sign of changes to come.
Going to Cafe Ariana made me feel good. It was pleasant and homey. The owner, Bill Parviz, who was born and raised in San Francisco, clearly had a good heart and truly cared about the community. I found his attitude as a businessman refreshing: He wanted to turn a profit, of course, but did not believe in ripping off his customers. He and his employees were always very friendly. He would go above and beyond what normal businessperson etiquette might require. Once, he pulled a motorcycle in off the street so it would not be ticketed or towed and returned it to the owner when he came back. When I made a remark about the stifling heat in my home, he offered me a fan. I saw him offering deli meat to a small dog brought in by a customer—Parviz was always amiable to pets as well as people. I’m truly going to miss seeing him.
Considering the central city location, the prices could not be beat. For example, a cup of strong, organic, fair-trade coffee and a generous slice of pie could be had for about $5 total.
My heart sank when I saw the windows of Cafe Ariana papered up. I hoped it was closed temporarily, perhaps for renovations, but worried that was not the case. My fear was confirmed when a new business opened in its place.
I use a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in my cooking, so I need places close to my home where I can get produce for good prices. K&S used to be one of those places. It has not been closed for long and there was another time it unexpectedly closed for a brief period and then reopened. I’m trying to hold out hope that it will be the case again.
If not, I will miss not only the produce but also the owner, Fares Abdulrab, who is from Yemen. He was always positive and upbeat. Once, when a woman walked off without paying for something—it might have been an orange—he told me he did not mind because she looked like she really needed it. He said he knew people have trouble getting enough food and that she probably needed that orange more than he needed the money for it. I wondered then what he would think if he knew how difficult it is for my family to afford food but did not say anything.
Multiple people I talked to during this semester talked about changes they have seen in the neighborhood or that they think might be coming. The Tenderloin is unique, and I do not think dramatic changes will be seen immediately. The area has a lot of problems and could benefit from some alterations, but I hope it does not lose its quirky grit.