By Thomas K. Pendergast
A month after the new Gus’s Market opened up at 44th Avenue and Noriega Street, customers are giving good reviews of the new store compared to the old one just a block away.
The market moved from the 3800 block to 3701 Noriega St. and opened on Feb. 2, 2021 in the new 11,500-square-foot space on the first floor of a four-story mixed-use building.
Formerly known as Noriega Produce, the family-owned business is one of four throughout the City started by Gus and Georgia Vardakastanis in 1985 and is now run by their sons, Dimitri and Bobby Vardakastanis. The others are at 1530 Haight St., 1101 Fourth St. and 2111 Harrison St.
It is a San Francisco Legacy Business that has been a part of the fabric of that local community around the Outer Sunset for decades.
“It’s like night and day,” Tim Murphy of the Sunset said, with a laugh. “I’m in heaven right now because the aisles are bigger, they have a lot more stuff that you can see and it’s just not as claustrophobic. It’s just light and airy, very modern … and it’s locally owned, so I’m just really excited about it.”
Murphy is pleased that they serve Poke here, a Hawaiian dish, because before this new location opened up he would have to go “all the way across town” to get it. He is a single father of three and all of them ride bicycles to get around. He also likes that the new market has more organic foods.
“Just a really pleasant experience; I’m really, really happy,” he said.
The new store is on the ground floor of a mixed-use building with 12 apartments above on three floors. Also included are off-street parking spaces, 20 of which are designated for the market. Before there was only parking available on the street.
Dimitri Vardakastanis said the family wanted to expand the store on Noriega Street since about 2014. After they expanded to the Haight Street location they felt like it might be a good idea to try to set up a “full-service” type of market for the Outer Sunset.
They found out the old Union 76 gas station at 44th Avenue and Noriega Street was being put on the market. Although they had no experience in development, they wanted to stay on Noriega where their father had first opened the business.
“Staying on the same block that we’ve been for over 30 years, at that point, was important to us,” he said. “In essence, we’re serving the neighborhood, but the street kind of represented where we were and how we were operating as a business. It was a smooth transition to stay on the block that we were founded on.”
But, of course, a certain virus has thrown pretty much everything into a different space entirely, particularly involving personal space. Working to avoid the spread of the coronavirus among customers, suppliers and staff became a focal point for the operation of the business.
“Operationally, we’ve had to make a lot of changes with limiting capacity in the stores, increasing sanitation stations and also protocols for all of our staff to follow on a daily basis,” he said. “In the beginning, it was a little bit challenging navigating a lot of the rules that were changing fast. But then again, no one had dealt with this type of situation before, from the City level to the merchants…. The big difference we saw is that we did see a decrease in foot traffic in the stores. Fewer people wanted to be out in public. So, we’re grateful to be open.”
Unlike so many other businesses, they did not have to do mass layoffs.
“Luckily, anybody who we had to move from departments that had decreasing sales … we asked employees to see if they’d be interested in working in other departments where we did have availability in hours. And I’d say for the most part, we did,” he said.
He admits that it’s a risky move to make during a pandemic.
“We started working on this project in 2014. It’s something that we’ve dreamed of for a really long time, and we weren’t going to let anything stop us…. COVID or not, we really wanted to do it and offer it to the neighborhood,” he said. “Hopefully the pandemic won’t last forever, and if we have to weather the storm a little bit right now, we will, knock on wood.”
He also noted that they’ve actually been hiring to adequately staff the new store, aiming for about 45 additional employees.
The new apartments above however, were somewhat contentious, with the usual SF NIMBY-versus-YIMBY contingents arguing back and forth on Nextdoor.com. Some say the addition of the market helped a lot to gain community support.
“I think that there was, initially, a lot of trepidation or concern about the (building’s) height, the envelope of the building. I was kind of lukewarm at the very beginning,” Murphy said. “But after actually seeing it, I think it fits in kind of nicely. It’s a neighborhood store and I think they just really did a spectacular job.
“I think that in the neighborhood it was very controversial in the beginning but they just won everybody over. The family is just absolutely spectacular. They live in the neighborhood … as opposed to somebody coming from outside or a big chain store. And, I like spending my money here because it stays in the neighborhood.”
Sunset resident Sarah Miller agrees.
“It’s a small, family-operated chain so I think people feel good about allowing space for that to be in the neighborhood. I think it would be different if it was a large, national chain,” Miller said. “You want to preserve that it’s small and it’s quiet and it’s mostly families, but it’s also speaking to a huge need in the City, and that’s for people to have access to housing that’s affordable.
“There’s a lot of love for the market and the family and that it’s a small business,” she said.
For more information, go to https://gussmarket.com/market-locations/noriega-market-san-francisco/
Categories: sunset business news