By Thomas K. Pendergast
A burglar broke into Frank’s Floral Shop at 1821 Irving St. by prying the door frame from the wall. After getting $8 for the trouble, what started as theft then became arson.
It was just after midnight on Sept. 6, when Awadalla Awadalla, the owner of SF Hole In The Wall Pizza, noticed a fire had started in the building next to his and that the back door to the flower shop was open. First he called the fire department, then the owner of the flower shop.
“We were asleep, and I got a phone call that basically kept saying, ‘I’m sorry Sona. Your shop is on fire,’” Sona Pehlivanian recalled. “Then when I got there, it was my building; my shop was on fire.”
An SFFD Fire Incident Report says the fire involved cardboard boxes and floral phone directories on an interior split-landing stairway to the second floor. The cause of the fire was an “incendiary with an open flame ignition source.”
Police said the fire was deemed suspicious and is being investigated by the SFPD Arson Unit and investigators from the SFFD. Since no arrests have been made so far and it remains an open and active investigation, they are not releasing any further information about it at this time.
Pehlivanian said she had a purse lying around with a wallet in it containing $8.
“He went to the front of the shop by the cash register, and he picked through the purse, threw the purse on the floor, picked up the wallet and got his $8,” she said.
Like many business owners do, she had emptied all the paper money from the cash registers and left it open.
“The cash registers, we all learned to leave it open. They could help themselves to the coins and quarters, which he didn’t, not even to the quarters,” she said. “We leave it open so they don’t break registers to think that hundreds of dollars are in there.
“And now, these days, there is hardly any cash. Everyone is charging so I don’t know what he thought he could get away with in a flower shop.”
She said her insurance offered her $9,400. The landlord’s insurance will cover most of the damage to the building, but not her stock and the various items in her store directly related to her business.
“Just the walk-in refrigerator, I got an estimate, it’s $22,000 just to build that walk-in refrigerator,” she said.
She will need to have new shelving for her products, new vases, greetings cards, teddy bears, flowers, new flooring, new paint, etc. So far, she estimates that she’ll need at least $100,000 to replace everything.
The flower shop was owned and run by Frank and Gladys Korkmazian for decades before Pehlivanian bought it in 1987. The local Armenian community was only a part of her customer base, as she became well known to many in the area.
“We already have a problem with vacancies and that’s another one vacant,” Awadalla said. “And one of our beloved…. She’s been here a long, long time and everybody knows her.
“When people want to come to the pizza place ‘which pizza place?’ ‘Oh, the one next to the flower shop’; They all know us because of her,” he said. “So, it’s a loss for us. And we all love her here, the whole block.”
Now more than 66 years old, she faces the tough choice of retiring or trying to rebuild. And it will not be a simple decision.
“If I decide to walk away, I feel like I am being defeated by this person. I left on his terms, and I don’t want to do that,” she said. “I didn’t realize there was so much love and so much compassion and so much need of flowers for the customers to rebuild this flower shop; the sadness in people calling, crying on the phone, insisting to come and help; the support that I received, it’s unbelievable.
“I feel like I need to establish back this 87-year-old shop; the oldest in San Francisco,” she explained. “On the other side, if I decide to rebuild, time is not on my side. I’m in remission of cancer. I don’t know, within the next few years, if this comes back and knocks on my door, my health issues.
“I don’t know how long the landlord’s construction will last; how much longer my construction inside will last. How much money I have to put from my pocket and use up all the GoFundMe that has been established.
“And when would I retire? If I sell it, would I be able to make my money back? I’ll be 70 at that time,” she said. “Either way, it’s going to be very painful. I’m hoping by the end of the year I could really decide; either I hang in there, I wait, and I fix it and then I decide when I’m going to retire, not this evil man who tells me when I have to leave.”
As of Sept. 28, the GoFundMe account set up for her had reached $61,940 toward a goal of $100,000. She estimates it will take her at least 18 months to get the shop up and running again, but in the meantime, she has lost her main source of income.
“These shocks kept coming one after another: One, I lose the shop; Second, insurance only pays that much; Third is, wow, in 10 days I have to pay the mortgage. Where is that money going to come from? And then a month later I got to pay mortgage again for a house I live in, not to mention water, insurance, etc.
“Yeah, I have a partner. We’ve been together for 17 years, but I do have to make my mortgage payment.”
“Sona is not just anybody that does flowers,” Awadalla said. “I consider her an artist with her work. Her work is beautiful; the way she does her funeral packaging and the wedding package, if you look at her work, it’s really, really pretty. It’s done with love. It’s done with art.”
“My appreciation to the people’s kindness, the compassion, the love, the support they’ve been giving me, it’s unparalleled,” Pehlivanian said. “I don’t know how I could return, all these people, their love and that’s the pressure that I’m also in. Should I walk away? Should I stay?
“There might be one bad person, but there are tons of nice, good people around.”