Urban Solutions: Help for the little guy 

Local entrepreneurs recognized for efforts to aid communities

Leaders of the nonprofit group Urban Solutions are honoring good small businesses that were nominated by community members.

Tonight, Urban Solutions and The Examiner hold the second San Francisco Neighborhood Urban Business Awards celebration at 111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna St., San Francisco.

The awards are an example of marketing for good, Urban Solutions spokeswoman Maureen Futtner said: they clue more would-be entrepreneurs into the free, small-business help Urban Solutions provides.

"The awards were born of us wanting to raise awareness of our mission of helping small businesses … throughout San Francisco. We recognize people who are so rarely appreciated and recognized," Futtner said.

After nomination, a panel of judges made the final awards. Three award-winners and three "honorable mentions" will be noted at the event; award-winners receive a plaque and thanks for their role in building and maintaining communities.

Urban Solutions was founded in 1992 as the South of Market Foundation, a group trying to improve the neighborhood after the Loma Prieta earthquake. It received significant funding at the time from the Filipino community, and worked closely with other business groups.

Expanding to perform business services in other parts of The City, it changed its name to Urban Solutions in 2002. Today, it is largely funded by city of San Francisco government grants, such as a $75,000 gift this year to revitalize several commercial districts. It has already seen success with its 4-year-old "Six on Sixth" program, with 14 new businesses successfully started and maintained along Sixth Street since 2003.

Small businesses in need of assistance or a small business loan can discuss it with Urban Solutions at (415) 553-4433 or go to www.urbansolutionssf.org.

First place: Cole Hardware

Knowledge, care and commitment to customers

For nearly half a century, Cole Hardware has offered San Franciscans a pleasant and knowledgeable place to shop for home and garden necessities. But the four-location business’s commitment to scads of worthy causes landed it top honors at the San Francisco Neighborhood Business Awards.

"They care about their customers, they care about their community and what is special about them is the extent that they go to in order to care for their environment," said Marjaneh Zarrehparvar, who nominated Cole Hardware for its first-place award.

Proprietor Rick Karp’s father David Karp established Cole Hardware in 1959 as a small store. Rick Karp took over in the mid-1970s. He’s since been driven by a desire to run a business that serves the community while earning a profit, he said.

Second place: Balboa Theater

Historic cinema thrives under new management

When the Levin family was preparing to close their historic Balboa Theater in 2001, they offered the lease and management of the business to Landmark Theatres co-founder Gary Meyer. Meyer accepted, and he and manager Roger Paul have devoted their time since to making the Balboa a pillar of the Outer Richmond district.

"The Balboa Theater shows great movies at reasonable prices," wrote the customer who nominated the theater. "Most of the time there are double features. There are many special extras like music between movies, the lack of insipid advertising, good sausages, good coffee, special guests and special events."

The Levins, who founded the San Francisco International Film Festival, built the Balboa in 1926 as one of their small, neighborhood theaters.

Third place: Café Que Tal

Guerrero Street coffee shop supports artists, nonprofits

When you’re writing about an award-winning coffee shop, sometimes its hard to focus on the community giving it does. That’s not what people first think about when they give their heart to a brewhouse.

"Que Tal is the quintessential neighborhood café, warm and welcoming," wrote the customer who nominated the Guerrero Street coffeehouse. "The atmosphere is so chill … no pretensions … Kids are definitely welcome in this café."

The café is notable for its homemade soups and sandwiches and fresh flower bouquets, according to Urban Solutions. Venezuelan immigrant Elena Jurado treats her staff right and has low turnover as a result, with some baristas serving for years.

Honorable mentions

Chico’s Pizza, South of Market

A low-cost pizza place on a tough Sixth Street block, owned by Hani Al-Hakim. The shop donates to local and school events, and gives discounts to low-income residents of its building.

Chloe’s Closet, Bernal Heights

A store selling recycled children’s clothing, toys and gear, owned by Molly Tyson. The store provides classes on using certain products, a resource area and reasonable prices.

Stitch Lounge, Hayes Valley

An urban sewing lounge that provides machines,room, supplies and advice to the fabric-minded crafty set, owned by Melissa Alvarado, Melissa Rannels and Hope Meng.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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