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Longtime Businesses in Visitacion Valley

By Kerri Young

Just as Visitacion Valley currently has no landmarks within its borders, it also does not have any businesses listed on the Legacy Business Registry. Today, we are spotlighting a few longtime businesses that make worthy candidates. Many of these businesses can be found along Leland Avenue, the neighborhood’s historic commercial corridor. To qualify for the Registry, businesses must be 30 years or older, be nominated by the Mayor or a member of the Board of Supervisors, or prove they have “made a significant impact on the history or culture of their neighborhood.” However, businesses 20 years or older can also join the Registry if they face significant risk of displacement and meet all other criteria.

For more on business A. Silvestri Co’s Fine Statuary (founded 1956), please stay tuned for our post on October 27 on the history of Visitacion Valley’s “log cabin.”

Forty-Niner Cleaners at 51 Leland Avenue. Heritage photo.

Forty-Niner Cleaners – 51 Leland Avenue

Forty-Niner Cleaners opened in 1955 at 93 Leland, and is seen listed that year in the San Francisco City Directory.

Forty-Niner Cleaners has operated on Visitacion Valley’s historic Leland Avenue commercial corridor for 66 years. Starting in 1955-56, the business operated a block up at 93 Leland Avenue, a 1908-mixed-used building previously home to a shoe store in the 1920s and an ice cream shop and floral store in the 1940s (this is also one of Woody LaBounty’s nine favorite commercial buildings on Leland).

93-97 Leland Avenue, where Forty-Niner Cleaners was previously located. 93 Leland has a permit application to add new housing around and behind it, demolishing two small early cottages at the back of the property while retaining most of the historic building in front.  Heritage photo.

The business appeared in a booklet celebrating neighborhood institution St. James Presbyterian Church’s 50th anniversary, where it is seen at its original address. Teddy Grocery, another longtime business in Visitacion Valley, is also visible.

An ad for “Forty Niner Cleaners” is seen alongside other businesses in Visitacion Valley in 1956. Courtesy of the Visitacion Valley History Project.

An ad for Forty-Niner Cleaners in the May 1987 issue of the Visitacion Valley Grapevine. At this time, the business was located at 93 Leland Avenue. Snippet from the San Francisco Neighborhood Newspapers collection on the Internet Archive.

Over twenty years ago, the business moved to 51 Leland Avenue, in a building constructed in 1926. Before Forty-Niner Cleaners called it their home, 51 Leland was home to the Jay Vee Clothing store, whose sign briefly stayed up until finally being painted over.

Forty-Niner Cleaners in the early 2000s. Jay Vee’s sign is still visible on the building’s exterior. Photo courtesy of Russel Morine.

Sue Chan, who started working at Forty-Niner Cleaners over thirty-five years ago and subsequently became the owner, continues its legacy as a important community-serving business.

Visitacion Valley Pharmacy – 100 Leland Avenue

Heritage photo.

Virginio Rossi is seen as the owner of the Visitacion Valley Pharmacy at 100 Leland Avenue in the 1934 San Francisco city directory.

Located in a building constructed in 1908, the Visitacion Valley Pharmacy has served the neighborhood for over 100 years. Sales ledgers show the property was sold from J.J. and M. Jennings to Virginio and Theodore Rossi in November 1924, although building permit records indicate that the Rossi Brothers owned the building as early as 1921. The Rossi family settled in Visitacion Valley after the end of the Civil War and became prominent land owners after purchasing a number of acres of rich farmland. By the early 1900s, a portion of the Rossi land holdings became the first section in the neighborhood to be divided into residential lots. The family, one of many Italian families that settled in the area, operated large vegetable gardens and later opened the Visitacion Valley Pharmacy on Leland Avenue, which they owned and operated for more than 70 years.

Virginio Rossi, pictured above, owned the Visitacion Valley Pharmacy on Leland until 1970, when his daughter took over. Courtesy of the Rossi Family.

It is possible that a less substantial, wood-frame building functioned as the Visitacion Valley Pharmacy beginning sometime around 1908. Later, when the area became more populated and business expanded, alterations were made to improve and expand the building. According to building permit records the building was raised on jacks in 1921 in order to install a new concrete foundation and mudsills. The building was being used as a drug store and residence at that time. In 1927, a storeroom was added to the rear of this two-story building. The structure received a coating of stucco on the front and east side in 1939 as well as new plate glass windows in the front elevation. In 1940, a garage and two additional rooms were added to expand the residential space.

An ad for the Visitacion Valley Pharmacy in the November 1986 edition of the Visitacion Valley Grapevine.

In San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley, members of the Visitacion Valley History Project recalled how the pharmacy used to serve a special (and unexpected) purpose in its more recent history:

Oral historians Mary Leotta Schwartz, Anna Stuart Johnson, and Viola Cuccaro Rusca all remembered when the only library in the Valley was a bookshelf in the pharmacy. People simply borrowed books and returned them to the shelf when read, with no library card or fines. Today the drugstore has new owners, but the name remains the same. 

Pharmacist Oliver Lee hold the photograph of the store’s original interior. Courtesy of Edie Epps.

Interior of the Visitacion Valley Pharmacy today. Notice the old photographic panoramas of Visitacion Valley hanging along the wall. Heritage photos.

After the closure of Leland Pharmacy in 1989 (previously located at 58 Leland and run by couple Jack and Yvonne Creighton since 1962), another long-running pharmacy in the neighborhood, Visitacion Valley Pharmacy remains as Leland Avenue’s primary pharmacy.

Teddy’s Market – 296-298 Teddy Avenue

298 Teddy Avenue. Heritage photo.

When it opened in 1908, Peterson’s grocery store was one of dozens of corner markets in Visitacion Valley. Housed in a wood-frame building built that same year, the store eventually gave way to grocery/corner stores under different names. But remarkably, 296-298 Teddy Avenue continues housing a store on this site, 113 years later.

Charles A. Peterson is seen living at 296 Teddy Avenue (above the store) in the 1909 City Directory

The original owners of the store and property were Charley A. and Petra C. Peterson, who opened Peterson Grocery starting in 1908 and owned it until sometime in the mid 1930s. The Petersons opened their grocery store in the years following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire (from which Visitacion Valley emerged relatively unscathed), when the area experienced a steady population increase as refugees from the city’s center stayed and settled in the community.

Teddy and Delta Streets in 1920s. [Visitacion Valley] Family posing in front of 296 Teddy Avenue, C.A.P. Grocery – Charley Peterson Grocery – Building still stands as Teddy Grocery (2018). OpenSFHistory / wnp26.1341

Joseph and Mary Cimino then owned a “Teddy Grocery” in the 1950s and 60s. Neighbor Tina Ballestrasse, who grew up across the street from the grocery store from 1954-1969, has fond memories of the store under their ownership:

I went to Teddy Grocery almost everyday (my mother would send me for fresh bread after it was delivered. We could see the delivery truck from our house). I do recall the year it snowed (1962) and the Ciminos were still there at Teddy Grocery. Some of us kids went to what we all called “the corner store” and asked for cardboard boxes to use as sleds. That is a very fond memory.

Starting in 1975, a Mr. & Mrs. Torres purchased the building (including the market) and still own the building today. From 1979-1982 the Torres’s leased the market to sisters that renamed it “Gail’s Market.” From 1982-2018, Mrs. Torres ran the market and changed the name to Teddy’s Market. They lease the market today, continuing 46 years as the building’s owners.

We can’t deny the importance of the business’s long commercial heritage, think it would make a fantastic addition to the Registry.

View north on Delta toward Teddy, McLaren Park in the background, 1953. Teddy is unpaved, two girls in white. 300 Teddy (built 1947) at left. 296-298 Teddy (built 1908, now Teddy’s Market) at right. At this time, the market was called “Teddy’s Grocery” and was owned by Joseph Cimino. OpenSFHistory / wnp28.1115

Other longtime business recommended by the Visitacion Valley History Project that qualify for legacy business status are:

Nails by Jenny
50 Leland Avenue

The Shop (barbershop)
160 Leland Avenue

Visitacion Valley Dental Office
37 Leland Avenue


Visitacion Valley Redevelopment EIR, prepared by Carey & Co., 2008

San Francisco’s Visitation Valley, by Cynthia Cox, Edie Epps, Russel Morine, Betty Parshall, and Jackie Fishtrom, 2005

Visitacion Valley

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