Gene’s Liquor, at the southwest corner of Taraval Street and 32nd Avenue.
By Kerri Young
Out in the Parkside District, on the southwest corner of Taraval and 32nd Avenue, stands a little-known institution, a pioneer grocery store-turned liquor store with a notable history. Erected in 1908 and opened in 1909, it holds the distinction of being the Parkside’s first business.
In 1909, residents of the Parkside were living more in a country village than a city neighborhood. As the recently-created Parkside District Improvement Club (PDIC) worked to establish basic city services like a volunteer fire department and a postal delivery service, resident Eugene A. Williams created the district’s first grocery store and public meeting hall. An ex-police officer of Vallejo and Solano counties and prominent booster for the Parkside, the neighborhood Sunset Journal noted that Williams’ “interests are centered in the Parkside and he has unlimited faith in the future of this growing district.”1
A newspaper clipping featuring a photo and column about Eugene Williams, pasted into a scrapbook of the Parkside District Improvement Club (after being saved by the Western Neighborhoods Project, the club’s scrapbooks now live in the San Francisco Public Library’s collection). The clipping probably came from the Sunset Journal, January 28, 1910, a short-lived neighborhood newspaper.
Long before streetcars and even paved roads came to the Parkside, “Parkside Grocery,” or “Williams Grocery,” was the sole destination for food staples and other provisions in the district.
On the second floor of the store there was an auditorium with an attached gymnasium, called “Williams Hall” or “Parkside Hall,” which played host to social events, political rallies, and community meetings in the neighborhood. Williams himself was an early member of the PDIC, and the club met at the hall in the days before the Parkside Branch Library and other district meeting spots came onto the scene. Agenda items included issues of local concern and speakers on larger subjects, such as Women’s Suffrage.2
A look at the corner of 32nd and Taraval on the 1915 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. William’s store is seen on the corner, with text indicating that there is a “Hall” on the second floor. Little was constructed around Williams’ building until the Parkside started booming in the 1920s and 30s.
Parkside volunteer fire department engine parked on 32nd Avenue in front of Eugene Williams’ Parkside Grocery (with social hall above) at Taraval Street, 1910s. (Williams Family Collection.)
Mary Ada Williams recounted stories of her husband Charlie Williams’ upbringing as Eugene’s son in the Parkside District in the books Parkside Pranks and Sunset Stunts (1986) and More Parkside Pranks and Sunset Stunts (1990). She mentioned Parkside Grocery as a stop for the boys rabbit-hunting across the sand dunes:
“By the time they reached 32nd and Taraval, it would be around noon time. If they were lucky, they would have a nickel between them. With that nickel they would go to the Williams grocery store and buy a loaf of raisin bread which they would split among all the kids so that each one got his share.”3
Mary Williams also noted how all the fireman, police, and streetcar drivers would stop by the store for coffee, much like San Francisco MUNI drivers do today.
Parkside Grocery decorated in 1925 for the 75th anniversary of California’s admission into the Union. (Williams Family collection)
In the late 1920s, the building was remodeled in the Mediterranean Revival style, with a corner bay added along with a stucco exterior. The upstairs hall became office spaces and, later, apartments. As the Parkside continued to grow over the next few decades, Parkside Grocery became “Gene’s Liquor” – from “Eugene” Williams – shifting its role to local liquor store as larger grocery stores like Safeway moved in nearby.
The Williams family continued to run Gene’s until 1971, when they decided to sell the business to move to the suburbs.4 Since then, Gene’s has had a few different owners, starting with William Low, Jr. in 1971. Current owner Hamik Minas, who has run Gene’s for more than a decade, has endeared himself to the Parkside community through the delicious sandwiches he serves up at the store’s deli counter.
Gene’s Liquors is a significant structure to the history of the Parkside, and, as the oldest business in the district, certainly qualifies for recognition on San Francisco’s Legacy Business Registry. We salute its long and continuing history as a community hub, and encourage you to stop by the next time you’re in the neighborhood to experience a piece of Parkside history.
For more stories and shenanigans across Gene’s history, I recommend the Western Neighborhood Project’s great podcast on Gene’s Liquors, here.
A look at the store from across the street, July 2020. In 2014, Gene’s signature red sign was refurbished and the building received a new coat of paint as part of the Taraval Streetscape Improvement Project, led by former District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang. (Heritage photo)
1. Copy of newspaper clipping dated January 28, 1910. PDIC papers, Western Neighborhoods Project Collection.
2. Mary Ada Williams, “Rabbit Hunting in the Sunset,” More Parkside Pranks and Stunts, (San Francisco: North Scale Institute: 1990). Retrieved from http://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Rabbit_Hunting_in_the_Sunset.
3. Richard Brandi and Woody LaBounty, San Francisco’s Parkside District: 1905 – 1957, March 2008, pg. 31. Retrieved from http://archives.sfplanning.org/documents/4976-parkside-statement%20march%202008.pdf
4. Western Neighborhoods Project. Outside Lands Podcast Episode 335: Gene’s Liquors [Audio podcast], July 9, 2019. Retrieved from http://www.outsidelands.org/podcast/WNP335_Genes_Liquors