Northside SF
Bellingham by the Bay
Cala Foods is closed – can California be far behind?
I wandered over to Hyde Street and California on Dec. 1 to see the permanent closing of that seemingly indefatigable fortress nearly atop Nob Hill called Cala Foods. It had been there many decades under the aegis of Ralph’s foods. They’d boast: “We’re Open 24 Hours!” Norm Howard would quip that the only thing open for 24 hours in San Francisco these days is S.F. General Hospital. Let’s be grateful. Sure, times have changed over the years dramatically for the shoppers and the retailers alike, but all the same, it’s startling to see the naked, bleak, grubby stainless steel shelves as if it were a Busman’s Holiday in Moscow – when the buses didn’t run. And when Moscow was down and out. But the buses in Moscow run now. Dictators are good at making the buses run on time. Why pick on Moscow? They have so many billionaires now they could hire out a Cala Market for a cocktail party. With Lindsay Lohan to proffer the canapés, gush over the Beluga, sigh over the blinis. Paris Hilton could fondle the eggplant or make an omelet out of a Faberge egg. Oh, yes, but our own Cala here on little ole provincial California Street has had its place in the Kleig lights. It was the site of lots of major movies with the director searching for colorful-looking “San Francisco” scenes, scenes that were collaged with insomniac, speed-addled hippies, flute-playing seraphim, an assortment of street-crazies, mixed in with the crazy rich. The movie cats may have left; the rest of us would stay. “Stay,” implored one lone, heartbroken lassie in front of Cala as the shop darkened, her verizons seeming to close.

And to know that such a venerable emporium shuts down at Christmas, well, that’s unfathomable. Large American supermarkets, it seems to me, are the very essence of democracy – where any good citizen has a fair and equal shot at a ham hock, a Twinkie, a bottle of Gatorade, a frozen pizza, a can of Franco-American Italian-looking pasta, and ice cream for the ordinary person. Look at that! There’s gefilte fish too! Likely will be the last thing on the shelf. Did you ever know how the Jews get all the breaks? Yeah, that’s an old joke.

In recent years, there was a thriving recycling business in the basement at Cala Foods. Though a scene not for the faint-hearted, Cala, open for 24 hours, was also a pit for those who had scavenged for cans, bottles. It was a scene that would make Dante weep. One older, frail Chinese lady, with a bagful of refuse, lamented to me, “After this I don’t know where we’re gonna go.”

There are innumerable, nervous denizens who are feeling lost this holiday season without the fluorescent-lit tabernacle of comestibles on the hill. Something you could count on. When Cala closed on Dec. 1 the world seemed a little more uncertain, a little more precarious.

Yes, Cala Foods will reopen in June as a Trader Joe’s, the new trendsetter in food shopping (with some very good organic ketchup, a wonderful American invention). As a gesture to the old school, I made one last purchase at Cala: that wonderful American invention called Spam. No, not the kind that shows up on your computer screens, the kind that Monty Python sang about, the kind of meat product that saved starving Europeans from the Nazi sadism. I’m keeping my Spam in case the Marshall Plan ever comes back again.
Bruce Bellingham also writes for the Marina Times. The owner of the publications, Susan Reynolds, promises to take him out for lunch this year. Her tastes are lofty. Susan will insist on Spam with Hollandaise sauce. That will be just fine. E-mail:

March 2012
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