[Best of Silicon Valley 1999]

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Editors' Choice

Durable Goods
AND QUALITY SERVICES

Metro writers on the valley's best goods and services

Best Real Estate Value In A Feed Supply Store

ACE Rural Supply Hardware
110 S. Santa Cruz Ave., LG
408.354.3910

Need feed? Even though the Valley of Heart's Delight has gone Webvan, there are some things that just can't be downloaded, charged by phone or overnighted. So ACE Rural Supply Hardware in Los Gatos is still around, and still a locally owned and operated family business (ACE is just a buying co-op). Brothers Tim and Ken Nelson bought the store in 1995, after putting in about 40 years between the two of them. Originally called Clara Feeds, the store opened on South Santa Cruz Avenue in the '50s and has stayed mostly the same since--except for when it started focusing more on hardware in the '60s and '70s. Tim Nelson says most of the store's customers are from Los Gatos and the mountain areas above town, which, he says, has more horses now than at the turn of the century.
Jeff Kearns

Best Place To Pull A Saint Francis Of Assisi

Yerba Buena Native Nursery
19500 Skyline Blvd., Woodside
650.851.1668

Ever wonder how to get the birds to flock to you like the animal-empathic saint of legend? Head gardener Kathy Crane has a suggestion: fill your garden with native plants. "It creates a natural corridor for native birds and insects," she explains, adding that native plants require less watering and attention than the foreign plants we associate with a proper English garden, which is, yes, inappropriate to California. The fruit of native revivalist Gerda Isenberg's labor, Yerba Buena is the South Bay's only nursery dedicated strictly to native plants. Not only does Yerba Buena stock redwoods, native grasses, California poppies, wild lilacs, lupines, fragrant sagebrush of all varieties and anything else required to turn an eighth-acre of lawn back into a patch of old California, it is also a worthy destination in itself. After making the breathtaking journey through Woodside and up Skyline Drive, guests are invited to stroll through the fragrant native gardens, where gorgeous metal garden sculptures accent serenity-inducing arrangements of shrubbery, flowers and grasses. Open daily from 9am to 5pm, Yerba Buena also has a tearoom and gift shop.
Traci Hukill

Best Place To Saw And Be Sawn

Valley Saw
269 E. Santa Clara St., SJ
408.292.0181

When 16-year-old Adolph Foida came to California from Switzerland in the early part of the century, the valley was full of orchards and good pruning saws were scarce. Foida founded a saw-manufacturing business in 1937 that is still being operated by his son and grandson today, even in a time when Santa Clara County has abandoned its orchards and most of the instruments are now sold in the Central Valley. Pruning, drywall and hand saws are still put together from scratch at the east San Jose storefront plant, still using the same number of employees (five) that Adolph Foida employed in the '40s. Valley Saw operates a sharpening business "on the side, since we've got the equipment around." They also manufacture a novelty: a musical saw, whose blade can hold notes that are played with a violin bow. Look for the musical saw festival at Roaring Camp in July.
Jesse Taylor

Best Place To Pick Up Chicks

Farmers Supply
1936 Alum Rock Ave., SJ
408.258.4077

There it is, right next to the giant orange weenie hut on Alum Rock, across from a chintzy stucco strip mall, and mere minutes from downtown San Jose--an old-time feed and supply store so overwhelmed by its burden of gadgetry that most of the surplus is just crammed in cardboard boxes and piled on every available dusty surface in this cavernous, time-warped building. For 40 years Farmers Supply has stocked drive-up hay and straw, hoof liniment and horsefly repellent, scratch and vitamin-fortified pellets for chickens, and the usual endless supply of supplies for dogs and cats--not to mention miscellaneous household goods like real brooms and quite a bit of hardware. There's a nifty ancient Coke machine in the back that doesn't work, but the really riveting thing about Farmers is the chicken section--a dozen wide, flat cages stacked atop each other with a score of cheeping, beady-eyed little chicks in each one. Cost per chick: $1.50. Guess life is cheap if you're a chicken.
Traci Hukill

Best Place To Get Your Spirit

Botanica y Joyeria San Cipriano
1159 S. King St., SJ
No telephone

Oops--slip and sell your soul? It's possible to get it back with a little magic, but finding businesses in the valley that deal in the older-than-Christian religions can take a bit of detective work; after a couple of millennia of ridicule and occasional persecution, practitioners of the old worship are understandably a little suspicious of outsiders. One of the best places in the valley to purchase ancient spirit-aids is the Botanica Y Joyeria San Cipriano in the Newberry Shopping Center at King and Story roads on the East side. The glass cases are lined with aromatic jabones (soaps) with specific properties: Limpias, Los 7 Elefante, 33 Yo Dado. There are plastic cards with links to certain saints, and vials of sweet-colored water that can solve certain problems: No Me Olvides (don't forget me), Espirito Vencedor (conquering spirit), Hechezo de Amor (love spell) or Ven Dinero (money-drawing). There are also packets of protective powders and jars and jars of aromatic herbs, as well as the obligatory candles. But don't go in like a tourist. The proprietors are wary of people who do not have respect for their faith.
Jesse Taylor

Best Reason To Learn To Cook

San Jose Stove Works
410 N. 10th St., SJ
408.293.3106

Oh, the pleasure of a sturdy old restored gas stove. First there's the joy of the burner valve action--turning that molded white enamel knob to the right and feeling the silky resistance of a perfectly functioning component. Then there's the ignition itself--the stately progression of a well-mannered flame around the burner, obediently leaping higher or hunkering down in precise relation to adjustment of the knob. Once the furnishings of garbage dumps, old gas stoves are back, and the best place to get them in the Bay Area is San Jose Stove Works. Original owner John Stagi, 75, shows off the 40-year-old store's hot rod, a rare two-oven O'Keefe & Merritt with two separate broilers, six burners and a warming compartment--ready to drive off the lot for $10,000. Stagi admits to a little puzzlement over the market. "It's people like you, your age, they're both working, they come home and they probably don't even cook, to tell you the truth," he says. "But it's like owning a jewel or a work of art." Stagi's son Mark runs the shop now, where 20-odd stoves (mostly in the $800 to $1,200 range) await loving homes. Primarily models from the 1930s and 1940s, most come equipped with clock, timer, salt and pepper shakers, and handy time-and-temperature charts for roasting meats and baking cakes. There's just no excuse for not cooking on one of these babies.
Traci Hukill

Whole House Building Supply
No Pane, No Gain: At Whole House Building Supply in East Palo Alto, customers salvage materials rescued from old houses slated for demolition.

Best Place To Furnish Your Bunker

Whole House Building Supply
1917 & 1955 Pulgas Ave.,
East PA
650.856.0634

One pair of 8-foot virgin redwood double doors, courtesy of an adobe scraper in Palo Alto. One wrought-iron gate, refuse from a rebuild in Atherton. Rows and rows of real wood kitchen cabinets, thanks to a 10,000-square-foot mansion in Hillsborough that wanted to be 12,000 square feet. Is the picture getting clearer? Whole House Building Supply is a dream for an apocalyptic shelter-builder, or for anyone wanting to appoint his or her abode with top-quality castoffs from the homes of the rich and the restless. Paul Gardner started the business to keep virgin wood and unwanted brass from heading to the landfill every time some hill-dweller decided to remodel. Claw-foot-tub vultures are welcome to browse Gardner's East Palo Alto warehouse, or wait for the next estate sale where the owner of a home about to be scrapped opens it to an eager public to pick and pull at will. "It's like Home Depot in reverse," says Cindy Coleman. "Except Home Depot doesn't have stuff this good."
Michael Learmonth

Best Gardener Who Won't Terrorize With Noise

Manuel Lima
no phone (he dislikes the noise of a ringing telephone, too)

Manuel Lima is a landscape gardener who actually owns rakes. He lives in a Victorian, drives a classic red-and-white 1955 Chevrolet Cameo pickup truck (with whitewalls) and uses old-fashioned hand tools for trimming bushes, pruning trees and tidying up flower beds. He reinforces what we've been saying for years, that a talented gardener doesn't need to make a lot of noise. By customer request, he won't hurl dust into the street, increase the neighborhood pollen count and otherwise make a nuisance of himself with a leaf blower. (He confesses that he owns one, but only for certain tasks, and he won't use it on anyone's yard if the owner objects.) Lima's a busy guy these days, a fact which hopefully signifies a quietly emerging trend.
Corinne Asturias

Best 99-Year Old Defense Against Varmints

Macabee Gopher Traps
110 Loma Alta Ave., LG

Once the big blackout forces the valley to heed the call from its deep agrarian roots and start farming and growing again, newfound farmers won't have far to look for the best way to keep their orchard trees healthy and productive. After exactly 99 years, the Macabee gopher trap is still being produced in the same little house at 110 Loma Alta Ave., where Zephyr Albert Macabee first started making the traps after filing his patent in October 1900. In keeping with the spirit of not fixin' what ain't broke, the design is exactly the same as it was back when Macabee sold his contraptions around town from horse-pulled buggy. Today the business is run by Ron Fink, but Macabee's granddaughter, Lucile Evans, still does books at the old family business. Most of the traps are sold within California, with some also shipped off to other Western states. According to Los Gatos Weekly-Times columnist John Baggerly, the traps were widely used in orchards in and around Los Gatos, especially in the Almond Grove district just west of downtown, where the little critters threatened to wipe out some orchards.
Jeff Kearns

Best Handmade Clothes

Manuel's Custom Tailoring
3237 Stevens Creek Blvd., SJ
408.246.8128

Manuel Carvajal has the skinny (and the not-so-skinny) on a lot of this county's judges, prosecutors and attorneys: they are some of this custom suit-maker's best clients. While some tailors can cut a better deal by sending measurements to workers in faraway ports like Hong Kong, that is not for Carvajal. Since 1968, he has been making suits in his Stevens Creek storefront fit to adorn the local gentry. Today, 11 sewing machines fill his back room. While he stocks a few racks of ready-made suits on the wall, his specialty is putting suits, pants, sport coats and shirts together, custom. Patrons can choose from styles in his design book, or Carvajal will copy designs from any picture his customers bring in. Dig that tux Leonardo Di Caprio was wearing at the Oscars? For the right price, Carvajal can put you in your own suit of the stars.
Jim Rendon

Best Place To Get Your Bug Running

AJ's Auto Repair
404 Meridian Ave., SJ
408.292.8043

This timeless auto shop on the fringe of San Jose's canning district is the namesake of Angelo John Carriere, who, at 82 years of age, is still tinkering with vee-dubs with uncommon honesty and devotion. AJ's son, John Carriere, 50, mostly runs the shop nowadays and, when he doesn't have his head stuck under an open deck lid, will take time to talk about electrical troubles in a six-volt or any number of esoteric VW matters. There's no designer flooring in this place and no big plants in the lobby and no doctor's-office prices either. The vehicles out front tell the story of the shop's 35-year reputation in this valley: from pristinely restored oval-windowed classics of the 1950s to hardy daily drivers of the '60s to Superbeetles of the '70s. There's also the occasional bug that looks like it got, well, squashed. But rest assured, at AJ's, every bug is a love bug, and they'll nurture it as if it were their own.
Corinne Asturias

San Martin Meats
Dead Cow Palace: San Martin Meats owner Lou Katen shows the cut of the day to longtime customer Henry Baugher of San Jose.

Best Place To Make A Vegetarian Hurl

San Martin Meats & Deli
1404 S. Bascom Ave., SJ
408.995.6232

The blood-red aprons. The meat-on-meat sandwiches. The total absence of roughage. San Martin Meats--formerly Ernie the Butcher--near Zorba Restaurant is really a hog heaven. None of that generic prepackaged dead flesh found in most supermarkets here (and definitely no discount meat past its expiration date). At San Martin, burly owner Lou Katen and his able staff take delight in cutting a ribeye to individual specifications. "If you come in," Lou promises, "I'll cut you a steak any way you want it. I'll even season it for you." Every day Lou busts out the barbecue and cooks up some fine ribs and tri-tips (the house specialty). Extra bonus: lunch dishes served with real mashed potatoes, not that dehydrated stuff from a box.
Will Harper

Best Place To Incubate Your Eggs

Lindsey and Friends Antique Mall
7888 Monterey St., Gilroy
408.842.5586

Just north of Gilroy's historic downtown, which is lined with more than a dozen antique shops, is one that puts the rest to shame. Lindsey and Friends Antique Mall will pacify and entertain just about any knickknack picker. Expensive, finely refurbished furniture is stacked right alongside rusted Coca-Cola coolers and creaky old bookshelves. While nothing is a complete steal, there are enough crumbling beauties to keep even the most purchase-phobic cheapskate happy. The 10,000-square-foot store, built in 1937, is set up like a maze, allowing patrons to wander through room after room of desks, dressers, china, farm tools and livestock skulls. For the Y2K freak in your life, there are plenty of pre-electric doodads, including an antique egg incubator. Because you never know. Really, you never know.
Jim Rendon

Best Use Of Hemp Without Smoking It

John F. Dahl Plumbing
329 Alma St., PA
650.948.6100

Usually when hemp and pipes are used in combination it is to induce euphoria or clear up a nasty case of glaucoma. But at Palo Alto's John F. Dahl Plumbing, hemp rope is used to seal old lead pipes. Every now and again, Dahl Plumbing president Andy Anderson says he comes across an old home in the city with an antiquated lead-pipe plumbing system that needs fixing. In those cases, he says, his 104-year-old company creates new pipes by pouring molten lead into molds. The word "plumbing," the pipe-professor informs us, comes from the Latin for "lead." Plastic is much more fashionable than lead nowadays in the plumbing biz. But the "old farts" at Dahl, as Anderson lovingly refers to his crew, are well-versed in the ways of old pipes. Dahl Plumbing has been in Palo Alto since 1895. "We're the oldest company in town--period," Anderson boasts.
Will Harper

Best Old-Time Appliance Fixer

Jose Maldonado
Mobile Unit
408.289.1642

What to do when that ancient dishwasher starts making noises like a toy car or that curvy gas stove from the 1950s doesn't seem to have the old fire in its belly anymore? Hint: DON'T call some hootie-wah-wah manufacturer's rep who will swear on his last pay raise that your old relic is unfixable, and what you really need is a newer, noisier appliance made mostly from the miracle fiber plastic. Don't do it! Jose Maldonado, owner of JM Appliance, likes old stuff. He will be the first to agree they don't make 'em like they used to, and he gets a kick out of lifting a vintage appliance out of its midlife crisis. He can actually fix broken parts, not merely replace them, and works for a fraction of the cost of something new. So save the landfill! Save money! Make the kitchen gods of an old house proud.
Corinne Asturias

Best Place To Ensure Post-Millenial Productivity

Roberts Business Machines Inc.
345 S. Fourth St., SJ
408.294.1215

Formerly Bee & Dee Office Equipment Co. on San Fernando Street, this valhalla of the mechanical keystroke opened for business just after WWI. Since then, the shop has seen some changes, but not as fundamental as one might think. It was typewriters then, and it's typewriters now. "The paperless office isn't here yet, is it?" jokes repairman Bob Cunningham, who is proud to say that his repair skills, and most of his machines, are fully Y2K compliant. Should the old PC gack on Judgment Day, Bob's got a stack of 35-pound gunmetal IBM Selectrics--the Cadillacs of typewriters--for rent for $45 a month. A few months should be enough to shake the millennial bugs out of less robust office machines. And if electricity's in short supply Jan. 1, never fear--$100 takes a refurbished Olivetti 35, powered by machine-gun fingers and, as Bob says, "augmented by brain tissue for memory."
Michael Learmonth

Best Place For Canning Supplies

Orchard Supply Hardware
720 W. San Carlos St., SJ
408.297.7173

'Tis the season to put up. That's right: put up. Not to be confused with putting out, putting up is what country folk call making jam, canned tomato sauce, cherries jubilee, whatever. Anyway, with those baskets of blackberries and bags of tomatoes cluttering up the fridge, it's time to get ahold of a canning book (most good cookbooks will have a section) and head on over to Orchard Supply for the necessary implements. They've got jars in all sizes, sealing lids and bands, plus the giant pots for a "boiling water bath." For those who don't own a cookbook, there are easy jam recipes in the box of Sure-Jell pectin (pectin is the stuff that makes jelly and jam "set"--another country term). True, canning requires some organization, planning and attention to cleanliness. But in the bone-chillin' depths of winter, a jar of tangy preserves or tender plums drifting in cabernet-colored nectar will taste like the food of the gods.
Corinne Asturias

Best Place For A Heavy Realization

South Bay Materials
1781 Angela (Near Almaden Expressway and Highway 87)
408.977.1855

Yard dwellers with less-than-green thumbs would be wise to note this ancient suburban proverb: Landscapes are not all about plants. There is also granite, lava, quartz or any variety of rounded river stones. Rocks are pretty reasonable, too (they also make great cat stools). A statuesque, lichen-encrusted fieldstone type rock, around 2 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet, weighs about 900 pounds and costs about $60. If you buy, literally, a ton of them (two of the aforementioned rocks), the folks at South Bay Materials will deliver them to you with a forklift (an extra $70). The really good news: this landscape investment will never die. No matter how cold or dry it gets, no matter if your housesitter forgets to water, no matter if Y2K sends it all tumbling down: a rock is like, well, a rock. It will still be there, calmly waiting for the next millennium.
Corinne Asturias

Best Source For Bargain Vehicles

St. Vincent de Paul Society
2040 S. Seventh St., SJ
408.993.9500

There she is, the 1932 Buick. There isn't much to her anymore. Rust has colonized her metal skin; rot, her wooden appointments. The light shining through her side vents reveals that she's got no engine. Ever wonder where those cars go that are donated to a charity for a tax deduction? Well, now you know. At $4,495, old Bertha's the least practical ride in the lot. Some cheaper alternatives include a 1977 Pinto with sports striping and performance interior, all for $105. Even better is a yellow 1971 veedub squareback, complete with round gauges, smiling face and stereo for $599. Can't say if they run or not. At St. Vincent's car lot, you never know until you try. But you can have fun trying. And after that there's always the thrift store with its vast collection of 386 computers, solid-state electronics and, get this, several rows of Boeing 727 airline seats.
Michael Learmonth

Best Place To Look Sharp

Ernie's Sharpening and Repair
975 Bascom Ave., SJ
408.280.1533

When the old garden snippers and clippers get gummed up and blunt enough to qualify as children's toys, the temptation is to toss them into the nearest trash can and head straight for the rack full of more cheap tools that will, well, end up in the can a couple of seasons down the line. Hold on there a minute, little chopper-shoppers. To be perfectly blunt, this is a waste of metal and human engineering. Plus, a pair of clippers looks silly in the trash. (Omigod, the neighbors bought such cheap tools they're just chucking them away!) Fact is, scissors, kitchen knives, choppers and lawnmowers can all be sharpened good as new for a few paltry bucks. The folks at Ernie's (motto: the Knife Stalkers) will even come and pick up your lawnmower, sharpen it and put it back in the garage.
Corinne Asturias

Best Place To Pretend You're Amish

The Quilting Bee
264 Castro St., MV
650.969.1714

In case you haven't noticed, quilts have experienced a resurgence in popularity since the 1970s. This American handcraft first came into style among pioneer women, who used the quilting bee as a social time--and a way to gather up and recycle pieces of fabric into a unique art form. Well, it's back, courtesy of Mountain View's The Quilting Bee, now run by Edward Leone and started by his mother, Diane, 18 years ago in Los Altos. A small collection of crib quilts and some of Diane Leone's collection are for sale. But mostly The Quilting Bee is an education force--helping people learn how to design and create quilts. Everything requisite is in stock, from patterns, fabrics and notions to sewing machines--and the shop gives ongoing open-structure classes which do, in fact, serve as "quilting bees." Some 1,000 quilters each year enroll. There's also a huge supply of books about quilts.
Ellen Murray

Best Post-Apocalyptic Outdoor Parts Store

Pick-N-Pull
1675 Monterey Highway or
1065 Commercial St., SJ
408.452.1275

It's not every day that I get to sit in an Italian sports car. So when I came across the red convertible 1978 Fiat Spider, I couldn't resist climbing in, closing the door and reclining the seat to get a little sun. Ignoring the wires spilling from the dashboard like a pot of ramen noodles gone wrong, I tried to imagine the rumble of the engine on the open road, which was a little tough since this car's engine was long gone. Stranded high on blocks, the Spider was surrounded by row after row of automotive has-beens. At the Pick and Pull on Monterey Road, thousands of cars are lined up just waiting to be pillaged. That new seat, alternator, even transmission is just an afternoon and a few well-placed hammer blows away. And at break time there are any number of fancy imported cars to catch a quick nap in. It only costs a buck to get into the yard, but remember, parts are usually easier to pull out than they are to put back in.
Jim Rendon

Best Place To Mail A Manuscript

McWhorter's Stationers
Various locations throughout the South Bay
408.494.1200

Every author dreams of that day some New York agent actually asks to see his novel, but what do you do after that? Thanks to the publishing world's low-tech attitude, you're stuck with a 418-page stack of loose papers that you have to somehow deliver safely there (and, sadly, probably back) through the vicissitudinous U.S. Postal Service. Worry not, young Hemingway! You can accomplish the whole shmear at McWhorter's, where they offer a glorious buffet spread of padded envelopes and manuscript boxes that you can try out pre-purchase. Afterward, simply jaunt over to their handy Post Office Express station and have your contribution to literature weighed and stamped for delivery, then seal it up with the store-supplied packing tape. One trip. Numerous advantages. As for the subsequent national book tour, international film rights and appearances on Oprah's Book Club--you're on your own.
Michael J. Vaughn

Best Place To Turn Your Best Face Forward

Paul Tumason Photography
1341 The Alameda, SJ
408.286.PAUL

If you absolutely, positively gotta look good, there's one man for the job: Paul Tumason. No corny jokes and "watch the birdie" here, and none of that cheesy backlighting designed to make everyone look like an aspiring model. "My study is in art and what people like about themselves," says Tumason, 30 years after starting his career as a portrait photographer blowing up Polaroids on the spot at the San Jose Flea Market. His portraits hang on walls and in halls all around the valley, and a 1982 series of 30-inch-by-40-inch portraits of the San Jose Symphony grace the walls of the Center for the Performing Arts. Now, thousands of portraits later, Tumason says he's able to make people look good and like their photos, even if they've had a terrible experience with photos before. From wallets to 40-inch-by-90-inch photos, one thing never changes: it's all about the eyes. "It's unknown what I see in a person--a turn of the head one way may show them off, while a turn the other way may not," Tumason muses. "I'm looking for something specific."
Jeff Kearns

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From the September 30-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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