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Noah's spreads out in San Francisco landmark building

Fitting standardized stores into unconventional spaces is becoming an increasingly common challenge as retailers move more aggressively into urban streetfronts. When Alameda, Calif.-based Noah's New York Bagels leased a 2,400 sq. ft. space in San Francisco's busy Financial District, the bagel retailer faced the unique prospect of operating on the ground floor of a bustling landmark office building.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 31-story Russ Building was the city's tallest skyscraper when it opened in 1926. It also was the first building ever purchased by Shorenstein Co. L.L.P., San Francisco's largest commercial landlord.

As Noah's prepared to occupy the building, it was faced with several significant restrictions. For example, city, state and federal regulations dictate that no changes be made to the building's facade, and they limit the length, height and appearance of exterior signage. Furthermore, Shorenstein insisted that the Noah's installation maintain the integrity of the building's main lobby, which had remained largely unchanged in 51 years.

At 2,400 sq. ft., Noah's' Russ Building location is nearly 50 percent longer than the retailer's typical store. That alone would have presented design challenges, but project architect Steve Carter notes there was more to come.

Because the shop would have interior and exterior access, Carter had additional concerns about meeting mandates instituted by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To make the building's wrought iron and glass street doors easy to open, his team installed special pivots that allowed the doors to swing more freely. Similar pivots were used for the brass and glass lobby doors, which had to be moved down the corridor to provide better flow.

According to ADA access rules, seating and restrooms were to be provided on a mezzanine level. The mezzanine was cut back from 1,200 sq. ft. to 800 sq. ft. to make the space more airy and to allow installation of a single-occupant elevator, which Carter refers to as a chair lift. The lift added about $80,000 to the cost, but Noah's vice president of marketing Sydney Drell Reiner says the mezzanine seating helps maximize the customer base.

The mezzanine also had two etched glass windows that looked into the adjoining coffee store, and the architects added two new ones, duplicating the original framing and glass.

Although the 1,600 sq. ft. ground-floor space could handle the seating needs of the typical Noah's outlet, the company anticipated especially heavy lunch hour traffic due to the number of workers packed into San Francisco's compact Financial District. Not only would more than the usual number of tables be needed, but additional floor space would be required to accommodate long lines at the counter.

In general, says Carter, signature Noah's design finishes were used, down to the chain's signature, white New York City subway tiles. A greater amount of woodworking was used to match the Russ Building's character; for example, the store's 17-ft. high ceilings necessitated construction of an open box-beam soffit at the more standard 12-ft. height, from which to hang the chain's custom pendant lamps.

The detailed work of Oakland, Calif.-based architects Avila & Tom Co. has produced a store that Reiner considers one of the company's jewels. "It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to help preserve a bit of San Francisco history, and we're very proud," she says.

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