San Francisco Chronicle
Burglary, fire destroy longtime S.F. flower shop
For a windfall of $8, someone broke into Frank’s Floral Shop on Irving Street in San Francisco the other night. They jimmied the back door with a crowbar. They trashed the place and took what meager receipts the cash register had to offer.
And then they apparently set fire to the place — a Sunset District establishment that for 95 years had supplied bouquets and corsages to brides and widows and new parents in the 19th Avenue and Irving region, as well as the city’s broader Armenian community.
The incident at 1821 Irving St. occurred at 12:30 a.m. Sept. 5 and is under investigation as a burglary and possible arson, according to the
police and fire departments.
A week later, on Sunday afternoon, the owner of the shop, 66-year-old Sona Pehlivanian, stood in the wreckage. In the pile of charred inventory were some wicker flower baskets, trays of ruined succulents, a melted Rolodex and flowery thank you notes with curly penmanship.
Pehlivanian said she doesn’t know much about how insurance works, what will be covered or how much it will cost to rebuild the store, which includes a storefront and a little office and workspace upstairs. The needs will include some new walls, ceilings and staircase, along with new inventory. So far, her insurance representatives have not shown up to assess the damage, but offered $9,400, which would barely replace the lost merchandise, she said.
“What’s the landlord insurance going to cover? What about my insurance? Do I fight? Do I hire an attorney? Do I want to start again? By the time this is all finished, I’ll be almost 70,” she said. “Should I put in the energy to rebuild, or walk away and keep doing flowers for the church out of my garage? I don’t know.”
Pehlivanian was a recently divorced young mother when she bought the shop in 1987. Then, as now, it had a pizza spot on one side and a liquor store on the other. Frank’s Floral had been owned for 60 years by Frank Korkmazian, who, along with his wife, Gladys, operated the store and lived in two rooms upstairs.
After Frank died, Gladys ran the business until she sold it to Pehlivanian.
“They did almost everything for the Armenian community — all the weddings and funerals and processions,” she said. “I continued that. They were so happy that another young Armenian girl had taken it over and would keep it going. And I did that for 35 years — until this evil man take it away from me for absolutely nothing.”
Pehlivanian had previously worked at a bank but needed more flexibility to take care of her baby son. The shop offered her that. It was longer hours, but she could keep her child safe and tend to him in a sleeping bag on the floor while she worked. She said she worked 17-hour days and 20 hours on holidays. It paid off.
“As a single parent with a young child, I worked hard enough with the business that I was able to buy a house in the neighborhood after about five years,” she said.
Supervisor Gordon Mar said the break-in was the latest in a rash of commercial burglaries during the pandemic to hit stores along Irving, Taraval and Noriega streets. A print shop broken into on Taraval was also set on fire, and robbers additionally hit Sun Maxim’s, Twisted Donuts & Coffee, Nomad Cyclery, and Footprint shoe store, which was robbed twice in one night.
Mar said he has called for hearings into how to make the retail strips safer. He said he was unaware of any arrests in the break-ins.
“Frank’s Floral really is a historic neighborhood business, and Sona put her heart and soul into it,” he said.
Longtime customer and friend Milly Sheehy said she was heartbroken to hear of the setback.
“This is the most hardworking woman you will ever see,” Sheehy said. “She gets up at 4:30 every day to go to the flower market. Oh, she can’t say no to anybody. She helps everybody. She has a heart of gold, that woman, and she is a total giver.”
Dennis Wu, a prominent business leader in the Chinese American community who lives near the Stonestown Galleria just to the south of the neighborhood, said he became enamored with the store just recently. Wu got together with Drew Min and Jessica Ho to start a GoFundMe account to raise money for Pehlivanian.
“I fell in love with this woman,” he said. “Some people sing. Some people paint. Some people are great chefs. This woman had just this little flower shop, but she projected love through her fingers and hands.”
The intruder or intruders didn’t have the sense to take a gift basket or a bouquet of dahlias before escaping out the back alley, Pehlivanian said. She suspects the burglars are male, based on what was stolen. The store is still full of ash-covered greeting cards and wedding votives, vases, urns and melted candelabras — not to mention a cooler full of rapidly wilting flowers.
“Men don’t want those things,” she said.