Tuesday, April 17, 2012

To Serve & Protect: Meet Dames Shouman of Reno's Liquor

Dames always greets the customers at Reno's with a smile. 
"Name is Dames, like James but with a D," Shouman declared with the tone of a man that had been asked many times to clarify his name.

Dames Shouman, owner of Reno's Liquor, was the first person we met when we moved to Dogpatch.

Dames, along with his coworkers Shy and Rafik, are the greeters of the unofficial hub of the Dogpatch neighborhood. A constant flow of long-time neighborhood residents, cops, fellow merchants, Hells Angels, Muni employees, dogs and neighborhood newcomers all find their way to Reno's.

It may be called a liquor store, but it is so much more. High-end offerings such as Scharffen Berger Chocolate share shelf space with bags of Nestle's chocolate chips and local small batch beer offerings sit next to the Miller High Life.

We spoke with Shouman one recent morning as he took care of a constant stream of customers and vendors. Many wanted lottery tickets, some needed cash from the ATM before they headed to work and others needed a Red Bull to get them there. Dames was unflappable as he efficiently fulfilled every request.

Without fail though even the sleepiest customer wanted to put in a good word or share a story about Dames and his shop.

There was the woman who came in everyday with her dog for the treats Dames keeps behind the counter. "My dog won't let me pass the shop without stopping for his treat!" she said. Another long-time customer told the story of how she once came in to buy her usual soda and was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she didn't notice she had bought the wrong brand. But Dames noticed and quietly asked her if she was sure of her purchase.

And there were also those customers that noted Dames is often quick with
good-natured ribbing at their expense. They were happy to poke a bit of fun at him for being photographed and interviewed.

Dames and his shop are often credited with helping to transform Dogpatch into the vibrant neighborhood it is today. And he is certainly thought of as the metaphorical bartender who always has a willing ear for the daily stories, joys and troubles of the people who pass through his shop.
The steady flow of customers didn't stop during our interview.

Why do you do what you do?

I enjoy people and I enjoy the different personalities that make up the Dogpatch neighborhood.

It is a challenge to cater to the wide variety of customers that come through my shop. We have everything from $2 to $100 items. We like to think we have something for everyone here. I enjoy the challenge of making sure we keep up with what this changing neighborhood needs.

I grew up in Brooklyn and moved with my family to California when I was 16. We had a small shop similar to Reno's in another part of SF. I wasn't sure I was going to continue to work in the family business but when my father became ill, I left college to help out. I took over from other family members in 2005.

Why Dogpatch?

We eventually closed the other shop and were looking for another space. A family member knew of this space so we bought the existing business in 1989. The business had changed hands many times through the years. I think the Reno's name came from the original Italian owner many years ago.

It was definitely a different neighborhood in 1989 than it is today. We were still busy then but the mix of customers has definitely changed.

Who is another fascinating person in Dogpatch?

Dennis Herrera (City Attorney for San Francisco) lives in this neighborhood and comes in all the time. He loves this neighborhood and he is just a really nice guy and a strong family man. I like to tease him after I see him on TV being all serious. He is easy to joke with.

What's an interesting story that has happened to you in Dogpatch?

We have had a lot of interesting people come through here. The former manager of the SF Giants, Dusty Baker, used to come in here all the time.

But one of the more interesting things to happen here is when the TV show Nash Bridges filmed a scene in our shop. I wasn't in it but it was fun to be part of it.

So what would you be doing if you weren't saying hello to the entire population of Dogpatch every day?

Well, I would have probably become a police officer. Maybe a detective -- I read people pretty well.

Article Written by Patricia Kline, Photos by Scott R. Kline

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