Popular Castro merchant Brad Villers dies
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A popular Castro merchant has died, but the circumstances and manner of his death remain unclear.
Brad Villers, 53, who owned the Kard Zone at 2286 Market Street, was active in many community organizations, and is being remembered as a "passionate" neighborhood advocate.
It's not yet clear how Mr. Villers, who was gay, died. Stephen Gelman, administrator for the San Francisco Medical Examiner's office, said that Mr. Villers's death is under investigation and that the cause and manner of death were pending as of Tuesday, March 16.
According to Officer Boaz Mariles, a San Francisco police spokesman, the homicide unit is not investigating Mr. Villers's death.
Like other people in the community, openly gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty, whose district includes the Castro, fondly recalled Mr. Villers.
"Brad was a fixture in the neighborhood," said Dufty. "He had an upbeat energy." Like others, Dufty recalled "he was always wearing shorts, no matter what the weather."
Mr. Villers also was a nanny, and Dufty noted that Mr. Villers could frequently be seen caring for young children.
He "was a really passionate voice for the Castro, and he will be missed," Dufty said.
Kent Jeffery, whose family owns the shopping center where Mr. Villers's store is located, said he was shocked to hear the news.
"He was so energetic and seemed so healthy. It is just hard to believe," said Jeffrey.
Jeffrey said Mr. Villers had bought the business from the previous owner and moved to San Francisco from Palm Springs to run the store. He said he was unsure who Mr. Villers had left the store to and had yet to be contacted by his surviving relatives.
"He was an absolutely wonderful guy. I also considered him a friend," said Jeffrey. "It is sad."
Mr. Villers's business had slowed in recent years after the closure of the Tower Records store in late 2006. He was able to make ends meet and was looking forward to seeing Trader Joe's open at the shopping center. Mr. Villers had planned to relocate his greeting card and gift shop above the national grocer's new store.
"He was really greatly looking forward to moving above Trader Joe's and all that would have come with that," said Jeffrey. "Certainly, it would have revitalized his business, which had been down ever since Tower left."
In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter in his small, art-filled Noe Street apartment in November, Mr. Villers had displayed his deep concerns for neighborhood problems, speaking at length about his efforts to get officials to do something about pigeons that had plagued a particular section of Castro Street. As he held an infant he was caring for, Mr. Villers asked, "What if I were carrying him and a pigeon shit on him?"
Dennis Richards, president of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, said Mr. Villers was "passionate, sometimes passionate to the point where he drove me crazy, but nonetheless, I still loved him."
Richards said Mr. Villers had been especially concerned about the vacan
However, others in the community had concerns about the chain coming in, including traffic and the impact on smaller businesses.
At first, Mr. Villers couldn't understand why anyone would even question the supermarket going in to the location, but after several conversations, "he was able to understand what we were trying to do," Richards said.
Mr. Villers had joined the association's board in January 2008. He had also served on the Market and Octavia Community Advisory Committee.
Steve Adams, president of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, recalled that Mr. Villers had been "very passionate" about the neighborhood's cleanliness and "having the planters around the trees around Market and Castro constantly cleaned." Mr. Villers did a lot of the work himself, Adams said.
He said Mr. Villers had been on the MUMC board since 2007 and had planned to serve for another year.
Family members speak
Family members also shared their memories of Mr. Villers.
Mark Villers, one of Mr. Villers's younger brothers, said that even when they were growing up, his older brother had been "very meticulous, very caring."
"He had a knack of putting things together ... a more creative ability to make it look like it kind of shined," said Mark Villers.
There had been seven brothers altogether. Mr. Villers was born in Barberton, Ohio and grew up there. Mark Villers, 50, who lives in Pennsylvania, estimated that Mr. Villers had been in the Bay Area for about 20 years.
He indicated he hadn't been in frequent contact with Mr. Villers since he moved to California, but said that he had talked to him via Facebook a couple weeks ago.
Mr. Villers had talked about being a nanny and enjoying his life, Mark Villers said.
"He was very, very happy," said Mark Villers.
Another brother, Ed Villers, 47, said that he hadn't spoken with Mr. Villers much in the last 20 years, but expressed fondness for his older brother.
He recalled that when he was very young and their mother was working, "he was more or less my nanny."
The brothers said that they don't have information on how Mr. Villers died.
Ed Villers, who lives in Mogadore, Ohio, declined to discuss where Mr. Villers's body was found or who found him. He estimated that his body was found Saturday morning, March 13.
Mr. Villers's parents, Robert and Betty Villers, and a brother, Bobby, preceded him in death. Five brothers and many nieces and nephews survive him.
Matthew S. Bajko contributed to this report.