The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Friday, March 23rd, 2001

Endangered Species

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: In San Francisco there's a record store the size of a bowling alley. Literally. Located in a former bowling alley at the end of Haight Street, Amoeba Records is a rarity, a store that sells recorded music — CDs and vinyl — and often actually has what you're looking for. And then some. Want to pick up some of the older Low albums, now that Things We Lost in the Fire has you reconsidering the Minnesota-based trio you never paid much attention to before? No problem. Amoeba's got most of them in stock. It's easy to spend an hour or two in Amoeba, and it's hard to leave without four or five CDs and a lighter wallet. But there's a dark side to Amoeba's arrival in San Francisco a few years ago (the company has had a Berkeley location for many years). Even in the face of the Tower and Virgin chain megastores, San Francisco has long been able to support small indie record shops. The chains never really seemed to have their ear to the street. If you were looking for the Heavens to Betsy album, you were more apt to seek it out at Rocket Records or Aquarius. But Amoeba stocks tons and tons of semi-obscure indie releases. Plus miles of music from parts of the world other than the U.S. And a giant electronic section. And a hip-hop section. And on and on. All of which, along with the advent of the online CD store, has made the indie boutique an endangered species. Post-Amoeba, several small stores — Rocket Records for one — went under. The owner of Open Mind Music, a fantastic store on Divisadero a block or so north of Haight that could have been the set for High Fidelity, makes a point of thanking customers for doing some of their music buying at his store. I was shocked — I've been buying records since I was 11 and this was the first time anyone thanked me for shopping at his place of business. I believe very strongly in independent businesses, and while I'm not about to give up my Amoeba fix (I mean, I bought the only older Low album Open Mind had in stock and picked up I Could Live in Hope at Aquarius, but I had to go to Amoeba to find Secret Name), I make a point of also frequenting (and buying at) Open Mind and Aquarius (and, when they were around, Rough Trade and Rocket). I sometimes wonder how the indie record store is going to survive when downloading music becomes the dominant way people acquire songs or albums. As much as I love the Web, I also love a great record store. Hanging out at Aquarius or Open Mind or, when I'm in New York, Other Music, is the best. The folks behind the counter often know way more than I do about the really new stuff. At Aquarius the staff tape a concise description of the contents to some albums. Just such a micro-review led me to pick up Inland Empires by Joel RL Phelps and the Downer Trio the other day. But it's more than that. These stores feel like the music I love. The posters on the walls, the casual atmosphere, the smart clerks, the love of music, and perhaps most important, the feeling of being in an environment where music really is appreciated as art, not disposable sonic wallpaper.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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