Amoeba Music: a rare specimen of the endangered species known as “record store”

When I was a teenager, one of the first things I did on a trip was scout out record stores. A trip to a major US city would usually mean I could visit a Tower Records and browse the aisles for hours, or a local independent shop and maybe find rare releases, imports or even bootlegs. Of course Tower stores have been gone since 2006, and indie shops are struggling everywhere (those that survived).

One of the ones surviving has been Amoeba Music. They opened their first store in Berkley in 1990. A second location opened in 1997 in San Francisco, in the famed Haight Ashbury area. Finally, in 2001 a third location location was added in Hollywood. I had a chance to visit the San Francisco location, and it was like a trip back in time! Occupying the near 24,000 square feet of an old bowling alley, they claim to stock over 100,000 CDs, records, DVDs and more, both used and new. The stores have a small stage where artists regularly perform shows. (Paul McCartney even recorded an EP at the Hollywood store during an unpublicized performance).

I could have spent hours in there but could only afford about 30 minutes, and I must admit I was kind of overwhelmed. Also, in contrast to when I was a teenager, my music collection is quite large now, and the Internet has made pretty much everything available for purchase. Still, browsing through the aisle was a great flashback to my youth. They even had a cassette section!!!

What did I buy? Nothing, I’m almost ashamed to say. On one hand, I was concerned about fitting purchases in my suitcase for the flight back, on the other, prices were market fair, so there were no savings to be made. I looked for a few out of print titles in the used bins but couldn’t find any. But hey, you can’t blame the selection!

On a side note: I heard that day someone say “you recognize Haight Ashbury by the smell”. Wow, they weren’t kidding: a faint smell of pot lingers in the air! I even saw people light up on the sidewalk. That probably explains this sign I saw nearby.

San Francisco - 342







Jean-Frederic Vachon
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  • RubenBorger , February 5, 2015 @ 4:52 am

    It’s a real shame that record stores are going extinct. “We”, the metalheads, are present in a group getting smaller and smaller.

    In my home town of ‘Monnickendam’ in The Netherlands, we have an amazing record store. Not to big, but they have a truly great amount of music and they can get anything you want.

    It has become some sort of extinct profession “the experienced, honest and professional music shop keeper”. Such a shame…

  • Jean-Frederic Vachon , February 5, 2015 @ 12:08 pm

    You make an important distinction: “the experienced, honest and professional music shop keeper”. At its best, the record store was a way to discover music you wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise, not just a place to pick up the latest hit that labels decided to promote.

    It’s that first part I miss the most.

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