MUSIC: VINYL MANIA | By Chanti Burnette


Half a decade ago, record stores were going out of business fast. As digital downloads became the medium of choice, the future of physical music looked bleaker than ever. Even large-chain retailers like Tower Records went the way of the dodo, and it seemed compact discs were all but obsolete. And then, slowly but surely, sales went up again, but it wasn’t CDs that were selling—it was vinyl records. In San Francisco, several local record stores have become hubs for vinyl collectors all over the Bay Area.

Aquarius Records Neighborhood: The Mission
Specialty: Everything

Somewhat of a legacy, this Valencia Street staple originally opened in the Castro in 1970, right beside Harvey Milk’s camera shop. Current owners Andee Connors and Allan Horrocks worked at Aquarius for years before purchasing it outright in 2003. The guys loved the feel of the store and the idea of bringing fairly unknown music to the masses. “Our trademark thing here is all our reviews that you see around the shop, and all that information, it goes out in emails and it’s archived on our website.”

While vinyl is definitely abundant at Aquarius, it’s not the sole focus. Cassette tapes, for instance, have been a huge seller in recent months, which Horrocks believes boils down to buyers’ personal relationships with the music. People want to consume albums how they heard them first, or how they heard them best. “Some [customers] are buying vinyl, but some are buying CDs and cassette tapes. … People want to have this totem of this thing that they love. People can have that feeling about vinyl, but they can have the feeling about CDs.” Connors agrees: “There are pros and cons to all formats.”

Overall, Connors and Horrocks don’t view the digital age of music as a threat, but rather as just another way to consume music. “The Internet has been a great thing for our business,” says Horrocks. “And all of us here use iPods, and all of us download stuff. There’s nothing black and white about it.”

Explorist International Neighborhood: The Mission
Specialties: International, Jazz

Nestled among the countless taquerias and liquor stores on 24th Street is Explorist International, a record store started by music lover and musician Chris Dixon. Dixon moved to San Francisco in 1997 to work for an independent label distributor and continued employment in the music business for several years. “I periodically went on tour with my band, with somebody else’s band, and started a few DJ nights, as well.” He opened Explorist in October 2010, the week the Giants won the World Series.

The team at Explorist doesn’t think vinyl is making a comeback; to them, it’s always been the best way to listen to music. Store associate Chris Rolls explains it like this: “There’s nothing tactile about digital music, nothing permanent.” For Rolls, shopping for music should be fun, and it should be personal. “Our records are very curated. We have a great collection of international music and jazz, but we also have Americana and blues and some great contemporary records.” Rolls feels a strong connection to Explorist, partly because of his prior work experience in the industry and partly because of nostalgia. “I grew up coming into a store like this,” he says. “It just feels good.” And Explorist wants its customers to feel good too. It hosts a live monthly in-store music event, Free Jazz Fridays, that’s open to the public.

Rooky Ricardo’s Neighborhood: Lower Haight
Specialties: Soul, 45s

If you’re an avid vinyl collector in San Francisco, then chances are something in your collection is from Rooky’s. The shop and its owner, Dick Vivian, are well known among audiophiles in and around the Bay Area. Vivian has definitely noticed the resurgence of vinyl. “It happened about five years ago. My customers were mainly collectors before that.” Now he says it’s rare to have anyone over 30 in his shop, and he credits a lot of the popularity to some of the larger shops in the area. “Amoeba made it cool for everybody,” he says.

And it’s not just a San Francisco phenomenon. “Last year was the first year that new vinyl outsold new CDs,” says Vivian. People are getting excited about vinyl again, and with events like National Record Store Day and Black Friday Record Store Day, vinyl popularity will only continue to increase. “That last Record Store Day was the busiest day I ever had,” Dick explains. A recent remodel brought all-new listening stations to the shop, and Dick urges people to experience the store for themselves. “Come in, listen, and discover,” he says.




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This article was published in:
Music Issue - Released January 2013
Issue 1 / Version 3 | Buy print copy here
Issue 11
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