Streetlight serenade

Pub date December 3, 2008
SectionMusicSectionSonic Reducer


SONIC REDUCER ‘Tis the season to max out with shopping merriment, and San Francisco still being a record-picking spot of worldwide renown, it’s bittersweet to flip through this year’s handsome UK gifty-paperback, Old Rare New: The Independent Record Shop (Black Dog), and spy the "hi-de-ho"-ing Cab Calloway logo of the late, lamented Village Music in Mill Valley. Such an overflowing vinyl goldmine till it shuttered last year — another victim of high rents and a wildly fluctuating music marketplace. The book is far from perfect: was Amoeba Music ever called Amoeba Records, and why isn’t Grooves listed in the US store directory?

But Old Rare New has its heart in the right place in its offhand celebration of brick ‘n’ mortar music trolling, filled out with short Q&As with collector-head artists like Chan Marshall, Quiet Village’s Joel Martin, and Cherrystones’ Gareth Goddard. It’s refreshing to get an eyeball of Byron Coley’s contrarian ‘tude: if independent music stores are going bye-bye, he writes, "Don’t blame me or my record scum buddies. We’re still as idiotically interested in fetishizing vinyl product as we ever were, but we’re all getting goddamned old, and we’re not being replaced in a fast and timely manner."

Nonetheless, it’s sad to see Open Mind Music in the US store directory, still listed at 342 Divisadero even though owner Henry Wimmer closed that locale long ago, reopened at 2150 Market, and then — argh! — closed that storefront at the end of October to concentrate on online sales (a small Open Mind record enclave, however, remains within the collective-run Other Shop II at 327 Divisadero). Also not listed — and why not with such reissue jewels as Brigitte Fontaine and Areski Belkacem’s L’Incendie (Byg, 1974) and Humble Pie’s Town and Country (Immediate, 1969)? — is Streetlight Records in Noe Valley, set to close on Jan. 31.

Codgers in the know will recall the days when Aquarius sat a few doors down from Streetlight, making the spot a twofer destination for serious LP trawling. Streetlight took up the indie and avant slack in the area when Aquarius moved to Valencia Street: amid its substantial vinyl selection, you can dig up Les Georges Leningrad’s Deux Hot Dogs Moutarde Chou (Les Records Coco Cognac, 2002) on red vinyl and TITS’ and Leopard Leg’s estrogen-athon split-LP Throughout the Ages (Upset the Rhythm, 2006). Deals can be had with the 10 percent-off-everything sale that kicked off on Black Friday.

The ever-increasing gentrification of the street — the mob in front of Starbucks was nutty on a recent Sunday morn — has definitely had an impact on the shop, according to manager Sunlight Weismehl, who has worked at the 32-year-old flagship store for more than two decades. "I believe over the years the area has become a destination for high-end houses," he says, "and the artists and working class have been pushed aside as they have in many neighborhoods. Because of that we don’t get as many people coming in during the day." The San Jose and Santa Cruz Streetlights are doing fine, and the Streetlight at Market and Castro reaps the benefit of better foot traffic.

One twist concerning the 24th Street store’s demise: Streetlight isn’t getting kicked out by greedy out-of-town landlords — they’re closing themselves down. Streetlight owner Robert Fallon owns the Noe Valley shop’s building. "I believe he feels that the rent in the neighborhood is higher than what we’re paying," explains Weismehl.

In an effort to stay afloat and pay its way, the manager says the store tried to "touch on everything. We certainly tried to have strong international, jazz, and roots sections and to try to serve the neighborhood as much as possible. Half crazy obscure things and half whatever the neighborhood is looking for."

And Noe Valley music mavens have reacted in kind. "We’ve been getting a lot of responses ranging from writing letters to the owner to just saying they’ll be sad when we’re gone. Some say it’s the last thing they came down to the street for," Weismehl says, adding that with Real Foods gone and the neighboring video store closed, "it’s a question of how much [the remaining] shops serve the neighborhood." Not to mention the fact that there’s one less accommodating spot that will keep on a touring musician: Weismehl recalls such staffers as Rova’s Bruce Ackley, Comets on Fire’s Noel Harmonson, Sebadoh’s and Everest’s Russ Pollard, and Unwritten Law’s Pat Kim. And after Jan. 31? I’m going to have borrow a baby stroller to feel even remotely at home in the hood.



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