Mom-and-Pop Record Stores Not Exactly Cheering Virgin's Demise
The plaintive statements from city officials when the Virgin megastore announced it was closing shop seemed slightly un-San Francisco. Isn't this the city that hates big box stores with such a vengeance that they're blocked from taking root by anti-corporate NIMBY mobs?
More specifically, aren't the San Francisco counterparts of John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity performing air-guitar riffs of exhilaration upon hearing the corporate Man was leaving town?
Turns out, no. A couple of calls to city mom-and-pop record stores revealed them to think less like passive-aggressive hipsters than market analysts when discussing the implications of Virgin's impending demise. In the Mission, Aquarius Records assistant manager Jim Haynes says any loss to the local record scene is usually a bad sign. "The more record stores, the better, I would say. Each individual store fills a particular niche and they also buttress each other in an interconnected market so that if one leaves it doesn't mean the other ones are going to get an increase of market share....We haven't noticed a huge influx of people swarming the two aisles of Aquarius where Virgin had left off."
The stores say they play to different demographics, and they doubt they'll see an influx of new customers once Virgin closes. "Their main market was tourists because they didn't mind paying exorbitant prices because the exchange rate was so good," says Andrew Shadgett, the manager of Streetlight Records, which just closed its 24th Street Noe Valley location at the end of January when the owner decided to rent the spot out instead. Shadgett says the bigger hit to the local mom-and-pop record store scene was when Amoeba Music moved onto Haight Street in 1997, and several smaller shops closed within months. "It's like being a corner market and all of a suddenly having a Whole Foods open next to you. It did shut down a lot of people."
Amoeba, predictably, challenged that interpretation of the city's record store history, and said it's sad to see any record store go. "When Streetlight closed, there was a collective groan in the store," says Tony Green, the product manager at the San Francisco Amoeba store. "We just don't like to see any record stores bite the the dust at this point. I think the industry suffers when another record store goes bust, Virgin included." He said a few tourists might figure out how to use the N-Judah from downtown to get out to Amoeba, "but I don't think it's gonna be a huge 25 percent increase in business."
The bigger question that looms is if iTunes will kill the record store. Who buys c.d.s anymore anyway?
The stores insist they won't be run out of business by music downloading anytime soon. "They said the same thing about movie theaters when VHS came around, or book stores," Shadgett from Streetlight says. "Some people still do like to go to record stores. We're very neighborhoody oriented, so we have our regulars."