Music Center of San Francisco to Close After 60-Plus Years

star_is_born.jpg
And, at month's end, will die...
In a sad note for the city's music lovers, yet another brick-and-mortar niche wonderland is readying for its swan song.

Music Center of San Francisco
, the place to obtain a trove of scores and the musical instruments and other accoutrements with which to play them, will close its doors at the end of the month. "ALL INVENTORY AND FIXTURES MUST BE SOLD!" blares the store's website. Among those who do a double-take when wandering past, say, a Gershwin songbook, this depressing announcement already has traveled through the grapevine. The musically inclined have been beating a path to the inconspicuous second-floor outlet a stone's throw from Union Square for, literally, one last score.

It turns out, no matter what you learned from Avenue Q, the Internet is good for more than porn. It also does a damn fine job of relegating print materials of all sorts to history's dustbin, and putting businessmen like Warren Leong in a bad spot. "A lot of people are calling and saying they heard we're going out of business," says Leong, who has worked at or owned the Music Center for 45 years. "But they haven't shopped here for years."

In an era when one can contain a massive musical library within the iPad in his or her valise, places such as the Music Center are an endangered species. Everything that can be done on the Internet must be done on the Internet -- this is the mantra of our age and our definition of "progress," just as our grandparents' generation felt the embodiment of the word was to build freeways through the middle of old neighborhoods.

In its six-plus decades of existence, the Music Center has gallivanted about town from location to location. But Leong intimates this is the last iteration of the store. "I don't think there's more than three to five years left in this business," he says. "The online presence is too strong. Young people are used to downloading everything."

Leong estimates he has amassed perhaps 30,000 scores alone from years of hitting up estate sales and buying out-of-print music. You won't find those anywhere else. But, as Leong notes ruefully, an archive of obscure music no one knew existed, let alone coveted, won't keep anyone in business.

It's undeniably nice to download a tune or musical score on a handheld device while simultaneously ordering a cocktail, updating your Facebook status, and paying a credit card bill. But places such as the Music Center offered more. Expert advice, for one. Knowledge that didn't come from Wikipedia. The human touch. Perhaps in the future, there'll be an app for that.

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9 comments
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Sfrobink
Sfrobink

 You should go see it in these last days before it closes. It was the place in town to go get music and chat with folks about any music scene.

Sfrobink
Sfrobink

The advantage of having a store is manyfold, from being able to browse and actually look through music scores, see other scores we didn't know about, plus all the personal interaction. The Music Center was always a place we could go for assistance with getting any music book, score or manuscript paper. The wonderful staff could also discuss anything related to musical information. We could start up conversations with people in the room about what was going on in town musically. It was personal and face-to-face. I do not welcome the personal isolation of only dealing with the computer screen, nor the lack of awareness of what's out there because we can't browse. The limitation of the computer age is it keeps us from being social and hands-on.

Robin
Robin

I think anyone dealing with current issues like this is also looking for ways to handle their future, finances, and even retirement in successful ways. One interesting story I found today that talked about this issue is an intriguing write-up about a wealthy boss that decided to do something different with his career. He left Newmont Mining, a $6.5B company, to join a tiny mining company.  Very inspiring story that dovetails many of the themes here, I figured you might like it: http://www.trefis.com/stock/fnv/articles/125627/why-a-billion-dollar-executive-is-risking-his-career-on-an-abandoned-mine-in-nevada/2012-06-11

Nobody
Nobody

Please blow it out your ass, Thanks in advance.

David
David

To be honest, I've never heard of the Music Center, and I'm a musician!  I've heard of the Community Music Center, a school and concert venue on Capp Street in SF, but not the Music Center.  

dreamsmyth
dreamsmyth

So many experts here in how a small business should be run.  It's pretty clear that none of them have ever been in Mr. Leong's shoes. 

Rlsinsf
Rlsinsf

So adapt to a new medium, for gosh sake. The staff expertise could still be useful in an online environment. Sounds like a case of refusal to think outside the box.

Filbert  Steppes
Filbert Steppes

Unfortunately retail like this does not work. There are a dozen websites who have everything the Music Center has and a lot more. Byron Hoyt learned this a decade ago. In addition, schools have been musically illiterate for 20 years and the pool of customers for music is getting smaller and smaller and smaller.  Warren kept going because he had a better personality and business acumen. But he should have packed it in and gone online 10 years ago. Sorry.

Ramshackle Days
Ramshackle Days

Sad news indeed.  There is still so much sheet music not available for download on the world-wide interwebs and this one was on the few places in SF to get it.  Plus as the author mentions, a helpful, knowledgeable staff.

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