In Vinyl Lives we spotlight and profile record stores around the country who offer music lovers an experience that goes beyond an iTunes purchase or a Spotify playlist. Vinyl has found a new resurgence and the good folks behind independent record stores are on the front line, directly responsible for curating a unique collection of music. Here at Glide Magazine we feel that record stores are a valuable part of the community and to music as a whole, and are therefore worth celebrating.
This month we’re excited to turn the spotlight on one of the premier independent record stores in northern California. Like many of the other stores we feature in Vinyl Lives, Streetlight Records has been open for years and years. Manager Paige Brodsky fills us in on the history
“The first Streetlight Records was opened in Noe Valley, San Francisco in 1975 by Robert Fallon. Originally a stereo components store, the store morphed into a record store as customers made it clear that they wanted to buy music. In 1979, Fallon opened a second store on Market Street in San Francisco. In 1981 he expanded to San Jose, and in 1997, a store was opened in Santa Cruz.”
They aren’t strangers to the downturn in the music industry, having to close their original store in San Francisco in 2009. But the owners of Streetlight have never veered from their desire to provide their communities with a one-of-a-kind music buying experience, and these days they still run two locations in San Jose and Santa Cruz. The stores have hosted countless in-store concerts and events, including Tegan and Sara, Matisyahu, and Exene Cervenka. The Santa Cruz location is next to the famed Catalyst Club and regularly has big-name artists flip through the bins.
Throughout its existence Streetlight Records has always served as a cornerstone of the cultural community in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and San Jose. To give us a personal perspective and history, Jeffrey Moss, general manager from 1977 to 2013, shared his memories of the early days:
“When Streetlight Records opened, it was very much a neighborhood store, by the mere fact of its limited size (2,000 square feet). It was eclectic and musically oriented with, in addition to all of the usual music of the day, an emphasis on jazz, classical, international, blues, and roots. It was a neighborhood store in an intensely musical neighborhood in an intensely musical city.
We had neighborhood folks stopping by almost every day and serious music fans would make it a first stop on their citywide music store crawls. We had members of the San Francisco symphony and opera and local jazz luminaries as regular customers. Bobby McFerrin was a regular well before his first album release (on the back cover notes he thanks Streetlight Records). After fame, he made several visits to the store with his friend Robin Williams. That was always exciting. They would both be improvising and riffing off each other. John Handy, Carlos Santana, and Tracy Chapman were among some of our repeat customers.
When I started working there, it was a sad assortment of used records in sagging cardboard boxes that were hanging over planks on cinder blocks. In my first few weeks I replaced the old cardboard boxes with melon crates from the supermarket across the street. Progress, bootstrap-style.
We didn’t NOT carry the hits of the day, but tried just to satisfy the demand, focusing more on building a comprehensive catalog of music that we thought mattered and stood the test of time. We didn’t want to compete as a hits outlet. We also tried to feature newer artists that we felt were blazing new ground and were interesting to us and that we thought would be interesting to others.
It was initially all used LPs. I realized that as cool as used records were, we didn’t have the selection that people wanted. Certain artists needed to be represented, and certain albums HAD to be in an artist’s section. I also felt foolish turning people away for records they were requesting that we could get from a one-stop. It was a long and slow battle to get a reasonable budget for new inventory.
I spent a lot of time explaining to customers that used records wouldn’t be scratched up—that they were priced based on condition and were fully exchangeable. It was a crazy idea to most people at the time. We did a lot of educating in those days and in the end, my message was, ‘It’s all about the music.’”
What kind of music do you specialize in, and how much of your stock is new vs. used?
Anywhere between 50-60% of our stores’ sales are used items, but we definitely carry a wide selection of new product, as well. We carry new and used CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, video games, LPs, 45s, magazines and collectibles. We also carry t-shirts and posters, along with a few other music related items.
What are some of your recent top sellers?
Our top selling artists for the last month include Dr. Dre, Slayer, Beach House, Lana Del Rey, Wilco, Gary Clark Jr., Iron Maiden, Jimi Hendrix and the Weeknd.
Upcoming releases that we’re looking forward to include New Order, Dead Weather, Silversun Pickups, Chvrches, Joe Bonamassa, Youth Lagoon, Patty Griffin, The Zombies and Children of Bodom, just to name a few.
You’d be surprised, but we sell a lot of…
Rather expensive (high list price) vinyl to teenage girls. Boys, too, but vinyl collecting is increasingly becoming a pastime for young girls, too, which is great to see!
Streetlight Records has two locations at 980 South Bascom Avenue in San Jose, CA and 939 Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, CA. For more info check out streetlightrecords.com.
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Is there a record store you think we should profile? Feel free to shoot your suggestions to email@example.com!