Small record stores hold strong 

Three months after legendary music chain Tower Records shut its doors in bankruptcy, San Francisco music retailers are reporting no clear trend up or down in profits … yet.

But all are reporting a little graying of their customer demographic, and are toying with the notion that they may be the last generation of record stores.

At Amoeba Music, for example, recent sales have been steady in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco shops, but have declined up to 20 percent in the past three years at the Berkeley store, co-owner Marc Weinstein said. He attributed some of it to reduced traffic on Telegraph Avenue and a change in the interests of the UC Berkeley student body, but also to the buying habits of a generation that has grown up with Apple Computer Inc.’s (AAPL) iTunes downloading capabilities.

"We still have a four-, five-year lease on that store. We’re planning on keeping it open forever if we can," Weinstein said, adding that the Web has also been good for business. "The Internet has provided an incredible research tool for true music geeks. It’s basically educated our customer base that much more."

Compared with many other privately owned record stores, Amoeba is a giant, with a former bowling alley for its San Francisco location and asteady stream of in-store concerts. Other, smaller shops said they remain strong by pursuing musical niches, though profits vary from store to store. How much the Internet influences their business also varies.

At Recycled Records on Haight Street, profits have been flat of late, owner Bruce Lyall and staffer Michael Boul said, attributing that directly to the music-downloading trend. And their business has been changing, Boul said: not only are his customers getting older, but he’s taken to selling used CDs and vinyl records on eBay as part of the business.

"When some guy in Japan and some guy in Finland are battling over a record that nobody in America wants, what are you going to do?" Lyall asked. "On eBay, you see what things are hot, what things go for more money than they would in the store."

He’s also noted a growing market at his store for very, very obscure material, such as small vanity albums by private individuals, such as Damon’s 1969 "Song of a Gypsy" or high school band recordings.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs Gregory Roberts of Medium Rare Music on Market Street and Andee Connors of Aquarius Records on Valencia Street are both celebrating strong recent sales. Both have market niches in dance and "the fringes of each genre," respectively, and both have a serious mail-order component to their businesses.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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