When you step into 101 Music in San Francisco’s North Beach, it’s as if time peeked in the door and bolted the other direction. Stacked everywhere are a cacophony of vintage stereo equipment, 8-track tapes and old guitars. Make your way through the warren of vintage hi-fis, down the stairs into the basement and you’ll encounter 50,000 records divided into categories, but otherwise not in any particular order.
“It’s a little overwhelming for a lot of people,” admitted store manager Christian Jung.
But these days, the banner above the front door of the Green Street shop’s iconic crumpled sousaphone breaks the bad news for record collectors who’ve made pilgrimages to this funky neighborhood shop for the last 24 years — “Store Closing; Everything Must Be Sold.”
Jung said despite the booming interest in vinyl records, business at the store has dropped to an untenable low — even for a place that long thumbed its nose at the technological age. He blamed the store’s pending demise on competition from online services like Amazon, changing shopping habits of young people and a changing North Beach that has left some small businesses struggling.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re kind of hurting,” Jung said, “is we don’t have as much foot traffic as we used to have.”
The store is filled to the brim with old stereo receivers, turntables, keyboards — trombones and French horns hang from the ceiling — a KISS Paul Stanley doll stared out from the counter as Jung slipped a Benny Goodman record on the turntable, dropped the needle and filled with shop with the swirling swoops of Goodman’s clarinet. In the front window, almost in symbolic tribute, a surf green record player was laden with cobwebs.
North Beach artist Jeremy Fish stood outside the shop reminiscing about his many trips into the basement’s record collection as a college student in the nineties.
“Downstairs is all about the smell,” Fish said. “There’s that old record smell — dusty and musty.”
Fish said the closure of the store would chip away at San Francisco’s musical culture which in recent years has seen the departure of nightclubs and small independent music stores.
“I hate to see it go,” Fish said, “just puts a little tiny crack in the foundation in wonderful of what is North Beach.”
Jung maneuvered through the basement’s plastic crates of records, his towering frame coming just short of the ceiling. He dug into the boxes fishing out a Barbara Streisand record, Peter Paul and Mary and even a zither record from Austria. Jung’s advice for newbie collectors was to start in the classical section.
“People always ask what they should have in their record collection,” Jung said, “and I always tell people the three Bs — Bach, Brahms and Beethoven.”
Just don’t dig too hard looking for the heavy metal stash.
“They’re hoping to find heavy metal records,” Jung said, “which you needed to find 10 years ago.”
Jung theorized many of the records filling the basement had originally been purchased at San Francisco’s Tower Records, one of the Bay Area mainstays for music which closed in 2006. Eventually the city’s music scene began to wane as skyrocketing rents forced out independent shops and musicians. But 101 Music survived as collectors began to rediscover vinyl records and the shop started selling more record players and receivers.
A visit to the record vault is not a quick affair if shoppers are looking for a specific record. Jung said it would be impossible to take in the store’s entire collection in a day — recommending a series of visits to fully embrace the full vinyl spectrum which includes a large section of vintage rock and jazz albums.
“If you look around and spend enough time you can definitely find a gem here,” Jung said.
Jung said 101 Music would likely shut its doors in June, but will be survived by its sister-store which sits around the corner on Grant Street. Even so, the Grant Street store isn’t large enough to accommodate even a modicum of the Green Street store’s collection of musical curios.
Jung seemed almost swallowed by the stacks of musical relics piled in every corner of the shop where there was a growing sense of nostalgia for a shop known to peddle it. An accordion sat above a turntable which sat above a set of bongo drums with a broken head — a paradise for shoppers who prefer a bit of adventure in their search.
“If someone’s claustrophobic,” Jung observed, “not so good for this environment.”