Look out, Virgin. Move over, Tower.
The Bay Area music retailer that Rolling Stone magazine in 1998 suggested might just be the world's greatest record store, period, is coming to Hollywood.
Amoeba Music, whose Berkeley and San Francisco stores have garnered a national reputation with their wide selection of new and used titles, next fall will open a store in an existing 50,000-square-foot building at 6400 Sunset Blvd., just west of the Cinerama Dome Theatre. Officials of the privately held company declined to disclose the purchase price of the property.
Amoeba has its main store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and a second outlet on San Francisco's historic Haight Street.
Company founder Marc Weinstein said the L.A. expansion is a one-shot expansion, not the beginning of any sort of national growth strategy.
"We're a small independent company and we never expected to expand beyond the Bay Area," he said. "But we had a lot of customers coming up from the L.A. area, and it made sense to open one destination store in the middle of L.A."
Weinstein and partners Mike Boyder and Dave Prinz launched their search for an L.A.-area storefront in Santa Monica but were told by Matthew May, executive vice president of Sachse Real Estate Co. Inc., that they were looking in the wrong neighborhood.
"We felt that (Amoeba's target) customer is a little hip," May said. "It's some of the yuppies, (but it's also) some of the people who are a little more down to earth."
Even though he's only casually familiar with the Los Angeles market, Boyder said the Hollywood site has the advantage of being near a Metro subway stop, as well as within blocks of the Hollywood Palladium and Pantages Theatre.
Beyond those physical draws, Boyder said, there's something different about Hollywood in 2000.
"It does really feel to us, and we're not local, like it's up and coming," Boyder said. "There's a revitalization; there's an energy in Hollywood that's very exciting."
Amoeba picked Sunset Boulevard over Hollywood Boulevard because Boyder and company, while welcoming tourists, feel their primary clientele is the local music lover. He said the aesthetics of the street also suit Amoeba.
"Sunset Boulevard is easier to access. The shops on Sunset are easy to visually access and then physically access," Boyder said. "A gut feeling to me is, more local people are cruising Sunset Boulevard than Hollywood Boulevard."
Boyder, Weinstein and Prinz started Amoeba Music with 6,000 records in Berkeley in 1990. The store gained praise and in fall 1997, the partners opened a second location in San Francisco, this time opening with 250,000 titles, new and used. That's titles, not units.
Weinstein said the L.A. location will also stock about 250,000 titles, which he said will be assembled by inviting Angelenos to bring in their music collections for cash or trade credit, as well as through the company's constant national search for collections. The company will also turn the facade of the building into a late-1940s' style.
The company's claims to fame are an enormous and eclectic stock assembled and disseminated by knowledgeable buyers and staff, Boyder said. Amoeba stocks new and used CDs, vinyl, cassettes, DVDs and videos. The stores also carry classic movie posters and host in-store performances.
Where other stores might carry hundreds of copies of Britney Spears' or Limp Bizkit's latest release, Amoeba will have those titles, but in smaller numbers. That way, the store has room for multiple titles from Koko Taylor to Yo-Yo Ma, from Sun Ra to Kid Rock, and in every genre from international folk to techno, from concert guitar to bossa nova and all grooves in between.
"The depth of their selection will blow your mind," May said.
Amoeba claims to be the largest independent record store in the country. The Hollywood store will be the company's largest, in terms of retail floor space. The San Francisco location is 25,000 square feet. The Berkeley store is 12,000 square feet. The new store will have 30,000 square feet of retail space at street level, a 9,000-square-foot mezzanine with offices and a second floor with 11,000 square feet more that will be used for retail and warehousing.
To fill up the new location, Boyder said, Amoeba will send buyers to Los Angeles before the end of the year. They will set up at the Sunset location on weekends and welcome local music fans to bring in their collections. Used CDs, depending on their condition, can fetch between $1 and $6 each. Sellers get better value if they take payment in store credit.
"It's like a giant trading post," Boyder said. "You might have some older stuff that it's time to move along. You're going to come to Amoeba and find something used that you really want and you might pay $7 for it."
Company officials believe that their extensive used-CD collection separates it from the larger chain stores such as Tower Records and Virgin Megastores.
Amoeba's most obvious competition will be with the independent stores, including Aron's Records on Highland Avenue.
Albert Gomez, a six-year employee at Aron's, said he's heard the rumors that Amoeba is coming to L.A. Now that it's confirmed, Gomez said the size and location of the Amoeba store will make it a force in record retailing.
Gomez had a little advice for Boyder and friends, as well.
"They need to hire people who know this town. You can't just come down and bring your people from San Francisco," Gomez warned. "You need people who know people."
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