Store Owner interview with Andee of aQuarius recOrds
Slogan/Motto: Bringing the music to the people since 1970, the store that’s old enough to drink (to vote, to be elected president, to remember when there was no such thing as MP3s...).
Year Established: 1970
Address: 1055 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 USA
Store Hours: MON - WED 10-9, THU - SUN 10-10
Phone Number: 415-647-2272
Do You Have a Listening Station: Yep.
Musical Styles You Specialize in: All. Typically the weirder side of each: Black metal, indie rock, electronic, psych, drone, experimental, found sounds, field recordings, pop, doom, sludge, funk, R+B, hip hop, grime, dubstep, prog, krautrock...
Musical Styles You Exclude: None.
Other Items You Sell: Magazines, books & the occasional other music related randomness.
Do you do special orders: Yep.
Do you do mail order: Yep. Worldwide.
Do you do web orders: Yep.
Number of Employees: 12
How often do you have in-store performances: Once every month or two.
Number of New CDs in stock: Thousands.
Number of Used CDs in stock: Thousands.
Number of New LPs in stock: Hundreds.
Number of Used LPs in stock: Varies, sometimes a handful, sometimes hundreds.
Number of New 7”s in stock: Hundreds.
Number of Used 7”s in stock: A handful.
QRD – Why did you start your store?
Andee – Well, we didn’t start it. We worked here for years & years, & as the old owner grew tired of the business, it became obvious that the store needed an infusion of passion, & since we had already dedicated so much of our life & energy & time, we decided to take over & try to shape it into our dream store. Make it bigger & better, continue to champion strange & obscure musics, & to help keep underground music alive. & I think we have.
QRD – How does your store particularly appeal to your city?
Andee – I feel like our store would work anywhere there were people super obsessed with music. It just so happens that SF is a very art-centric city, & thus, there are tons of bands & musicians & people who still buy records & CDs & 7”s & go to shows & come to instores. It’s a good match.
QRD – What’s a mistake you’ve made with your store that you’d warn others against?
Andee – Hmmm, running a record store? Ha ha. No, I think just maybe knowing more about business & doing the books. Trying to figure out all the non-musical stuff sooner rather than later.
QRD – What do you think indie record labels could do to best help both themselves & indie stores?
Andee – Send more promos definitely. Look after the little stores. Put out less records, not EVERYTHING needs to be released. But most importantly, keep doing it, without the bands, the labels, & the stores, music would be in a sorry sorry state.
QRD – How was the representation of indie storeowners & customers in the movie High Fidelity accurate & inaccurate to your experience?
Andee – I think ALL specialty stores have High Fidelity potential. Skateboards, comic books, bicycles. The true obsessives often band together to celebrate what they love. & in the process often alienate the less obsessed. But we work really hard to avoid that. It’s easy for people to feel intimidated by a store full of weird records they’ve never heard of. That’s why we write reviews, put tags on the discs to describe them, send out our list, play stuff for people. The whole point is to get other people obsessed, not drive them away!
QRD – What type of research do you do to decide what to put on the shelves?
Andee – Listening to a LOT of music. We try to carry mostly stuff we love. I’ve said it before, but the store is like a living mixtape; you just gather all this amazing music & turn other people on to it.
QRD – Is it ever difficult to find the right distributors to get something you want to stock?
Andee – All the time. We often end up ordering direct from bands. & that’s sometimes after trying every distro we can think of. The plus side is that sometimes the distros then do pick up a record & thus more people hear it, & other stores are able to get it.
QRD – What do you wish labels or bands or distributors did more of to work with you?
Andee – Small labels & bands are great to deal with. Some bigger distros could work a little harder with independent stores. They’re all fired up about MP3s & online downloads & all that crap, they’re in for a rude awakening when there are no more record stores, IF that ever happens. But all we & bands & independent labels want is to find amazing music, & make it so we can all make a living, so bands can play music for a living, so people can actually GET the music. Sounds hippy dippy, but it’s true. If we were in it for the $$$, a record store is the last thing we’d be doing.
QRD – What do you think is your store’s all time best seller?
Andee – Definitely one of our best sellers, if not all time best seller, is a 4CD set called The Conet Project. A collection of short wave radio broadcasts. Mysterious & so beautiful. Other big sellers would be Os Mutantes, Weakling, Boris, Neutral Milk Hotel, Circle, & Wooden Shjips.
QRD – What do you think most leads to a particular record being a good seller in your store?
Andee – Mostly, people here loving it. The idea is that folks here are excited about the records we carry & play them all the time in the store, review them, recommend them to people. It’s a crazy obsession. One that’s definitely fun to share.…
QRD – How does one get an independent release into your store such that it’s recommended to the clientele instead of just sitting on the shelf?
Andee – Well, the first step is getting us a copy. We try to listen to everything we get. Unfortunately, we’re limited by time & space; but if someone here digs a record, we try to get a bunch & get it reviewed & on the website.
QRD – How do you feel about so many stores closing & how does it affect you if at all?
Andee – It’s a massive bummer. I’m not really sure what people expect the future to be like. No record stores, no bookstores, just everyone in their house emailing & ordering online. Seems pretty creepy & depressing. I spent much of my life (still do) traveling, touring, & there’s nothing like a cool neighborhood record shop, or book store or cafe, to meet people, get a feel for the town, find out about shows, hear new music, find new books, & all that. I like to think that stuff won’t ever disappear, but it’s getting harder & harder to think that. As for how it affects the store, on the one hand it’s scary, like all of our musical brothers & sisters in arms are falling to the wayside, but people will always want to buy CDs & records, & thus there will always be a need for a place like aQ, so we’ll try to be here for music lovers & be a place people can turn to if their local shop disappears, which sadly seems to be happening more & more often.
QRD – What type of competition do you get from the big box stores (Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc.) & is it difficult to compete price-wise - i.e., do you find that potential customers will shop at the chain because they can afford to charge less for the same discs or do they support you if the disc is a dollar higher in price?
Andee – We’ve heard about other record stores buying record retail from Wal-Mart because they are so cheap, & then marking them up like normal as if they bought them wholesale. But to be honest, we really don’t notice Target or Wal-Mart or any of that. We have our own niche. We even have a GREAT record store in town called Amoeba. HUGE, way bigger than us, but we compliment each other pretty well, in fact most of us can be found shopping at Amoeba on our days off!
QRD – With portable MP3 players & iTunes, is the concept of the album (in any form) dying?
Andee – It’s not dying, but the idea of listening to music has definitely changed. Everyone I know listens to their iPod on shuffle, which definitely removes the idea of “the album”, BUT it also makes you hear songs that you might not have otherwise. I’m sure there are lots of records where you’ve maybe never heard the last two songs, or a record or two that you bought for a couple songs & never listened to all the way through, I find that those songs become new favorites. It’s more like having a massive jukebox. I think it’s cool. But then I still spend plenty of time listening to records all the way through.
QRD – How has the downloading scene impacted your sales - do you find that people buy less CDs now because they can download them for less or do you or do you think illegal downloads are more of a culprit?
Andee – Again, not really. Most of the people who shop here are music freaks, obsessives, & if someone burns them a CD or if they download a track, they STILL want to own the record. In some ways I think it helps, people hear more stuff, it’s easier to discover music, & thus there are more records people want to buy. Everyone who works here has iPods, & burns CDs for each other. It’s like the old “home taping is killing music” thing, which was totally not the case. Some of my favorite records were discovered by getting a tape. I think the death of the music industry thing has been much exaggerated, especially within the realms of independent music. Sure Britney & Madonna & Coldplay might suffer, & by that I mean only sell 4.5 million copies instead of 4.6 million copies. But all of this file sharing & downloading has been a boon for independent musicians. & let me point out that everyone was flipping out about Radiohead releasing their record only on the internet like that was a big deal. If they really wanted to make a statement, they should have put it out it ONLY as a physical release, ONLY available at record stores, NOT available as an MP3, NOT available as a download, since they pretty much owe it all to independent stores, & long time music fans who have been buying their records forever.…
QRD – Record & CD buyers tend to be of a certain age (21-34), as the upcoming people who will be of that age group are mostly download-buyers, would you like stores to eventually have “iPod filling stations” hooked up to an indie network that stores can be part of?
Andee – Absolutely not. We joked that soon bands, instead of having a merch table, will have a little table full of iPod docks where you can download the record. Or worse, you’ll buy download cards. UGH! At least you can’t download t-shirts, although I’m sure someone somewhere is working on it. It is shocking how many younger people have NEVER been in a record store, especially now that Tower is gone. Their entire shopping for music experience is iTunes. But if it ever came down to having a big empty white square with little iPod docks, I think we’d hang it up well before then.…
QRD – With the increase in digital downloads, low prices in mega-chains, & so many online specialty stores; what is the job of the local indie shop now compared to in the 1990s?
Andee – EXACTLY THE SAME. Exactly. A place to find cool music you maybe can’t find anywhere else. A place to meet like minded folks, to talk about music, to share recommendations, a place where the music community can gather, a place to have shows, a place to hang out. Not everyone wants to sit in front of a computer to shop. Lots of people still like to walk around in the sun, wander down the street, have lunch, shop for records, buy a book or two, run into folks, shoot the shit; you know, actually interact with other people. It really doesn’t feel that different.
QRD – What are the biggest misconceptions people have of record stores in general & yours in particular?
Andee – The whole High Fidelity thing.
That people are snotty, that record store employees are elitist.
People are very sensitive & sometimes get really defensive when they
don’t recognize any of the music. & the thing is, at least with
us, we don’t claim to be a record store for everyone, to carry everything.
We just have a little shop, we carry what we love, & we happen to love
lots of weird stuff. That doesn’t mean you can’t come in here &
ask for a Spice Girls record or a Tom Petty record or whatever. Just
because we listen to black metal & drone doesn’t mean that we don’t
also love No Doubt & Fall Out Boy & Rihanna. But we have
people walk in & before anyone says a single word, they say something
like about how this place sucks & how we’re vibing them because they
want to buy a certain mainstream record. Even on those online review
sites, people say crazy shit about how they would never come here for a
Madonna record or something cuz we’d accuse them of being uncool.
It speaks to something much deeper, something we have no control over.
& something patently untrue. We all love music, we love to talk
to people about music, we’re happy to try & help you find music you’ll
like, whether some people think it’s cool or not. & just like
in life, be nice, & people will be nice back, be courteous, expect
the same, walk around with some chip on your shoulder & you can’t expect
people to not get vibed by YOU. But even then, we try to do our best,
make the shop a fun place to check out, a cool place to visit.
QRD – What is the most frustrating &/or frequent question you get from customers?
Andee – Maybe it’s why we don’t have more stuff in stock. We have a tiny store & a limited amount of money, but we have THOUSANDS of items on our website. We do our best to get stuff in as quick as we can when people order it; but we’re not Amazon, so sometimes when people order, they have to wait a week or so for stuff to come back in. Maybe longer if it’s something we have to get direct from a band or another country. But we’re constantly trying to improve.
QRD – How do you decide who to hire as an employee & when you need one?
Andee – They have to be nice. Cool. Friendly. Smart. Good to hang out with. & they have to love love love love music.
QRD – If you weren’t in the music business, what would you do?
Andee – I’d be running a non-profit animal rescue. Or I’d be a park ranger. & I’m not kidding.
QRD – How did your schooling & previous work experience prepare (or not prepare) you for your store?
Andee – NOT. Art & literature in college. What college there was. Which didn’t come in that handy. But a decade of touring in a band & making records definitely helped.
QRD – Have you ever refused to sell something purely because you disliked the music, even if it was popular & would sell?
Andee – Not really. We will carry whatever, if people are going to want it. But we only put effort & emotion & energy into pushing stuff we love. The list & the reviews, those we try to reserve for records we feel deserve to be heard & bought & loved.
QRD – What is your personal “holy grail”? (i.e. the one rarity you’ve been looking for forever.)
Andee – I have a whole notebook full of records & CDs that I have been looking for forever & that I carry with me all the time, in case I stumble on a record store. The list seems to be growing faster than I can manage to find stuff. Most recently, I have been trying to track down a single called LOOPFLESH; Loop on one side covering Godflesh, Godflesh on the other covering Loop.
QRD – What makes you feel like you had a good day at the store?
Andee – Any day that I talk to some nice people, listen to some good music, get a lot of work done. Which thankfully is most days...
QRD – Anything else?
Andee – Thanks so much for doing this, & letting us throw our two cents in. & thanks to everybody who still buys records, CDs, goes to shows, runs labels, distros, shops, people who still supports independent music. It’s weird (& a little sad) that the only time people ever want to interview us is when they’re writing about the ‘death’ of the record store, but the fact that we’re still here to interview says a lot!