The rumors are true: Zone Music in Cotati is closing its doors.
But they’ll open again soon, promises owner Frank Hayhurst.
The venerable music store which since 1983 has seen the likes of Neil Young, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck as customers is downsizing its inventory and floor space to reopen sometime in the future, possibly with a different name but most likely in the same general spot, Hayhurst tells me.
“Cotati is a great community and a perfect location for a music store—it’s the heart of Sonoma County,” he says. “We’re looking at closing for a short while to remodel, but haven’t picked the exact dates yet, because there are many variables. We need to rescale, but it shouldn’t take too long.”
Whatever the future holds, the new store will focus instead on the things that still make money in an online age—guitars, accessories, used gear, consignments—in a remodeled, “much smaller” shop. “Basically,” says Hayhurst, “the old model of a full line music store doesn’t work in this current economy.”
Last week, customers reported the shelves at Zone being bare, and employees saying that the store was “going under.” The news came as a shock to those who’ve patronized the popular, well-loved store over the past 28 years—with most of the finger-pointing directed at online megastores like Musician’s Friend.
But even when Zone offered competitive price-matching with online merchants, “it’s 10% more expensive to shop with a local retailer than making the same purchase online,” says Hayhurst. “That’s the sales tax inequity issue.”
Several businesses surround Zone Music, and will stay open. Zone Recording, run by studio veteran Blair Hardman, will continue to record bands, singers, commercial jingles, books on tape and all manner of audio projects. Backstage Audio, run by fix-it whiz Kent Fossgreen, will continue to fix amps, guitars, keyboards and all manner of musical instruments.
A used vinyl LP store is moving in on the premises as well.
Even in tough times, while Zone restructures, Hayhurst says he hasn’t lost his passion for the business in Sonoma County. “My favorite visiting musicians have been the working musicians of the North Bay Area,” he remarks. “They are my inspiration. Oh, and the kids! Hearing kids rock always brightens my day.”
Along with uninteresting bookings like Styx and Rick Springfield, Konocti, which is owned by Local 38 Union of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen, has consistently brought the biggest names in country music to the area. Look at the list of performers who’ve played there, and it reads as a who’s-who atop of the country music charts: Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Brooks and Dunn, Faith Hill, Trace Adkins, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley all come to mind.
Country music stars are often just as easy to make fun of as leftover arena-rock slop like Lynyrd Skynyrd and KISS, but with Konocti closing, where around here are people going to be able to see them? Toby Keith can’t play the Wells Fargo Center; it’s simply too small. Maybe someone could book him at the Petaluma Fairgrounds, but will he really want to play on a temporary rented sound system in a dirt rodeo grandstand? Konocti had a solid working relationship with these artists, and they kept coming back to the place, as run-down and decrepit as it may be.
Some people say it’s just as well that Toby Keith, a confirmed douchebag, can’t play around here anymore, to which I recall the last time I went to Konocti, to see Trace Adkins. He sang songs about soldiers and mama and workin’ hard and America. To see the fat shirtless guys cheering, the disabled veterans crying, the kids in wheelchairs smiling, the toothless MILFs dancing, and the plumbers, pipefitters and journeymen and their families all singing along was to witness a culture that we too often criticize without understanding.
The bottom line is that a slice of happiness for these people has been lost.