Zone Music in Cotati may have closed its doors last month, but as promised, new stores are opening in its location.
I stopped by the Vinyl Zone last week, run by a local musician named Jim Cassero. Still in its formative stages of getting stock out of the floor, it features all vinyl—no CDs—and appears to specialize in 1960s records; a banner of Jimi Hendrix hangs in the front window. Jim was pricing records and filling the bins, while the already-stocked walls showcased more collectible records by Can, the Misfits, the Who, Bo Diddley, John Coltrane and many more. Jim’s not new to the vinyl business; in 1999 he moved to Wisconsin and ran a store in Green Bay called Amazing Records, which you can get a local-news taste for by watching a video here. I didn’t ask how many trucks he filled with records when he moved back to open in Cotati, but he’s got a ton of boxes and seems happy to be home in California. (Years ago, Jim played guitar in the metal band Vicious Rumors, although he seemed surprised when I mentioned this fact to him.) He’s shooting for an official grand opening in October, but in the meantime feel free to stop by and see what he’s got. I picked up a Dodo Greene record on Blue Note, along with some Ron Carter and Young-Holt Unlimited LPs from the dollar bin. Not bad!
Of pressing concern to most who patronized Zone Music, of course, is the promised new music store opening on the premises. Longtime Zone employees Neville Hormuz, Tim Haggerty, Marie Parker and Randy Quan are in the process of getting Loud and Clear Audio & Visual up and running in a slightly smaller space at the old Zone Music location. Though their behind-the-scenes specialty will be audio and video installation, the storefront will carry all the basic necessities Zone had—strings, pedals, cables, picks, drumsticks, heads, microphones and much more. I talked to Hormuz, who said he’s thrilled to see a music store still at the site, and to still be working with the public. “I can’t help it, my heart’s in retail,” he said, mentioning that while Zone was going through their recent troubles he actually worked a month at the store for free. Not wanting the new place to have the in-and-out feel of a convenience store, Loud and Clear will also carry a wide and ever-changing selection of consignment guitars and amps to keep the place interesting. Ironically, Hormuz and the others hadn’t even thought of opening the store until they read Zone owner Frank Hayhurst in the press talking about Zone’s demise, and promising that a new store would open in its spot!
Loud and Clear opens with limited hours on Sept. 22, and an official grand opening follows on Oct. 1. Still in full swing at the site are Zone Recording, a full-service recording studio run by the experienced and capable Blair Hardman, and Backstage Technical Services, the dependable, perpetually cluttered repair shop run by longtime soldering-gun wielder Kent Fossgreen.
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.”
Long boozy nights at the Tradewinds during the Bush era will come flying back to Sonoma County residents past and present next month, when now-defunct local favorites the Rum Diary release Retrospective 2000-2007. The collection totals 17 songs from the Cotati Sound Machine’s prolific output, including some unreleased and vinyl-only tracks, and if you pre-order the thing now you’ll get three, count ‘em, three CDs for free: the Rum Diary’s Poisons That Save Lives and We’re Afraid of Heights Tonight, and Shuteye Unison’s S/T.
We may be able to definitively say that the Rum Diary was Cotati’s greatest indie-rock export, adored by a wide swath of the population—from SSU stoners to dive-bar denizens to serious music fans. A retrospective is more than fitting (and I’m not saying that just because they were the first band I ever wrote about for the Bohemian).
All of this comes courtesy of Parks and Records, the label run by the Rum Diary’s John Fee. If you’re wondering what he, Daniel McKenzie and other Diarians are up to, check out their output so far—including former Santa Rosan Cory Gray’s excellent Carcrashlander—over ’round about right here.