As Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club called it in 1978, video killed the radio star. Now in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has not exactly spelled the demise of Los Angeles' legendary Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard, but has at least put a damper on fans' farewells to the nearly 10-year-old location as the chain tries to weather an economic storm.
Back in 2015, Amoeba sold its distinctive, cartoon-like piece of Hollywood real estate after pressure from developers and zoning changes from the city council. At the time, Amoeba indicated it would move elsewhere in the neighborhood when its lease was up and managed to push back the transition for a few years. In February, Amoeba announced that the Sunset Boulevard outpost would stay open until 2021 before moving to 6200 Hollywood Boulevard, just a few blocks away. A month later, COVID-19 shut down the city.
Since then, Amoeba has been paying rent on both its soon-to-be-former and new locations, as well as pay and benefits for its 400 staff, for the duration of the pandemic. With no idea when Los Angeles will be back to its usual bustling self, Amoeba's owners decided to jump on the move ahead of schedule and let go of the Sunset Boulevard storefront.
"This is heartbreaking for us. We never envisioned not being able to give the store the send-off it deserves, to give you all a chance to say goodbye," Amoeba leadership explained in an online statement. "We had so many events planned to celebrate our history at 6400 Sunset! But we are facing too many mitigating circumstances that simply won't allow for it."
The aforementioned events were more than the usual record-company promos and made Amoeba not just a place to dig through crates in search of vinyl gems, but a real community space. Over the years, musicians including Paul McCartney, PJ Harvey and Lisa Loeb have put on shows at the Sunset Boulevard location. Most recently, Phantogram and Angelica Garcia put on what turned out to be the last ever performances there.
"We have to move in the fall and there are timelines and tasks involved in making that happen that were set into motion long before COVID-19," Amoeba leaders said. "If we don’t focus on getting the new store ready for the fall opening, the hard reality is we may never open again anywhere."
Part of small a chain of independent record stores that started in Berkeley in 1990, and expanded to San Francisco in 1997, the iconic Hollywood location opened in 2011 as one of the largest indie record shops in the country. It became an instant landmark, even in a city full of sites steeped in rock 'n' roll lore like the Riot House and Whiskey Go Go.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for both retail and the music industry as shops close, festivals canceled and musicians resorting to live streaming performances from home instead of at clubs and arenas around the world. California, in particular, has had stringent stay-at-home policies and was proactive about shutting down non-essential businesses as the novel coronavirus spread through the United States.
But Amoeba had survived numerous crises before. The original location was founded just after CD sales first outpaced cassettes in 1991, and the two Bay Area outposts made it through the digitization of music in the Napster era throughout the early aughts. Amoeba lived to see the resurgence of vinyl in the past few years – a medium now on track to outsell CDs for the first time in 30 years. The Sunset Boulevard location opened its doors just two years after the Great Recession, while the US economy was still reeling.
If the decision to shut down the Sunset Boulevard location early pays off, Angelinos and visitors alike could see Amoeba Music clear yet another hurdle as it heads into its second decade in Tinseltown, and its 13th as part of the West Coat's sprawling rock 'n' roll legacy.
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