RS 94109, a vinyl record store/café focusing on underground electronic music and selling local coffee from De La Paz, will soon open at 835-37 Larkin between Geary and O’Farrell Streets. The New York Times recently reported that young people are revitalizing the country’s once moribund vinyl record business, (“Weaned on CDs, They’re Reaching for Vinyl”), and RS 94109 (the number is the store’s zipcode) will provide a great environment for local vinyl aficionados. RS 94109 is among many new retail businesses planned for or newly opened in the Tenderloin. In the neighborhood’s Little Saigon alone, this group includes Vacation SF, a vintage clothing store also selling art and jewelry, the Golden Lotus restaurant, the reopened Turtle Tower in a new and renovated space at 645 Larkin, Caffeine Anonymous,the Four Seasons restaurant, and Mr.Crave, a bistro adjacent to the Cova Hotel.

William “Pops” Melander’s Record Exchange, 172 Eddy. 1947

Business is replacing blight in and around Larkin Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. New retail is particularly targeting this commercial strip that is home to Little Saigon’s Southeast Asian restaurants. This corridor is part of Mayor Lee’s Invest in Neighborhood’s program, and the Mayor held his media event announcing the program on May 29, 2012 at the gates to Little Saigon.

Vinyl Records Return to Tenderloin

RS 94109 is co-owned by Josh Woods and Askander Harooni. We asked Harooni why they chose to open this cutting-edge store in the Tenderloin as opposed to more established retail neighborhoods like the Mission. Harooni noted that he has lived in the Tenderloin for a long time and that he and Woods “wanted to be somewhere special, to bring something new to the community.”

Both owners bring a broader community perspective that one often hears from those opening businesses here. Harooni hopes that the record store will also “inspire other young people to set up their businesses in the Tenderloin.”

Harooni also explained that house and techno came out of low-income areas in Detroit, Chicago and other impoverished urban areas. “This music was started by African-Americans in these areas where people are oppressed, they needed an outlet, “Harooni said. “We felt it was right being in a place in San Francisco that has that vibe. It was just right to be here.”

RS 94109 follows in the footsteps of the legendary Record Exchange at 172 Eddy run by William “Pops” Melander. The Tenderloin was home to the Musician’s Union and the Blackhawk Jazz Club, so demand for new records was high. Melander did not have a café in his space, and current fire codes likely prevent the top to bottom record stacking that typified the Record Exchange and other record stores of the period.

Asked about the vinyl record resurgence, co-owner, Josh Woods noted, “Vinyl is nice because it’s tangible. You can touch it, open it, read about your artist.” Woods describes this new vinyl trend as partly a reaction to listening to digital music files on a computer with inherent quality issues.

Vinyl store co-owners Wood and Askander Harooni became aware of the 835-37 Larkin vacancy through local non-profits, Urban Solutions and Uptown Tenderloin, Inc. The non-profits are collaborating as part of the City’s Invest in Neighborhoods program run out of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development [MOEWD]. Funding priorities specifically target neighborhood commercial corridors suffering from commercial vacancies.

Helene Sautou, Urban Solutions Project Manager, discusses the neighborhood’s strategic geographic position combined with OEWD financial incentives including SF Shines grant funding and payroll tax incentives. “My outlook for the Tenderloin is positive in the context of Central Market development,” Sautou says. “It’s incremental work, one business at a time. Like on 6th Street, you can see the fabric of business change and improve.”

Off the Grid food truck aficionados will be excited to learn that The Chairman (formerly Chairman Bao) is also setting up a permanent retail venture at 668 and 670 Larkin Streets. Current plans are in the design phase with a restaurant opening in the near future.

Visitors to the neighborhood will also experience new overhead street banners fueled by a partnership between the North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefit District and Southeast Asian Community Center. MOEWD’s Invest in Neighborhoods program is funding this banner project as well as a street cleaning boost on Larkin Street.

As news of RS 94109’s opening spreads, other small business people should consider the Tenderloin before locking themselves in to high-rent spaces in the already oversaturated Mission District. As Anthony Luzi, owner of Bash Contemporary, one of the many new art galleries opening in the Tenderloin put it, it is a “great time to establish a gallery in the neighborhood because I’ll have a footing here when it improves.”

A week after I wrote a story in June chronicling the Tenderloin’s growing number of art galleries, the Jessica Silverman Gallery leased a prime spot at Ellis and Leavenworth under the restored Arlington Hotel. So space is going fast, and the time is now to seize these retail opportunities.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and also Director of Uptown Tenderloin, Inc.