The Last Record Store packs its bags, and music lovers follow
By Lacey Graham
With many of our founding fathers of Fourth Street culture closed down or on their way out, the legacy of locally owned businesses--and some of downtown's most friendly faces--are fading into history. We said goodbye to Chris and Maude Stokeld in March of this year as they closed the Old Vic. The Last Record store has announced its new location off the beaten path of Fourth Street. And rumors of Copperfield's leaving its Fourth Street building have only recently been quelled. With the loss of some downtown cornerstones, what will become of the compelling draw of Fourth Street? Are the mall's chain stores encroaching on sacred, once independent territory?
It started in 1994, when blueprints for a new bookstore became public controversy. The Rosenberg department store's beautiful art deco building was slotted for conversion into a shiny new Barnes and Noble--directly across the street from Copperfield's Books and just a few hundred feet away from Treehorn Books.
Conflicting opinions were voiced in local editorial pages, and anti-Barnes and Noble leaflets were abundant. But still the workmen came, the carpet was laid, the shelves installed, the Starbucks espresso machines delivered, and Barnes and Noble was open for business. In protest, an activist shattered one of Barnes and Noble's storefront windows with a brick and pasted on one of the remaining intact panes a bumper sticker reading, "Support your local independent bookseller."
Across the street, Copperfield's has been heroic in its struggle to keep up. The rumors have flown fast and lingered defiantly, whispering what no one wanted to hear: Have you heard Copperfield's is shutting down? Can't compete with Barnes and Noble? Owners have repeatedly contested the rumors and state to have weathered the adjustment in stride. After almost a decade of side-by-side business, Copperfield's is still standing.
However, rumor became fact when Copperfield's announced that it was selling its building and searching for a smaller store. The company stopped short of condemning Barnes and Noble as having an effect, though Copperfield's spokesman Tom Montan stated in the Press Democrat, "It makes sense for everyone." Recently Copperfield's made another announcement: Instead of moving out, the bookstore is teaming up with Peet's Coffee, who will share the building's space.
Peet's--founded in 1966 in Berkeley--has enjoyed rapid expansion in recent years while maintaining its small-business aura. Though the multitude of places where Fourth Street offers a very fine cup of joe has grown to an almost ridiculous number, it's encouraging for the business community that such a company views our humble downtown as a good market for their burgeoning coffee empire.
While book lovers sigh in relief, the smell of bangers and mash still wafts through the air, and strains of an off-key version of "Danny Boy" just barely tickles the ear. No more than a block east of Copperfield's is where the Old Vic once stood. An English-style pub opened in 1988, the Old Vic hosted entertainment from dinner theater to fresh local bands to open mic nights, the last remaining live stage to grace Fourth Street.
Quiet afternoons of draft beer and authentic Irish cuisine morphed into nights of lively gatherings, all overseen by the charismatic Chris Stokeld. As shops and restaurants and after-hours clubs opened grandly and closed quietly around them, the Stokelds enjoyed a successful 15-year run downtown.
Apparently, the property manager believes a microbrewery twice the size of the Old Vic is what Fourth Street really needs. And maybe his wallet is needy, too. The Russian River Brewing Company will be taking over the Vic building as well as the neighboring property to the west.
With the passing of the Vic's charm and spirit, we also lost a prominent spot for our community to draw together and enjoy live entertainment. The new brewery may satisfy a beer craving (as with coffee, though, there's no lack of cold, hoppy beverages available on Fourth Street), but it won't quench the people's need for local acts and quirky performances.
Though the Old Vic closed its doors on March 31 after a wild weekend of goodbyes, Stokeld is not gone by a long shot. He's already found a property in Occidental and will be hanging his hat in the spot where the Bohemian Cafe and Cafe Gio once stood. However, the bawdy entertainment that the Vic was known for will not continue at the new location; Stokeld is looking forward to operating a quiet English pub.
If you ambled past the skeleton that once was the Old Vic and past the haven for periodicals and Centro Coffee that is (and will most likely remain) Sawyer's News, until recently you'd have come to a shop whose windows were blocked by an assortment of posters and flyers. Inside, a small staff that could take Rock and Roll Jeopardy by storm would have actually been able to find that song by that one guy who was in that movie that one time. Residing at 739 Fourth St. for some 20 years, the Last Record store has become a community name and common ground for local musicians.
Co-owner Doug Jayne has deep roots on Fourth Street and in the Santa Rosa community. Just two months ago his band, Stupid White People, took the stage at the closing weekend of the Old Vic. Jayne and Stokeld share a love for music, but they also share a property manager.
Feuding between the property manager and Jayne has been going on for a number of years. It got particularly contentious when the LRS needed a roof leak fixed and the request went unanswered until a stormy night when sections of the roof gave in, destroying thousands of dollars worth of precious records. Given the history with his business' landlord, Jayne may not have been too surprised when the walking papers arrived.
As of this week, the LRS has tenderly kissed Fourth Street goodbye and opened its new doors on Mendocino Avenue. Right alongside the organic Community Market and its joint cafe, which is the host of regular live shows, a vacant space that was once a karate dojo will house the LRS' motley crew. The new location is larger than the Fourth Street space, allowing for potential expansion and providing a less cramped setting for vinyl scavengers. What more could a record store ask for than a steady stream of college students?
Mendocino Avenue has slowly gathered quite an empire of eccentric businesses. With the obligatory Starbucks and the matronly Place That Sells Sewing Machines, the JC neighborhood is also the home of Brotherhood Board Shop, Video Droid, Glass Beetle Tattoo, Loops and Pierces, and Mombo's Pizza.
With such a diversity of cultural merchants on hand, why would anyone need Fourth Street anymore? All I need is a short walk away from campus. I can study the process of translocation while munching pizza at Mombo's and listening to a new CD, and then pick up a rare video for that evening on my way home. Of course, the small charming streets around Fourth are friendlier than the snarled traffic and rushing stream of cars on Mendo.
The spirit that exceptional community members like Doug Jayne and Chris Stokeld emitted will remain alive in their new venues and adventures. Fourth Street will never be replaced as the heart of downtown, but it looks like Mendocino Avenue may house the masterminds of Santa Rosa's new cultural and entertainment mecca.
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From the June 5-11, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.