Amid a fund drive aimed at weathering rough months of closure ahead, Amoeba Music has made a tough call. The beloved store’s current location in Hollywood will not re-open to the public, regardless of when California decides to give non-essential retail the go-ahead again. Instead, the owners plan to steer all finances and energy into a long-planned move into a different space this fall, having decided that costs involved in briefly opening the familiar Sunset Blvd. building for a public sendoff would greatly outweigh the sentimental value.
Amoeba co-founder Marc Weinstein tells Variety, “We have arrived at the very carefully considered conclusion that this is our best chance for survival, given that we would obviously be looking at a very slow process of getting customers to come back to Sunset — leaving us to pack up and move amid all those additional losses and a bleak summer in general.”
The good news for the Hollywood outpost (and its two sister stores in San Francisco and Berkeley) is that the fund drive started a week ago to help the stores weather the pandemic has captured the affection of longtime customers.
“As far as the GoFundMe is concerned,” says Weinstein, “we have achieved about 55% of our goal after 7 days: $215,000 has been contributed by 5000 fans and donors, the No. 1 contribution being by Chris Rock, who chipped in $5000.” The target goal is listed as $400,000.
There have been other celebrity supporters: Author and artist Dave Eggers briefly made an offer of original drawings to anyone who provided proof of a $200 or higher donation to Amoeba, though it was taken down after he was swarmed with takers.
The new store, which they still hope to be able to open in October, will be located at 6200 Hollywood Blvd., adjacent to the Pantages Theatre and W Hotel and a subway stop.
In a lengthy statement on the mini-chain’s website, Amoeba further explained the reasoning for keeping the current store shuttered before the move. “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. 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,” it read.
Amoeba said that its management realizes record stores are not only not going to be considered “essential” as governors consider lifting restrictions, but that its high customer traffic volume would probably keep it from qualifying as part of a “low-risk” tier, either.
“Our store sees over a million customers each year, making us a higher-risk environment during this pandemic than most. Thus, it is increasingly clear to us that it is highly unlikely we will be allowed to open this summer… In the improbable event that we were able to open at some point this summer, we would be asking a staff of 200-plus to come into a very public-facing environment, where customer interactions are frequent (even with far fewer customers), and handling shared product in a shared space is the nature of the business. We don’t want to put the staff or our customers potentially at risk, and sitting out the summer allows us to ensure everyone’s health and safety.”
Additionally, the statement points out, “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. 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. … The only way we can keep Amoeba Hollywood alive in the long run is to make this difficult decision now.”
During the long gap, the store is promising to make improvements and add catalog to its online store “with more used and collectible pieces to serve as a bridge to the new store opening.”
The statement adds that, because of the GoFundMe, the store is looking to continue helping cover health care for the hundreds of employees that have been furloughed at the three stores.
In a previous Variety Q&A, Weinstein described the reasons for the GoFundMe and discussed Amoeba’s financial situation, past and present. He said the radical diminishment of interest in CDs and DVDs in recent years has been partly — if far from wholly — offset by the resurgence of vinyl.
“We’re going to feature vinyl more than ever” at the new location on Hollywood Blvd. he promised. “You know, that’s our main thing. Our sales are almost half LPs. And we’re going to make sure that we’re appropriately stocked and featuring vinyl more than anything. But we’re going to continue carrying all the formats that we’re known for. I mean, there’s a time and place for every format as far as I’m concerned. And in just the last 10 years, it’s been fascinating to watch CDs go from 45% down to under 20%, and watch vinyl come up from as low as 15% up to 45%. What an unbelievable shift that has been.”
It is with a very heavy heart that we must announce that the massive impact from COVID-19 has forced Amoeba Hollywood to remain closed until we move to our new location this fall.
We are devastated. We know you are too.
— Amoeba Music (@amoebamusic) April 27, 2020
Weinstein responded to comments that come up about how the stores could be in danger after the eight-figure sale of the Sunset building to developers, saying the millions that were netted from that sale almost entirely went back into keeping the business alive and covering debt that had accrued as the public’s move away from physical product and the previous recession rocked the outlets.
Answering worries about a lower level of inventory at a new space with less square footage, Weinstein said, “Honestly, we’re using about 75% of our fixtures in the new space. … And we think that is appropriate, because the sales have so declined in DVDs and CDs. But we’re going to make use of all the bins, (placing them) above and below — it’s going to be crowded with product even more than our current store. We have figured out on paper how to basically fit at least three quarters of the inventory we have now into the new space.”
Weinstein also expects the new space to be able to continue to provide mostly full-time jobs for hundreds of employees. “We have an 8-year lease plus 10-year option at 6200 Hollywood, so that gives us some real legs,” he said, citing that as proof Amoeba is in it for the very long haul in Hollywood.