A Brief History of Amoeba Music
30 years ago, Amoeba Music founders Dave Prinz and Marc Weinstein had a crazy idea. Let’s open up an independent record store, beholden to no corporate interests, that could become a gathering place for the musical community. A record store that would have an affordable mix of new and used product, that could serve as a trading post where people could bring in any unwanted music or movies for cash or trade.
So we rented a space on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley that had been shuttered for years. And we spent the summer of 1990 going to flea markets, garage sales and running a tiny classified in the SF Chronicle that netted us some truly amazing collections. And we put that store together. Piece by piece.
Many of our friends thought we were crazy too. We were going up against some very formidable stores - Tower Berkeley and Leopold’s Records. Both were over five times as large as us - how could we compete? But we believed. And we begged and borrowed and put up everything we had in the world, all in, to make this work.
The night before we were to open, the Berkeley Inn across the street from us caught fire. We spent that night up on our roof with garden hoses putting out ember after ember wafting over from the fire. We were there that night until 4am, then went home to catch a few hours sleep before our Grand Opening.
When we arrived back the next morning, wiped out and bleary-eyed, we saw something we never expected. We saw something that to this day still gives us chills.
We saw you.
We saw our people.
There you were in a line around the block waiting to get in. And our hearts sang. What a truly glorious day that was.
The support we felt that first day has never wavered and has enabled us to open two more Amoebas.
SF Amoeba in 1997 and Hollywood Amoeba in 2001. We can never thank you all enough for the love Berkeley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have given us all these years.
And, over time, Amoeba has become more than we ever could have imagined. We have helped millions of people from California and beyond find music that means something to them, and that means everything to us.
Our all-star staff came from all corners of the country to make us one of the greatest resources and music communities anywhere: a place where true believers can be themselves and where music is the single most important thing.
Amoeba has provided free live music to the community for decades with thousands of in-stores by renowned artists such as Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Brian Wilson, and even the great Sir Paul McCartney.
And we have helped break up-and-coming artists at the time such as the White Stripes, the Black Keys, Anderson .Paak, Gary Clark Jr. and so many others.
Those other stores are all gone now. But we remain. Still providing and protecting the physical manifestation of our musical heritage.
We have become an integral part of each of our communities as well as the larger Amoeba community through our commitment to helping. Through your support we have been able to contribute to thousands of charitable causes over the years. Including raising over $600,000 for Hurricane Katrina rebuilding; and working with the Rainforest Action Network to preserve and protect many millions of acres of Rainforest. It has been a part of our culture from day one that we are committed to giving back and sharing the support we receive.
We have weathered many storms-911, recessions, the Internet, downloading and streaming. But we don’t know that we can weather the COVID-19 storm.
All three of our stores have been closed since mid-March and must remain closed indefinitely. With no way to generate income, our savings are running out, with bills and rent coming due, and with a primary commitment to our staff, who we are trying to keep as healthy and financially sound as possible.
We’d like to reassure you that we’re doing everything we can to keep Amoeba going, and to position ourselves to play a vital role in what is for now a very uncertain future.
We know how much we’re all going to need Amoeba again, this oasis of music, where we can find each other once more.
We’re exploring every possible means of support, including federal and local grants and loans. But these funds are not guaranteed to come in, and they won’t meet the needs of our short-term future.
So, we most humbly ask for your help. We know that this is a very difficult and uncertain time for everyone, and we understand that there are many individuals and organizations in need.
If you are in a position to help us, we would be incredibly grateful to receive that support.
Any donation to this campaign will contribute to the cash resources we need to deal with the immediate future, to take care of our staff of over 400 Amoebites, and to allow Amoeba to continue operations.
Your donations will also greatly help us finance Amoeba’s upcoming move to our new location in Hollywood this fall.
And, if you could let others know about this campaign, that would be very much appreciated, as well.
Without the physical manifestation of music, we are one electromagnetic storm away from having our culture wiped out. We will not let that happen. We are the keepers of that flame; as are you.
Though, we’re dark now, Amoeba is still there, waiting for the day when our doors can be opened again to welcome everyone back inside to celebrate the joy of what moves our souls the most: Music.
Until then, keep the faith.
Listen to Louie and Billie (Holiday or Eilish), Miles and Coltrane, Thundercat and Bootsy, Sabbath and Zeppelin, the Stones and the Beatles, Hank and Patsy, Kanye and Cardi, Otis, Prince, Gram, Django, Amy, Tyler, Sun Ra, John Prine... whoever else moves you.
And know we miss you all so much, and long for the day we can all gather again.
Thanks, as always, for all your support.