San Francisco

New Record Store 'Western Relics' Brings Vinyl, Comics, Zines to the Sunset

Analog music fans starved for options in the western neighborhoods, take heart. On February 12th, record store, indie book shop, and art space Western Relics will open its doors at Irving and 15th Ave.

The store is the passion project of Wilson Drozdowski and Sabrina Kay, an Outer Sunset couple with backgrounds in the art, punk, and DIY scenes, who don’t think you should have travel downtown to find culture. They named the store after the "Western" end of the city, where they wanted to locate their business. ("Relics" half-jokingly refers to their retro merchandise.)

“We love living out here, but there are a lot of gaps in what is offered," said Kay. "We don't want to have to go downtown to buy records. We felt like that was a need we wanted to fill.”

They searched long and hard for the right space at the right price, and were on the verge of giving up when they found the Irving Street spot, formerly Peapod Fabrics. “We could visualize it from the outside,” said Drozdowski, who loved the brick facade, picture windows, front pillar, and corner location. “As soon as we saw it and we saw the 'For Rent' sign, we said, 'That’s the space.' ”

Drozdowski and Kay spent months remodeling the store, with help from friends and family. They made several improvements, including a new floor, and commissioned their friend, painter Candi Kinyobi, to hand-paint their signs.

Photo: Western Relics/Instagram

In addition to their creative backgrounds—Drozdowski is a musician; Kay, an artist—they've both spent several years working in retail, where they developed ideas about how they'd like to run a store of their own.

Inspired partly by a surf shop Drozdowski recently managed, he and Kay are designing the space to feel clean, comfortable, and accessible. They plan to set up a listening station for sampling records, and a reading area by the window where customers can flip through books, comics, and zines. 

They've also drawn inspiration from their involvement in the local music scene. Drozdowski has played in bands, and they both frequent concerts, collect albums, and have lived in houses with practice or art spaces. "Music has been a very important part of our lives for as long as we can remember," said Kay. "That’s part of what brought us together, actually."

“For a long time, we knew that we wanted to have a business, and it just kept coming back to, 'What do you like, and what are you passionate about?'" added Drozdowski, who's dreamed of owning a record store when he was a teenager.

Photo: Western Relics/Instagram

Western Relics is sprouting up in a musical desert; the Sunset currently has no record stores. The closest are Amoeba in the Upper Haight, Noise in the Outer Richmond, and West Portal's The Music Store.

But the recent resurgence of vinyl sales was a non-factor in their decision, the couple insists. “Doing this business is definitely not us banking on the repopularization of vinyl,” Drozdowski said. “You'll read articles that say 'vinyl is back,' but for a lot of people, it was never gone.”

Nonetheless, the trend may work in their favor. According to Forbes, vinyl sales have grown for the past 10 consecutive years, with 2015 seeing a 30 percent increase in sales over the previous year. Vinyl buyers also seem to prefer independent shops over large chains, with indie stores accounting for 45 percent of all sales in 2015. 

The renewed popularity of records comes as no surprise to Drozdowski and Kay. Unlike digital music files, they say, vinyl is tangible, and often comes bound in beautiful artwork. It also offers enthusiasts the thrill of the hunt. “It's very much a discovery, and a hunt," said Kay. "When you find something you love, it’s like gold."

Photo: Western Relics/Instagram

Collecting vinyl doesn't mean eschewing the convenience of digital. As Drozdowski and Kay pointed out, most modern records come with a digital download code that allows buyers the option of listening on the go. “That’s the best thing ever," said Kay.

Western Relics plans to carry a large section of used records, and offer money or store credit to customers for theirs. They think trading is a great way for people to cycle through their collections and keep discovering new music. It also benefits the store. "I think that's an important part of keeping interesting stuff in stock," said Drozdowski.

As for the music selection, the couple plans to offer a broad range of albums not typically found at larger chains, including international music, old jazz and blues, punk, and post-punk. "We'll have more rare and hard-to-find and interesting stuff, because we like discovering new music we've never heard before," said Drozdowski.

The selection will likely evolve over time as the couple gets to know the neighborhood and hears what people want. For an extra dose of nostalgia, a small selection of cassette tapes will also be available.

Western Relics' hours are tentatively set for noon to 7pm daily, and they’re hosting a party on February 12th, the evening of their grand opening. If the buildout finishes ahead of schedule, they may softly open earlier.

In keeping with their effort to step up the cultural offerings west of Stanyan, they plan to eventually host art shows, too. "A lot of those friends from the DIY community are the ones whose art we want up in our store," said Kay.

"It's nice to have the opportunity to showcase talented people's stuff," Drozdowski added. "Especially your friends'."


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