Music buyer David James, who has been with Amoeba Records in the Haight since it opened 16 years ago, checks the condition of an album. Jazz is his specialty, but he also knows world music. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle
A regular customer walks into Amoeba Music carrying three used CDs, one each by Bruce Springsteen, Ella Fitzgerald and Glenn Miller. The man working the counter, David James, is a trusted counterpart. He has been here since the Haight Street branch opened 16 years ago. James considers each CD carefully and patiently explains its value in the marketplace, and then for the three CDs he offers a total of $4 in trade value or $2 in cash. The customer accepts store credit, in the form of a credit slip embossed with the Amoeba logo and initialed by James.
I'm a used product buyer. I buy records, CDs, books about music, cassettes, reel-to-reel tapes, posters, 8-tracks, dolls and other music paraphernalia. You cannot just walk in and get this job. I'm in my mid-40s, and I have been working in record stores off and on for 33 years.
When I was 13 I started hanging out at Berigan & Brown Records in Oakland. Eventually they asked me if I wanted to vacuum for money. It turned out to be the best paid apprenticeship imaginable.
I helped Richard Brown open his own store, DBA Brown, in Rockridge. That's where I really learned how to evaluate and assess jazz and rock and classical.
When this store (Amoeba) opened, there were lines to be sure. We also usually had four buyers at the counter. On this counter there could be a mountain of product that people were selling. It could be overwhelming. There was no down time.
Five to seven years ago was the big wave of people selling off their entire collection of CDs because it is all on computer. Now that wave has passed. There are fewer people selling off their CDs because there are fewer people owning CDs to sell.
Most CDs are worth a lot less than they were 10 years ago. You can find a used copy ofMiles Davis' "Kind of Blue" here for $4.99 or even less.
A lot of tourists are buying CDs still, a lot of people from Europe. I don't know what the downloading culture is like in Europe, but I do know that CDs are very expensive there. We also get people from the generation that had a lot of records and sold them to move to CDs. Some of those folks are still buying CDs.
We still get people coming in with boxes of records they found in their uncle's attic. Some people think they are worth nothing and are pleasantly surprised. Some people have unrealistic expectations because they saw some TV program like "Pawn Stars," or they saw that this Beatles album is worth $1,000 and they have the same album so they bring it in, thinking we will give them $1,000. That's not how it works. There are so many variables involved.
All of us buyers have a section of the store that we try to maintain. For me it is the jazz section. I also play hooky in the world section.
I'm a big Brazilian music fan. There's this guy Caetano Veloso who I like a ridiculous amount. There is also a New York guy named Arto Lindsay who I'm a fan of. I once did a buy from a woman who had a Caetano Veloso record that was signed "To: Arturo Lindsay." I freaked out a little bit, and the customer just gave it to me.
In total, I probably have 600 records and 600 CDs. My wife, Suzanne Lee, who also works here, has twice the records that I do. Our collections are separate. Mine are separated by genre and then alphabetized within that. Suzanne's records are scattered.
The vinyl market is an interesting phenomenon. I think that eventually many releases are only going to be on vinyl and as a download. It might only be a couple of years. It seems that people who want a physical thing that contains their music are deciding that a record is a much cooler thing than a CD, which I agree.