Independent record stores are a dying breed. In the age of algorithms, music communities have migrated online. Streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify have replaced ritual crate digging at local shops. Even as music consumption continues to grow, physical album sales account for a shrinking portion of music revenue, causing more and more shops across the country to fold. The only way for stores to survive is to adapt. Poo-Bah Record Shop, currently in its third home, is living proof here in Pasadena.
Since 1971, when Poo-Bah operated out of the basement level of a spaghetti restaurant on Fair Oaks Avenue, the shop has prioritized and celebrated everything weird about music. It’s a tradition and spirit that is still felt around the store today.
“I would say that each era of the store has its own qualities,” said Andrew Harkness-Newton, a longtime patron and Poo-Bah employee since December. “The Fair Oaks era was very kind of wild with all types of experimental music. The ‘80s sort of leaned a little more heavy because they had a close relationship with Rodney Bingenheimer from ‘Rodney on the ROQ.’”
The popular radio host introduced listeners to exciting new music on KROQ throughout the decade, and it was a Poo-Bah record store employee who discretely fed him recommendations.
By the time the store moved to its second location, a little house on Walnut Street, big acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Beck were dropping in to play shows.
“It was a little house with a head shop next door,” recalled Tony Morrison, a Pasadena native and Poo-Bah customer. “Those were the days! They would have bands play in the backyard with a keg from time to time.”
Poo-Bah moved to its current Colorado Boulevard location in 2001. A young producer and DJ named Ras G started working at the store and his passion for electronic and instrumental hip-hop would define this new era. He was influential in the founding of Flying Lotus’s label Brainfeeder Records in 2008 and went on to co-found Poo-Bah Records, an in-house record label. By the time of his death in 2019, he had released 24 albums and mixtapes. Poo-Bah’s owner Ron Stivers manages Ras G’s estate today.
While MRC Data reports on-demand music streaming topped 988 billion individual streams last year, there are some encouraging trends offering hope for the future of independent record stores. In 2021, vinyl records became the most prominent physical music format with nearly 42 million units sold, according to MRC’s Year-End Report. Ten years prior, vinyl records only accounted for about 2 percent of physical sales of music. It’s clear that music consumers are craving connection and community beyond what streaming platforms can provide. Poo-Bah’s rich history is a prime example of just how integral shops of its kind are to local music scenes.
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