One Last Score: Music Center of San Francisco to Close

In a sad note for the city's music lovers, yet another brick-and-mortar niche wonderland is readying for its swan song.

Music Center of San Francisco, the place to obtain a trove of scores and the musical instruments and other accoutrements with which to play them, will close its doors at the end of the month. "ALL INVENTORY AND FIXTURES MUST BE SOLD!" blares the store's website. Among those who do a double-take when wandering past, say, a Gershwin songbook, this depressing announcement has already traveled through the grapevine. The musically inclined have been beating a path to the inconspicuous second-floor outlet a stone's throw from Union Square for, literally, one last score.

It turns out, no matter what you learned from Avenue Q, the Internet is good for more than porn. It also does a damn fine job of relegating print materials of all sorts to history's dustbin, and putting businessmen like Warren Leong in a bad spot. "A lot of people are calling and saying they heard we're going out of business," says Leong, who has worked at or owned the Music Center for 45 years. "But they haven't shopped here for years."

In an era when one can contain a massive musical library within the iPad in his or her valise, places such as the Music Center are an endangered species. Everything that can be done on the Internet must be — this is our definition of "progress," just as our grandparents' generation felt the embodiment of the word was to build freeways through the middle of old neighborhoods.

In its six-plus decades of existence, the Music Center has gallivanted about town from location to location. But Leong intimates this is the last iteration of the store. "I don't think there's more than three to five years left in this business," he says. "The online presence is too strong. Young people are used to downloading everything."

Leong estimates he has amassed perhaps 30,000 scores alone from years of hitting up estate sales and buying out-of-print music. You won't find those anywhere else. But, as Leong notes ruefully, an archive of obscure music no one knew existed, let alone coveted, won't keep anyone in business.

It's undeniably nice to download a tune or musical score on a handheld device while simultaneously ordering a cocktail, updating your Facebook status, and paying a credit card bill. But places such as the Music Center offered more. Expert advice, for one. Knowledge that didn't come from Wikipedia. The human touch. Perhaps in the future, there'll be an app for that.

 
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