One of the best things that 11-year-old Thrillhouse Records has going for it is that, in the words of co-owner Fred Schrunk, “The block we’re on is kind of the last shitty block in the whole Mission-Bernal area.”
With an empty storefront and defunct print-shop on one side and a 7-Eleven behind a gas station on the other, it’s not a desirable location by any means.
“We got a pretty good deal,” Schrunk adds. “Our rent has gone up twice since then, but by really small amounts, so we’re able to make it work. Our landlord doesn’t even live in the area. I’m sure he’s aware of what San Francisco has changed into, but it can still work.”
But for more than a decade, the volunteer-run shop has kept it going, selling (mostly) punk records at substantially cheaper prices than elsewhere, and it’s a great place to hang out and grab a fistful of buttons. Some 14 staffers each put in one four-hour shift per week, with a few others on-call in case someone flakes.
Schrunk, a musician who’s also a bartender and manager at the nearby Knockout, sounds like a pretty great boss, balancing the shop’s hangout element against the fact that it’s still a business with bills to pay.
“It’s like, ‘Have a beer and invite your friends and hang out and listen to records and it’ll be fun,’ ” Schrunk says. “But if you come in the next day and it’s a total mess and it’s chip wrappers all over and empty bottles and all the math is messed up, then I hit up the person, like, ‘Dude, you have to watch yourself.’ It’s always fine until people start fucking up — and then they’ll hear from me.”
The initial dream was to start an all-ages venue, which something Schrunk, a resident of the Excelsior, still hopes to find an angel investor for. That phrase is almost conspicuously un-punk, but this is San Francisco — plus a few years ago, Thrillhouse switched from a pointed cash-only policy to giving Visa a small percentage of most transactions. Too many people were putting a stack of records on the counter then walking away because they had only a 20 in their pocket.
“We were bumming people out left and right, so if we’re gonna actually be able to sustain keeping this place, we’re gonna need to make the sacrifice,” Schrunk says.
Thrillhouse’s small footprint draws a crowd that’s about half “under-40 weirdos in the music scene” and half everybody else, from older people thumbing through the dollar classical bin to metal-heads on the hunt for deals to people entranced by weird zines. It’s quirky, but it’s arguably in the exact right spot, as the area where the Mission’s “edginess” — whatever that even means, but y’know — climbs up the hill like a rhizome. But Schrunk agrees, noting that when looking for a place, he rode his bike up Mission from 14th Street, looking for for-rent signs.
“All we were trying to do was find a storefront on Mission,” he says. “This area is something special: Front Porch, Blue Plate, PizzaHacker, Baby Blue — there’s so many good restaurants out here. I know I’m biased but this little stretch is my favorite spot.”
Thrillhouse Records, 3422 Mission St., 415-666-9991, thrillhouserecords.com
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