Bay Area Vinyl Hop: Tunnel Records + Beach Goods
A Quaint Beach Town Record Shop In A Big City
On the westernmost end of San Francisco, the main residential neighborhood alongside Ocean Beach is known as the Outer Sunset. Here, palm trees align the sidewalks. It is not the most bustling part of town, say, like Venice Beach, as one may imagine. On the contrary, it is one of the quieter parts of San Francisco and that is probably due to the surprisingly colder and foggier climate. No, beach doesn’t mean bikinis and tanned bodies; rather, it's more of a contemplative space for one seeking a walk that is invigorated by the cool ocean air.
“We love the laid back nature of the area,” claims Ben Wintroub, one of the owners of Tunnel Records + Beach Goods since 2017, “it feels like a small town that's independent of SF (San Francisco) with all the benefits of SF, but you really get to know your neighbors here and it's very casual. The weather, actually, is way better than it used to be. A lot more sun, probably because of global warming... and the cold, if you live here—you like it—because there are less people and you can walk on the beach and not see anyone for miles.”
Andrea de Francisco and Ben Wintroub, Bay Area natives and long time residents of San Francisco, fell in love with the Outer Sunset district and decided to open their new business that combines fun household objects, beach goods, and a well curated record selection.
We visited Ben at his store on a (more and more common) warm afternoon.
— So what's playing on the turntable right now?
Today, we are starting with a little dub from Jah Lloyd’s Herb Dub. It’s a really “roots-y” dub album and a really nice way to start the day off. I am just getting here, a beautiful sunny day, and I feel that we have to fit the day to the music.
— How did your love for music come about?
My love of music comes directly from my family. My great uncle spent most of his life in the record industry as a producer. He always passed on great music to my parents who in turn would play his records at home. I was always surrounded by music.
My inspirations come from many different places, but the most prevalent music moves me physically or mentally. I love being challenged by jazz and at the same time being lyrically inspired by rock. It has changed over time, but currently jazz and international music really are of interest. I am exploring areas of jazz that eluded me and international genres I have never heard.
— How do you curate your selection and keep your store stocked?
It’s all very simple, actually. We stock what we like! Over time, we’ve learned artists and genres that were underrepresented in the store and have added those as well. I’d say, our specialty is jazz and international, but really, we want a well-rounded store. New product is bought through distributors and we often buy direct from local musicians.
Stocking used product involves everything: traveling, walk-ins, and even online. I am always hustling and bustling around looking for records. For example, we just bought a really large collection over the weekend. There was a guy in Oakland who was selling his great collection of classic rock, modern Britpop and all kinds of stuff. I actually found him on Craigslist—most record store owners do—I check it all the time. This opportunity came up and I happened to be the first one that could go meet him. Sometimes things just have to line up in your favor.
— Tell us about what records you choose to put up on the wall.
We usually rotate them weekly. It's based on what I want to put up there—nothing is too obscure—but it is all stuff that I really like that I feel passionate about sharing with people. We are a small store in a city of some larger stores, and we have to provide things that our customers might not be so familiar with. We can really showcase them due to our size, whereas if you were to put a rare Japanese jazz album up in a larger store on the wall, it might just blend in.
— Why vinyl?
I love physical analogue music: vinyl and tapes. Both formats have sound characteristics that add to the recordings. Also, I think people want a tangible connection. When you actually put a record on and commit to it, you are much more in touch with what's actually being played. We’ve moved so far away from a tangible connection to music and the art of it that people now are slowly but surely taking a step back in the other direction.
We want customers to take a chance on music they may not be familiar with—this is how record stores have operated for years and I hope it never changes. Vinyl is not going to replace the entire industry, but if you want to be a part of that community that listens to music in that form, then there are both shops that can help you out, and there are people you can listen to music with, and... [laughs] you know! Music should be the cornerstone! Music should never not be playing!
— You have a good selection of cassettes here, too.
We do well with the tapes. I think it all goes back to people wanting a physical connection to music and cassettes are just a fun format, they don't sound great—everyone knows that—but putting it in and out of a cassette player is fun, too. So yes, people are listening to them.
— So, what was your motivation to open your store?
It was always a pipe dream of mine to have a record shop and I always collected records. My wife had just sold her previous business, a commercial restaurant, so we had some extra capital, and a spot came up where a neighborhood dry cleaner was looking to retire and it was close to our house. We looked at each other and said: “Why not?” It was one of those things where once we started to go one direction, we couldn't stop! With my background in music and Andrea’s business background and love of art and design, we thought we could create something pretty cool that would hopefully succeed.
— Your shop has a really welcoming atmosphere.
We are a store where everyone is welcome whether you like records or not; we are just as happy if somebody comes and just says hi to us, as we are if somebody buys and spends a thousand dollars. We consider ourselves a neighborhood store more than anything else, and we want a place for everyone from the neighborhood to feel comfortable walking in and saying hi.
As far as the records, we are a nice size, so you can go as deep as you want: if you want to see every record we have in our store, you can spend an hour in here, and if you want to spend five minutes, you may find something really quick on the wall. The record stores I grew up with were very intimidating: there were records and records, boxes upon boxes! The owners were never nice, so here we want the opposite.
— What is the symbiosis of Ben’s side and Andrea’s side of the business like?
It is not two separate businesses but one that works magically together. We do sell vinyl records, cassettes, and equipment, but we also sell awesome handmade greeting cards, ceramics made by local ceramicists, and so much more. We are always working together and we can't imagine the business any other way.
You see our two worlds collide all the time: someone can come in and buy a really nice straw hat and a Michael Jackson record. What the Beach Goods does, specifically, without really us meaning for this to happen, is that it makes people more comfortable in the vinyl environment. If they are intimidated about going to a record store, you can come and look at a pretty bag and then take a step forward and look at some great jazz records. We'll see people come in together with dividing interests: one of them likes records and the other has no interest, but they both can still enjoy a few minutes in the store without one person being like, “Argh! I have nothing to do here!” [Laughs.]
— What does it mean to have a fairly new record store here?
It is a responsibility to the community in a way. Customers trust us to provide an open space for exploration and conversation surrounded by music. If we didn’t open our shop, someone would have eventually, so it’s very important to provide the best version of ourselves we can be everyday.
In the Sunset, for instance, a lot of people who owned businesses like dry cleaners and corner stores, they are retiring or going out of business, so there is a bit of turnover. We are not in a commercial district per se, and because there is such a finite amount of commercial space, when anyone new gets a storefront, there is a commitment to serving your community.
— Where does "Tunnel" come from?
There used to be a beach tunnel on Taraval Street. In fact, there were tunnels built at Wawona and Judah Streets as well. Built in the late 1920s, these tunnels provided pedestrian access to Ocean Beach beneath the Great Highway. They were removed in the 1980s, but you can still see remnants of the tunnel at the beach today at Taraval Street.
— We have been to your event “TunnelPalooza2” and really enjoyed it. What are the inspirations for these events and do you host live music on a regular basis?
We wanted to provide a fun day of free entertainment as a small way to give back to our customers who support us! We’d love to do more live music, but we are restricted by our space and landlord.
— Do you have a local music section?
We don't really have a local-section. We mix it in with everything else, according to what particular genre the music is. We get bands coming in that are local and don't have much of a presence commercially, but want to provide us the records so they can allow for a place for people to buy it. So we are always open to that.
— Who are the Bay Area top bands that you follow?
Ben: Thee Oh Sees, Sonny and the Sunsets, and cool ghouls
Andrea: Wooden Shjips and Wymond Miles
Some of these bands are now former San Francisco residents, but we still consider them ours! From the East Bay, anything from our friends at Long Road Society. Their first release Sitka Sun was amazing and we expect big things from them in the future.
— Are a lot of artists moving away from San Francisco?
Yeah, it is a trend. We have lost a lot of artists to the East Bay and L.A. because it is so expensive to live here. It's impossible for a lot of artists to both make music and pay rent.
— What do you think the future of vinyl looks like?
I don't think it's going to take over the world by any means, but I think it's got a place and it's not going anywhere. If you want to listen to music on vinyl, it's going to be out there. Stuff is getting reissued all the time in great quality, and stuff that was at one point inaccessible, really rare expensive stuff, is gonna become more and more accessible to the average collector because of these reissues. So I think vinyl is in a great place. There is a home for it. That's for sure.
— Lastly, tell us more about your great uncle that was a producer.
Yeah, he was a jazz producer in San Francisco and New York in the '60s-'80s and he had a really good long career. His name was Orrin Keepnews. Being around that, I didn't realize it at the time, but it definitely instilled a love of music in me and through that I ended up working at record stores throughout high school and college, so it's kind of always been around. He worked for a couple of labels that were well known, Riverside Records and Milestone Records, and he was a successful guy, so definitely inspiring.
If he were still alive, he would have said it's crazy to open a record store—to be fair to him. [Laughs.] But also he would have been very proud.
Tunnel Records + Beach Goods
Location: 3614A Taraval Street, San Francisco, CA 94116
Sunday - Thursday: 12pm-6pm
Fridays, Saturdays: 12pm-7pm
Tel: (415) 702-6811 USA
Interview and article by Mika Anami
Photographs by Rieko Fujii