Haight Street staple, Rooky Ricardo's receives legacy status

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Dick Vivian interrupts our phone call to address a customer who compliments his Liberace shower curtain. “I used to have a shower in the back,” he says. “It’s now my drapes."

For 30 years, the small-business owner has been at the helm of Rooky Ricardo’s, a vinyl record store on San Francisco’s Haight Street that specializes in soul and oldies. On Monday his store received Legacy Business status from the city.

“It’s a bit of publicity,” he says. “Just getting the recognition is the most important thing. I don’t have employees. I don’t have a lease. I think I get a check every year.”

Through the city’s Legacy Business Registry, Vivian whose store moved across the street in 2016, but has otherwise been on the 400 block of Haight since 1987, is now eligible to receive an annual grant. 

In his time, the obvious observation is that rents in the neighborhood have gone up, says the Walnut Creek native who has spent the last 35 years as a resident of the Castro District. But he calls his small and kitschy space his “egg nest”. “Vinyl is back in a big way right now. I never had CDs. There are five or six record stores down here now.”

He says when Upper-Haight behemoth Amoeba opened its store in 1997, a lot of music stores in the area bit the dust.  “I’m all vintage and all originals.”

“One-fourth of the people that come in the store ask for the same records. Soul is my specialty."

He says Rolling Stone magazine's Top 100 Albums of All Time issue has always been a popular frame of reference for customers. “Elvis, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin. They just wanna go to what they know.”

But he’d rather go beyond James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Etta James. He’d rather get them to dig deeper and turn them on to lowrider music like Brenton Wood, and Mary Wells. Or other soul-gem obscurities like Betty Harris, Margie Joseph, Thee Midniters and Sunny & The Sunliners.

“I don’t do reissues. That’s what differentiates me.” The artists he hawks are being “rediscovered” by today’s club DJs, many of which are his clientele. In many cases the artists didn't hit it big in their own era.

“City DJs prefer 45s, they are easier to carry," he says talking up the convenience of what he stocks the most. 

Other ways audiophiles are both discovering and consuming music is through streaming services like Spotify and Soundcloud, the technological means encroaching on the record store’s territory. But for Vivian, he says streaming is incomplete.

“It bugs me if a customer comes in to find a record and they start listening to music on their phone.”
You can listen to his massive selection of 45s and LPs at four in-store listening stations. “I like to think I’m able to fill a void.”