They squinted into the emptied space at Mission and 20th streets and wondered aloud what had happened to the record store where they had passed many an afternoon.
The neon sign still screams RITMO LATINO, but inside on Saturday only a few boxes remained.
“It’s really unfortunate,” said Jorge Bermeo in Spanish. He’d headed to the store around midday to use the money transferring service the store provided; though he planned, like usual, to stick around an extra 10 or 15 minutes to listen at one of the store’s music stations.
“It was a way to pass the time,” said Bermeo wistfully about the store that had become a fixture for many. It closed on Tuesday, after 19 years in business.
“We could come to distract ourselves for a while,” he said.
“I don’t know why they closed it,” said Pedro Galicia to the rest of the his Mariachi band, Los Leones del Bajio, who stopped on their way to a nearby gig to stare at the closing signs.
“It always looked full.”
The Mission Street store is the 16th Ritmo Latino location to close this year. The store’s sales plummeted precipitously in the last year, as Mission Loc@l reported last week, and its managers struggled to find ways to diversify merchandise in order to keep the location afloat: music wasn’t selling like it used to.
Many who stopped on Saturday to speculate about the store’s demise chalked it up to the economy.
“People still went in, but I guess they just didn’t buy,” surmised Bermeo.
“There’s no money,” said Juan Hernandez simply. The Mission Street resident had been a Ritmo regular since 1997, but admitted that he hadn’t bought anything from the store in months—he preferres to get his music online, where he can purchase individual songs for just 99 cents.
But some customers that stopped by Ritmo’s former location on Saturday say they still prefer to buy CDs the old fashioned way.
Fernando Hernandez had already paid half the price on a Tigres del Norte CD he pre-ordered from the store last week. He came by on Saturday with the remaining cash in hand to pick up his purchase.
“We always used to come here,” said Hernandez in Spanish, looking dazed from the realization that the store had closed so suddenly.
“I guess I’ll have to go to Oakland now,” he said, referring to a sign directing customers to Ritmo’s location on International Blvd. A neighboring poster announced that T-Mobile is hiring salespeople at the site—a not-so-subtle hint as to the storefront’s next occupant.
Julio Lucero, the owner of Julio’s, a Latin music store five blocks south at 25th and Mission Streets, hopes that Ritmo’s former customers will find his 16-year-old store.
“We’ve survived so far,” said Lucero speaking in Spanish. But the last year and a half hasn’t been easy—sales have dropped by nearly 50 percent, he said.
“We’re optimistic that it could bring us more business,” he said of Ritmo’s departure.
“It’s hard for us, as a small business, to compete with a big store—to compete with the prices they could offer.”
Discolandia, another Latino music vendor native to the Mission, has also seen a 50 percent drop in revenue in the last two years, according to store owner Silvia Rodriguez. But she doesn’t want to leave, despite having to shell out $3,000 in monthly rent . Her store has been on 24th street for 37 years.
“I’ve spent most of my youth behind this counter,” said Rodriguez, pointing to the pictures under the counters plexiglass of her younger self posed with various Latin music stars.
Rodriguez considered closing Discolandia’s doors earlier this summer, but she’s changed her mind. They’ll stay open, she said, at least for now.