Found on the Fringes

Annie Schuler/Staff

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Amid shelves of gospel CDs, DVDs and cassettes, David Reid of Reid's Records looks on from across the display case. A clear, acrylic pulpit stands unpackaged in a corner, tucked away behind family photos and racks of red, ivory and baby blue robes emblazoned with gold crosses. A man walks in; he's picking up a choir robe.

"You know, I keep trying to get the kids over here on a field trip," he divulges, "They say they don't understand the 'thee' and 'thou' in the Bible, but if you'd hear the way they talk on the streets…" Both men laugh.

The customer asks David to remind him of his name: "I've always called you Mr. Reid."

"That's my dad, he deserves that one," David chuckles, a note of private reverence permeating his voice. Without missing a beat, he suggests a DVD he's positive the man will like: saxophonist Kirk Whalum's new release, "The Gospel According to Jazz Chapter III."

In a world where automatically calculates which summer music festivals most closely suit a listener's taste by percentage, the personalized service Reid's Records purveys can seem like a foreign experience to those coming of age in the new millennium.

Big box retailers and iTunes notwithstanding, Reid's remains a relic of a formative period in Berkeley's culture. Perhaps the oldest record store in all of California, the proudly black-owned family business celebrated its 65th anniversary with a gala concert on June 12.

Founded just as Berkeley's black population tripled over the course of World War II, Reid's once stocked all genres of African American music from jazz to R&B, fitting seamlessly into a landscape of Caucasian-owned stores that did not carry "race music."

Since then, Reid's narrowed its music selection down to gospel and widened its inventory to encompass Bibles, stoles and other essentials of the black church experience in order to remain afloat as the economic and technological tides turn.

The store's clientele has aged since David Reid's parents began selling 45s out of the family's Southwest Berkeley duplex.

"When I was growing up in this store," reminisces David, now the owner and operator, "Everybody came in and got their 45s if they were 10 years old or 70 years old. Nowadays… people 50 and below don't purchase music, and if they do… it's probably 99 cents at a time."

The neighborhood's character has changed considerably, as well.

"We're like the last one standing… Years ago, this was a thriving, metropolitan, consumer-based district with black businesses all up and down the street… It was like an oasis for the black community... Now, I don't think there's more than two or three businesses on the street that are owned by African Americans period."

But despite the trials this decade has put forth for all non-electronic forms of media, Reid's made a regal entrance into the 2010s.

Reminded of his store's anniversary concert, David widened his eyes and slowly pronounced the word "Awesome." Nashville's legendary steel guitarist Aubrey Ghent graced the stage, along with renowned quartet Lee Williams & the Spiritual QC's and the Bay Area's own gospel songstress Debra Henderson.

The celebration coincided with Berkeley's 23rd annual Juneteenth Festival, a street fair commemorating African American heritage and the abolition of slavery.

"We were messed up from the neck up, tore up from the floor up," one of the Juneteenth emcees proclaimed. But even so, Reid's Records stands strong as an emblematic figure of a community bound to persevere even despite volatile markets and trends.


Go choir robe shopping in Berkeley with Nastia at [email protected]

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