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The space at 1813 Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz, long known as Eastside Records, was a low-key, organically cool, second-hand-vinyl, DVD and CD store with a mom & pop feel. Whether it was old-school music fiends armed with stacks of dusty 33s, 45s, the occasional pile of 78s and 12-inch singles hoping to recycle their bounty into new music, or any of the scores of the neighborhood’s starving music critics stripping their personal collection to the bare essentials in a rent-induced frenzy, the shop’s clientele reflected the myriad roles that music plays in our lives: spiritual balm, income-generating product, geeky collector’s wet dream. Locals could and would drop in to gab about politics, culture and assorted small-talk issues with 60-year-old William “Bill” Rosenblatt, the bespectacled owner of the place. But a changing economic climate and the market-guzzling power of Amoeba Music made the last few years a struggle. The store was recently sold to Fernando Tonarelli (“A really good guy,” says Bill), filled with new inventory and computers and given its current name: Fot Records.
Born in Silver Lake, raised first in South-Central (near Western and Imperial) and then briefly in the Hollywood Hills, Bill’s resided in Silver Lake since 1968. A voracious reader and student of current events, he embodies the intellect, soulful empathy and political consciousness that popular stereotypes and assorted cultural biases would insist Los Angeles and her citizens lack. He also teaches a Basic Reading Comprehension and Writing course at East L.A. College.
On the eve of the sale, I sit in Eastside’s back office — to get to it, you have to walk through the small storeroom, which is filled with steel shelves and tables that are laden with boxes of inventory — while Bill muses a little emotionally not on the sale of his store but on the state of Los Angeles itself. He’s that rarest of birds — the born-and-bred L.A. native — and his love for the city is palpable. So is his pain for the place he calls home. When asked what so troubles him about L.A., he pauses for a long time.
“The Rodney King trial and the fallout from it changed everything,” he finally says. “It exposed the class tensions and race schisms that had long been a reality here but were hidden. The riots brought them to the surface, but also balkanized the city, deepening the lines between people. The city no longer belongs to any of us — not me, or the kids I teach or the thousands like them, people that are struggling with the deepest issues of survival. The declining quality of life for the working poor, the loss of industry, the lack of funding for public education. There are all these deep structural problems that have weakened L.A. in serious ways, and I don’t see those issues being addressed in any serious or meaningful way. It just doesn’t feel like my city anymore.”
His sad-sack face darkens, and he smiles wistfully. Behind his head is his wall of pride. It’s filled with photos of the many kids — a swirl of genders, sexualities and races — who have worked in the store over the years. He proudly ticks off the names of the colleges they’re attending now, all over the country. Some started working at Eastside while in high school, some while putting themselves through college. What was especially notable about them is that as different as they were in temperament, style and musical tastes — some days you’d walk into the store and the most disposable, confectionary pop would be playing; other days it would be the most brooding of jazz — none ever had that stereotypical surliness or superior attitude you so often encounter in similar establishments. They were friendly, helpful.
“They were all good kids,” beams Bill.
And what does he love about the city? He chuckles before answering. “The weather. And the fact that it’s easy to live here. It’s relatively inexpensive . . . well, housing no longer is. That changed. But up until recently, it was fairly easy to live here. It’s still a beautiful place.”