By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
BEST VANISHING RECORD STORE
It’s a shame that in a year when three fledgling vinyl shops have opened within three miles of one another — Vacation, Origami and Territory — the granddaddy of all L.A. music vendors is closing operations. The mid-city-based Music Man Murray has serviced the Southland for no less than 47 years, specializing in the rarest of rare old music: pre–World War II jazz recordings on 12-inch, long-lost R&B classics on 78s, small-press ’60s rock on 45s, and even 19th-century Edison cylinders. The store’s sole proprietor and often lone worker, 87-year-old Murray Gershenz, is a famous treasure himself — a former opera singer who made it his life’s work to not only know all of the music that he carried, but his customers as well, many of whom relied upon his insight to build up or top off their own impressive collections. Word has it that Louis Armstrong and Mae West, among others, used to call Gershenz in search of their own records, lending an oddly literal bent to the Music Man motto, “You name it. we find it!” Sadly, Gershenz will soon close up shop in favor of a somewhat burgeoning career as a character actor, meaning all those records — so many that he once used a conveyor belt to move them between floors — may just vanish into the ether. 5055 Exposition Blvd., Baldwin Hills. (323) 734-9146, musicmanmurray.com.
BEST BUILD-IT-YOURSELF WORKSHOP
Echo Park nonprofit Machine Project is a do-it-yourselfer’s dream. The humble storefront, on Alvarado just north of Sunset, offers affordable instruction in everything from quilting to computer programming, not to mention plenty of classes for the acoustically inclined. A recent two-parter involved: (a) building an underwater microphone out of cheap hardware store parts, and (b) taking a trip to Echo Lake to test out the goods. And if you’d taken the early-May workshop on “DIY Digital Sampler Design,” you’d be halfway to an atmospheric audio experiment of your own holistic design. Machine Project director Mark Allen hosts a recurring class that teaches basic soldering through the act of building a working synthesizer, and he sees projects like these — conceived to be accessible to all comers, regardless of experience — as belonging to a bigger trend. “We’re at a point where people are interested in having some agency over the culture that they produce and consume,” says Allen, “and that ranges from how to make food to thinking about music as something produced by and for a community itself. There’s a big difference in the feeling you get building a synthesizer versus buying one.” Occasionally that feeling is one of mild electric shock, but we think it’s worth the burn. 1200-D N. Alvarado St., Echo Park. (213) 483-8761, machineproject.com.
BEST AFRICAN-AMERICAN BARBERSHOP
A two-block span along Crenshaw Boulevard is almost exclusively home to barbershops, and if you’re a young or an old man, or a woman who wears her hair cropped close, there’s at least one establishment on Barber’s Row that will scrape and/or shape the stuff growing on your cranium. The best and most unique of these is known alternately as King of Cuts and Magic Shears. Located in the same spot since 1982, it’s bright and well-lit, has parquet floors and comfy chairs. It’s a contrast to many of its competitors that provide a whiff of edgy danger, when what you really want is good, basic grooming. King’s barbers are both male and female — some are even siblings — who toss each other playful back-and-forths with a warmth that’s catchy. “This is a Christian establishment,” explains owner Chris, whose bald head, gold teeth and tattoos belie his mild-mannered mien. “There’s no cursing allowed in here, especially taking the Lord’s name in vain, and no open containers allowed.” You can get the trash talk elsewhere on Crenshaw with your haircut, but for a reasonably priced, competent cut or shave with a smile, this is the spot. 4283 Crenshaw Blvd., L.A. (323) 299-8459. Open daily.
—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
BEST CHEAP THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT
Impulse buys. They’re frequently the bane of our existence and the source of inexplicable shopper’s delight all at the same time, whether it’s a giant tub of Gummi Bears from beside the checkout at Bed Bath & Beyond to a $5 copy of Uncle Buck at Target. It’s a rare form of excitement, then, that comes from entire stores crammed to the rafters with impulse buys, and such is the Marukai 98 Plus Store, that bargain-basement cousin of the Japanese version of Costco. You don’t need a member card to shop there, but you do need a big cart and maybe a modicum of restraint, if you can resist the lure of nifty Asian pottery, dishware, kitchen implements (What does it do, though? The labels are all in Japanese!) and more fantastic foreign snacks than you can shake a stick at. Be forewarned, not everything is 98 cents, but a few things will set you back more than a couple of bucks. 22850 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance. (310) 791-3919. Also at 1360 W. Artesia Blvd., Gardena. (310) 516-8160.