Although no longer in its historic location, Andy’s has been providing pets and pet care to San Jose for half a century. What you may not realize is that Andy’s has a mission. “A lot of people still do not know, that every pet in the store—down to the fish—are rescued,” says owner Lissa Shoun. “But unlike the local animal shelter, we do not buy and sell animals.” Andy’s is perhaps best known to locals for their neon parrot sign, which has a unique history of its own. When the store was closed in 2010 for various reasons, the sign couldn’t stay. “I drove around with the sign in the back of my 1954 pickup truck for about two years,” Shoun says. Even when Andy’s reopened, there still wasn’t a place to put it, so the neon parrot stayed in her truck as a form of mobile advertisement—even if it destroyed her suspension.
What’s the most interesting thing about a local record store chain that began in 1971 selling stereo parts? “Maybe the fact that we still exist,” laughs Gary Christman, a 20-year employee of Streetlight. His sentiments reflect the radically changing landscape of the music industry, where stores have been replaced with downloads. But the shift has its benefits. Vinyl has always been a “staple of Streetlight,” Christman notes, and it’s only increasing in sales, especially among younger crowds. One of many notable in-store shows was a 2010 set by twin sister indie pop duo Tegan and Sara.
Named after the Russian mystic, Rasputin Music opened in 1971. First established by Ken Sarachan on Durant Avenue, and then Telegraph in Berkeley, it has steadily come to dominate the Bay Area’s dwindling record store scene. Though the founder is a somewhat controversial figure, this hasn’t stopped Rasputin from expanding to eight locations in the Bay Area, including Mountain View and San Jose, and three in the Central Valley. Rasputin has hosted everyone from Dredg to Reel Big Fish—even if the Berkeley store gets the bigger names. “Pretty much every Bay Area rapper, except for Mac Dre, performed here at one point or another,” says longtime employee Michael Glover.
What makes Recycle Books stand out from most used book stores is its intellectual environment. With an incredibly low employee turnover rate and an equally engaged literary community, Recycle—nearing its 40th anniversary—has been able to curate an extensive, fascinating and unique collection of more than 100,000 titles. With two resident cats (one a Maine coon that weighs more than 25 pounds), Recycle is a quiet family spot. But being on The Alameda, the store has seen its fair share of absurdity. “A customer came in wearing overalls with a sword on his back, trying to sell a signed Bruce Lee book É that was published in 2000,” says employee Fern Alberts. “When we told him that it wasn’t possible, he said, ‘Well, that’s just your opinion.'”
Going to Mel Cotton’s is something of a rite of passage in the South Bay. Established in 1946 by Mel Cotton himself, the sports and recreation store is regarded as an outdoor specialist with sections for skiing, camping, hunting, fishing; the works. What may get lost in all of this is the incredible philanthropic work Mel Cotton’s has undertaken, from supporting 4-H clubs and scouts organizations to providing corporate discounts. Mel Cotton’s has a well-deserved reputation as a community beacon (with guns!).
Downtown San Jose’s only skate shop has offered shoes, decks, parts and clothes out of its funky aquarium-like storefront for the better part of two decades. As the lone counterpart to the mall store skate stores, Bob Schmelzer’s Circle A claims a loyal following of local skaters. To take advantage of the plaza-like Paseo de San Antonio strip and encourage customers to stay a while, he plans to turn part of the store into a little coffee shop.
Started in 1967 during the Summer of Love, Paramount Imports is San Jose’s testament to good vibes. And its history is far from dull. In the ’80s, at the height of the War on Drugs, head shops were closing left and right. Paramount’s particular location in unincorporated county land meant that “San Jose Police wouldn’t bust us,” says longtime employee and owner’s son Casey Sargent, whose family bought the store in 1980. In the early ’90s, a huge fire burned down the store and destroyed all of its inventory. But still Paramount returned. “We’re the oldest smoke shop in the Bay Area,” says Sargent. As for the future, a new mail order system will allow Paramount customers to buy their goods online.
Every comic nerd loves to argue about comics. That’s a given. But it’s hard to argue that Lee’s Comics is anything but the comic book shop of all Bay Area comic book shops. It helps that Lee Hester, once called “the leading West Coast Comics guru” by Juxatapoz Magazine, started and still operates the establishment. Now in its 35th year, Lee has expanded his comic prowess to locations in Mountain View and San Mateo. The inventory is astounding, the employees are almost too knowledgeable, and the comic legends—artist and writer alike—pass through the shop on a regular basis.
Have you ever needed a 16th century Trappist monk robe and a crystal tiara at 10:30am? Regardless of fashion needs, the zany and infinitely explorable Natasha’s Attic is packed to the brim with every type of costume you could dream of—and then some. Natasha’s Attic started as a family business and remains in family hands. “My aunt and grandmother started [it] nearly 40 years ago,” employee Katie Ramirez points out. “Once people enter these doors and hear us talking and laughing, they realize that we’re all family. It just runs in our blood.”
With vibrant art pieces and a mural by graffiti artist and San Jose local Girafa, Faux Salon looks more like an en vogue gallery than a place to get a new ‘do. The salon is commonly praised for their color work and through consultation, Faux also does wedding stylings, smoothing treatments and makeup.
When Giovanni Beltramo fled poverty in his native Italy to work in California’s vineyards, he touched down in Menlo Park armed with grape cuttings and a liquor license. That was in 1882. Today, Beltramo’s Wine and Spirits remains family-owned and holds the distinction of being the longest-running business in town. The 10,000-square-foot warehouse stocks thousands of different wines, spirits and beers, with prices ranging from $10 to $17,000 for a bottle of a half-century-old Highland Park single-malt scotch.
Founded in 1940 as a candy, creamery and tobacco shop, Joseph George Distributor reinvented itself as a purveyor of liquors when it passed from the eponymous father to son three decades later. The generation that followed rebranded the business once more, introducing the family legacy as Joseph George Fine Wines.
Kepler’s books was and still is a creative and intellectual hub of the South Bay. Founded in 1955 by peace activist Roy Kepler, the store picked up on the paperback revolution of the 1960s, and in turn attracted Beatniks, Stanford faculty and musicians. (The Grateful Dead had an early show there, and Joan Baez was known for her impromptu salons.) The bookstore fell on rough times in 2005, but the overwhelming support of the community—complete with fundraising campaigns and protests—kept the store standing.
Japantown’s favorite craft beer destination lies within an unassuming corner store stocked with milk, butter, snacks and lottery tickets. But step inside Kelly’s Liquors to see why it appeals to legions of beer-loving regulars: shelves and shelves of stouts, pale ales, Belgians, porters and hard-to-find microbrews.
The South Bay’s only gay bathhouse has withstood the test of time by offering clean, cloistered haven to tan, swim, cruise or otherwise rock out with one’s cock out.
Hotel De Anza
Designed by architect W.H. Weeks and named after a Spanish explorer, the 10-story Hotel De Anza was once the tallest hotel in San Jose. Eighty-six years later, of course, that no longer holds true. But the Art Deco tower remains one of the city’s most treasured landmarks.