Five Things Every Neighborhood Should Have (But Probably Doesn’t)

I grew up in Northridge, which, as the name would imply, is in the north San Fernando Valley. Northridge is how I imagine pretty much every other U.S. neighborhood, boring and filled with people who will mock you when they find out you can’t kick a ball. Back in the 1990s, though, we had a few things that made being a teenager suck less and I credit these places with turning me into a literate, marginally creative human being. Some of these places don’t exist anymore,  not just in the small corner of the Valley where I was raised, but anywhere. I mourn their loss because, honestly, every neighborhood needs them.

1. Libraries

We had a branch of the L.A. Public Library nearby. It was small, but packed with lots of goodies, from the Amelia Bedilia books that I would check out when I was very young, to the Jane Austen novels that I loved as a teenager. Libraries are great. They were a place where my friends and I could do our homework, where we could try to get through at least a book a week during summer vacation. But, libraries are always struggling. Back in 2010, my colleague Patrick Range McDonald wrote a fantastic story about the problems facing LAPL. Last year, voters approved Measure L, which would help improve funding for our L.A. libraries. There are other ways you can help too. Here are some donation options for Los Angeles residents.

2. Record Stores

I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in a neighborhood with two great record stores. We had Tempo Records, which was on Reseda Blvd. and had an excellent collection of imports and indie releases. That’s where I got most of my goth and Britpop stuff in high school.

Our Tower Records was pretty cool too. I spent a lot of time searching through their import section, and found some pretty amazing releases in the process. The best thing about the Tower in Northridge, though, was the magazine section. They had all the British music magazines, which were my favorites, plus an amazing selection of zines. As a high school kid, I was picking up copies of stuff like Ben Is Dead and Angry Thoreauan thanks to Tower.

Suburban record stores are largely extinct now and I doubt that any amount of Record Store Day style initiatives will bring them back. The few that we have will remain in the cities, far away from the reach of kids without cars. That’s sad. There was nothing like being able to go to a store and talk to people about what I thought I might purchase. Having someone say, “Well, if you like Band A, then check out Band B” is much better than trusting any sort of algorithm, no matter how intuitive it may seem. Thank you, record store employees, for helping me start my collection.

3. Comic Book Shops

My dad started taking me to our local comic book store, Golden Apple, before I could actually read. He started me out on comic books and, to an extent, I kept up with them. I was never big on the superhero stuff outside of Wonder Woman, but, as I hit my teens, I discovered Love and Rockets, Eightball and Hate. I got into The Sandman. By the end of high school, a comic called Johnny the Homicidal Maniac came out (first, in a goth magazine called Carpe Noctem, which was awesome) and that quickly became my favorite.

The Golden Apple in the Valley is no more, but there’s an Earth II in its place. I guess that works. Fortunately for comic book fans, there are still plenty of stores across L.A.’s myriad neighborhoods. Let’s keep it that way. Support your local comic book shop.

4. Coffee Houses

Before Starbucks and Coffee Bean infiltrated the North Valley, we had Common Grounds. This was a proper coffee house, right next to CSUN, that featured poetry readings and folk singers. Okay, so the entertainment wasn’t quite to our taste, but my friends and I still hung out here a lot.

Common Grounds was great because it stayed open well into the night. It gave us a place to hang out when we were too young to get into clubs and didn’t feel like eating at Denny’s. It closed years ago, as most of the coffee houses that were on my radar did, and that’s a shame. I’m still waiting for the day when these independent joints will return and kick Starbucks, et. al. out of town.

5. Second Run Movie Theaters

I don’t know if second run theaters even exist anymore, but they should. These were the best option to see the movies that weren’t going to make it to mega-theaters and they helped introduce me to films that were outside of the mainstream. Our local, second run theater was called the Peppertree. It was cheap, I think we typically paid $3 or less for double features, and it was filled with awesome.

The thing that made the Peppertree great was that it didn’t stick to the movies that everyone saw and everyone liked. Most of what I remember catching there were movies that only appealed to a very small demographic, i.e. weird teens and young adults.This theater is single-handedly responsible for turning me on to the brilliance of John Waters. Thank you, Peppertree. I also appreciated their occasional Johnny Depp double-features. Makin’ my teenage heart swoon, one whimsical angst-filled character at a time.

4 thoughts on “Five Things Every Neighborhood Should Have (But Probably Doesn’t)

  1. Yes! Oh I loved reading this! I haven’t thought about the Peppertree in over a decade! I remember my friends and I got kicked out of the Peppertree for being too disruptive during “Driving Miss Daisy.” Remember that cool record store by the Vans shop on Chatsworth? Those two stores next to each other were pretty powerhouse. And Common Gorunds… sigh. Liz if I had been two years older in HS I think we probably would have been best friends… errr or maybe mortal enemies? ha ha! But I am glad we are friends now. xo c

    • Cory, I remember the record store next to Vans. It was called Roundhouse. The owner, Gideon, was really cool and always helped me find good stuff. In fact, I bought my first Bikini Kill CD from him.

      BTW, I still want a pair of velvet Vans. I remember seeing those at the Chatsworth shop, drooling a little before spending my money on music and then coming back to find they were gone.

      I’m glad we’re friends now too. Two years seems like a huge age difference in high school, doesn’t it?

  2. Just reading this blog brings back lots of memories… I cant believe
    We never crossed path! Or maybe we did ! Who knows but i do miss some of those stores.. Esp tempo records!!

    • Annie, we had to have met each other back in the day and just didn’t realize it, which is sad because it’s not like we grew up in a place swimming with Britpop fans.

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