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Reid's Records, Berkeley Gospel Mainstay, to Close After 75 Years

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Reid's Records, reportedly the state's oldest record shop, opened in 1945 to serve the East Bay's swelling black community. (Sam Lefebvre/KQED)

Reid’s Records, a one-stop shop for the gospel experience, will close after 75 years of family-owned business in October, Berkeleyside reported Tuesday.

The southwest Berkeley store, reportedly the state’s oldest record shop, opened on Sacramento Street in 1945 to serve the East Bay’s swelling black community. Diara Reid, daughter of the founders Mel and Betty, blamed gentrification and black depopulation for Reid’s diminishing clientele, adding “no one buys CDs anymore.”

Reid’s was closed when a reporter visited during regular store hours Wednesday morning, a “For Rent” sign posted in the window of the two-story building. Choir robes hung on a rack behind the security gate, and a hopeful customer waited more than 30 minutes before driving away.

Reid's Records cofounder Mel Reid with a young Aretha Franklin.
Mel Reid with a young Aretha Franklin. (Reid's Records)

Reid’s, as East Bay blues and jazz scribe Lee Hildebrand has written, opened in the emerging market of what was then called “race music.”

In the 1950s Mel and his uncle Paul Reid partnered to promote gospel concerts at the Oakland Auditorium (later named for industrialist Henry J. Kaiser), presenting stars such as James Cleveland, The Staple Singers and the Rev. C.L. Franklin, whose revue included his teenage daughter, Aretha Franklin.

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The business struggled in the late 1970s, with Mel resorting to selling items such as posters and water pipes. Betty, who’d by then remarried, returned to run the store. By the 1980s, she refocused the selection on gospel, even making the news for refusing to stock hip-hop.

Diara has run the shop since the 1990s. In recent years she presented gospel concerts in Richmond, but found a much cooler reception than her father did in the 1950s. “The African-American community we served for 75 years doesn’t exist here anymore,” she told Berkeleyside.

Mel died in 1988. Betty Reid Soskin, 97, is today known as the country’s oldest Park Ranger. Last year she published a memoir, Sign My Name to Freedom.

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