.For the Record: Marin’s longest-running indie record store

A long-lost art form unto itself, the thrill of digging for vinyl records is slowly making a comeback.

The idea of finding that live Weather Report vinyl one only heard about or that long out-of-print King Biscuit Flower Hour 10cc live CD—sometimes after an hour or more of looking in every crevice and open box—is still very much a lure for many audiophiles.

Unlike the stale experience of going to Best Buy, Wherehouse or Sam Goody nearly 30 years ago, independent stores like Gary Scheuenstuhl’s Mill Valley Music thrive on the experience over the end purchase. At his store, it’s not uncommon to find many un-priced records, so a discussion and possibly even a little price haggling can occur.

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

Nestled on Miller Street, a high-traffic roadway leading both into town and back to the 101 freeway, Mill Valley Music is one of those rare stores where music lovers can freely talk amongst themselves about vinyl inserts, CD liner notes, upcoming concerts, gigs in the past and anything else music-related. With a largely hidden upstairs section and a very narrow walkway downstairs, it’s both a store where reputations as music-loving buyers grow and a musical destination to forge new and lasting friendships.

We caught up with Scheuenstuhl during a busier-than-normal week to learn how stores like his build a rapport by their mere existence.

AFICIONADO Gary Scheuenstuhl is the proprietor of Mill Valley Music.

Pacific Sun: Music distribution has changed so much over the years and, particularly, since the ’90s. How do you decide what stock to bring in aside from special orders?

Gary Scheuenstuhl: I worked at the world famous Village Music for about 27 years, and in that time, I was exposed to all kinds of music. Those years, plus the 16 years I have owned my own shop, have given me a deep and eclectic knowledge of many styles of music. That knowledge, plus service and reasonable pricing, have helped me build a reputation and a loyal customer base.

PS: How are the prices from one-stop distribution these days?

GS: There is so much new vinyl, which tends to have a low mark-up (margin) and no return options, so you need to know what people want.

PS: What is the biggest misconception about running an independent music store in today’s climate and economy?

GS: People don’t understand how expensive and difficult it is.

PS: What do you attribute to your longevity when other indie stores have shuttered?

GS: You really need to love music and run the store as a labor of love, not as a quick way to make money.

PS: Any certain customers that come in and shop like clockwork?

GS: I have a customer named John who, on his first visit, overheard a musical discussion with another customer and then joined in the conversation. Upon returning home, he wrote me a long email stating that this is what a store should be like: a place where ideas can be shared in a friendly environment. He has since become a loyal shopper and a friend as well. Over time, there have been many of those.

PS: What do you remember most about your days at Village Music?

GS: There are many things I miss about working at Village Music. I was part of a vibrant musical scene without having to worry about the overhead that comes with it. Many musical icons would either play in the store, or be part of the rich magical history between John Goddard (Village Music owner) and Jeannie Patterson (Sweetwater’s former talent buyer) at his now-famous parties at the legendary Sweetwater. Highlights definitely include Jerry Garcia jamming with Elvis Costello or Ry Cooder and his large band squeezing onto the small Sweetwater Music Hall stage.

PS: What do you do for enjoyment outside of the store’s hours?

GS: I have been playing drums and Djembe for years. More recently, I have a live band/project called The Marinfidels which does a show dubbed “Beatles versus Stones.” The crowd gets to decide which one they enjoyed most at the end of the evening.

PS: What keeps you coming back to the store day in and day out?


GS: I get to listen to music every day. Being around it will always be a large part of my life. Music is forever.

Mill Valley Music is located at 320 Miller St. in Mill Valley. The store is open 11am to 6pm Monday to Saturday and 12 to 5pm on Sundays. Set aside an hour or two if you’re looking to get your hands dirty and find some musical treasures. Visit Scheuenstuhl and company online at millvalleymusic.com.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, well said, Mill Valley Music truly is “a musical destination to form new and lasting friendships.” I felt lucky to find it when I moved to Marin in 2017. I was looking for a record. Along with it I found both a music community center and a friend I came to call my “music educator.” Gary Scheuenstuhl’s knowledge of music spans genres and decades, and he knows how to share it. At the same time – so well described in your interview – he’s a musician himself, playing drums and djembe in local bands. As a newcomer who loves music, and I needed some direction. Gary introduced me to The Marinfidels, The Plage Boys, and other local performers. Suddenly I wasn’t a newcomer anymore. I was a “local” – with a life full of music I loved, on records and CDs and in live performances, and a new friendship circle too. I’m grateful to Gary Scheuenstuhl, and I recommend Mill Valley Music, day in and day out!

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  2. Gary is great, and so is his massive – ok, big in the sense of what’s in there to discover – store!

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  3. I would argue that Watts Music in Novato has been in existence longer than Mill Valley Music. Watts opened in 1979 in it’s current location on Grant Ave in Novato.
    Mill Valley Music is an awesome place to shop and I always find cool vinyl to purchase.
    Thanks! StevieBoy

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  4. There is no Miller Street in Mill Valley. The store is on Miller Avenue.

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