Sad but true: venerable Ozone to shut doors

You pull a record from the stack. It’s an album you bought not too long ago, but you’ve been so caught up in schoolwork and news of war that you haven’t had much chance to listen to it. A familiar smell wafts into your nostrils as you slip the vinyl from its inner sleeve – a smell of incense so subtle that you might miss it, but which can mean only one thing. This purchase was made at the venerable Ozone.

From its aromatic location at 11th and Southwest Burnside, Ozone Records, Tapes and CDs supplies Portland music lovers with everything they need. Ozone is more than a simple record store; it is an institution. Over the past nine years, Ozone has affixed itself in the hearts of Portland music aficionados- but sadly, come Jan. 31, 2002, it will be shutting its doors indefinitely.

It is a simple matter of gentrification. When Miller Brewing bought out Portland’s legendary Henry Weinhard’s brewery and moved all Weinhard’s production to the former Olympia brewery in Tumwater, Wash., developers jumped on the prime Pearl district property left vacant at 11th and Northwest Burnside. Ozone, kitty-corner from the former brewery locale, looks to be the second victim.

Behind the partly intact fa퀌_ade of the landmark brewery, developers are building a mixed-use-type behemoth. The former Weinhard’s sight will soon be home to offices, galleries, boutique shops, an upscale grocer and the choice housing type of the new millennium: prefab “loft” space. In turn, the owners of Panorama, the giant queer-friendly but mainstream dance club at Southwest 10th and Stark, dug deep in their pockets to buy the building that houses Ozone.

With development across the street and the new streetcar line running down 11th Avenue, market value jumped. With Ozone’s lease coming up for renewal in January, the new building owners did what any good businessmen would do: they went to Ozone and informed them that not only would their lease be renewed at a higher rate, but they would have to make some improvements to the building as well.

“The terms were unreasonable,” said Ozone co-owner Bruce Greif. Greif was unwilling to give specific numbers, but asserted that the improvements demanded of him and co-owner Janel Jarosz would prove cost-prohibitive. The terms could be met, he said, but Greif and Jarosz would be forced to make decisions that don’t jive with their indie ethos.

“They’d rather see Music Millenium or Everyday Music here,” Greif said of the new loft spaces’ prospective tenants. “We’d have to stock top 40 and stuff like that.

“We’re not going to compromise what we’re doing to fit into the neighborhood.”

Top 40 at Ozone? Yeah right. It was Ozone where I first stumbled across German fold-rock wizards Kante, found my soundtrack to spring 2001 in a double LP from The Netherlands’ Mu��m (note to copy, Mum needs accent ague on the u, so as to not confuse it with another [crappy] band), and got my hands on a 14-track bootleg Spiritualized CD.

And that’s not all: every genre of music is well represented at Ozone, thanks to the all-knowing staff. Hip-hop, punk, dub, ska, electro and techno (in all their respective forms), indie, rock, jazz, krautrock, death metal, avant-garde, spoken word – it’s all there. One can walk into Ozone without any idea of what to buy, (as I often do) and walk out with 80 or more bucks worth of goodies under their arm (as I often do).

It’s not just the employees who contribute to Ozone’s greatness, though. Between them, Greif and Jarosz have 20-plus years of music store experience under their belts. Jarosz owned Ooze, at Northwest 21st and Burnside, and Greif ran Outer Limits, at Southwest Eighth and Ankeny, before the two joined forces to start Ozone. These two are committed, and aren’t likely to be kept down for long. Ozone will likely reopen eventually, Greif said, but they’re in no hurry, it’s just a matter of the right space opening up in the right neighborhood.

“I like Southeast,” he said. “Northeast too.”

Perhaps the greatest measure of a record store’s quality is its customers. Last week I found myself shoulder-to-shoulder in the electronic section with one of the owners of Starbass, a nearby music store that specializes in techno. He walked out with a number of vinyl platters under his arm. Just proof that if you can’t find it anywhere else, even in your own shop, they probably have it at Ozone.

Or maybe the greatest measure is word on the street. A few months ago I sat in the Powell’s Bookstore coffee shop, looking across Burnside to Ozone, with its windows covered with promo posters and its huge department store-like display devoted to local bands. A kid sitting near me regaled his companion with travel stories and then extolled one of Stumptown’s greatest assets.

“Portland has the best record stores on the West Coast, by far,” he said.

I didn’t look, but I’m sure he was gesturing towards Ozone as he spoke.