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Bye, Bye American Pie Records ... After 27 Years

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American Pie Records, the Milpas Street vinyl shop known for its colorful owner and his passionate hatred of CDs, is the latest victim of Santa Barbara’s rising commercial rent prices.

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American Pie Records, the Milpas Street vinyl shop known for its colorful owner and his passionate hatred of CDs, closed this week after 27 years in Santa Barbara.

It is the latest victim of the area’s rising commercial rent prices.

“I’m a native Santa Barbaran — I love this town,” owner Dennis Hartman said Wednesday, while packing up the last of the 60,000 vinyl records that were crammed into his musty little shop. “But it’s just gotten totally out of control.”

American Pie now joins other recent brick-and-mortar casualties of the feverish commercial leasing market. They include the Italian Greek Deli, whose State Street storefront was replaced by Verizon, Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens on East Canon Perdido and Pascual’s Restaurant on East Victoria Street.

The only music store in Santa Barbara that sold vinyl exclusively, American Pie Records will move to Ventura, at 1412 Tower Square, and could re-open in as early as two weeks.

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Hartman — who goes by the nickname Dr. D — said the property owner decided to evict both him and the neighboring dentist with whom he shared the property at 614 N. Milpas St.

He said a dispute between the dentist and the property owner regarding an increase in rent led to the decision to evict.

Because Hartman was subleasing the property from the dentist, Ronald Leach, owner Mary Lou Sherwin decided American Pie Records had to go, too, Hartman said. Neither Leach, who is out of town this week, nor Sherwin could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Hartman said he wouldn’t have been able to pay the increased rent anyhow. This month, the monthly amount will jump to $2 a square foot from $1.70 , he said, which for him means a rent of $1,850, up from $1,600.

“This year was the best year in sales since 9-11, but I still can’t afford it,” he said.

Although rent prices are set by the property owner, Hartman lays some of the blame at the doorstep of City Hall.

“Ever since the city put Paseo Nuevo in, the mom and pop stores have been getting killed,” he said, referring to the outdoor mall on State Street. “The city doesn’t care. All they want is money from the chain stores.”

To be sure, prices on Milpas are still a pittance compared to those on the hottest stretches of State Street.

Brian Johnson, an agent with Radius Group Commercial Real Estate — the broker for American Pie’s soon-to-be empty space — said the cost of rent on the 400 to 1200 blocks of State Street is double, and sometimes triple, the amount people pay on Milpas.

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Still, commercial rent prices on Milpas and elsewhere in Santa Barbara continue to climb, he said.

“The retail vacancy in Santa Barbara is still quite low, so rents are increasing accordingly,” he said.

Established in 1980 at a spot near the San Marcos Pass, American Pie Records was once among several stores that exclusively sold vinyl records in Santa Barbara. (It moved into the Milpas digs in 1988.) By the time American Pie closed its doors on New Year’s Eve, it had long been the last of its kind in Santa Barbara. By Hartman’s count, there are only nine others like it in California.

The musty-carpeted store lacked air conditioning, and was bursting at the seams with records; often customers had to jump over boxes of them just to move around the store.

When wide-eyed newcomers entered the store for the first time, they were often as shocked by Hartman’s full-throated tirades against CDs, Vietnam and politics as they were his extensive collection.

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“It only costs them 89 cents to make one of these worthless pieces on tin!” he would bellow, often with a beer in his hand.

Summing up his take on life was a two-foot-tall wooden middle finger, on which was taped a piece of paper scrawled with this message: “To my first ex-wife, Vietnam and CDs!!!”

But for all his bluster, Hartman, who is in his 60s (he declined to divulge a more precise number), has proven a shrewd collector and salesman.

His name shows up prominently on Rockin Records, the first ever price-guide for the vinyl industry. The catalog was founded by Jerry Osborne, a personal friend of Elvis Presley.

Over the years, American Pie’s customers have included the likes of Willie Nelson, Matt Damon, Keanu Reaves, Daryl Hannah, Waylon Jennings, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne and some lesser-known big wigs — such as a Los Angeles-area bank executive — who are willing to shell out top dollar for collectible records.

The prices of some of his records are staggering.

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Hartman has in his possession a still-sealed “first state” copy of Yesterday and Today by The Beatles. That’s the one Capitol Records immediately recalled upon realizing that the cover depicted the Fab Four sitting amid the severed limbs of baby dolls. (It was meant to be a commentary on how record industries can butcher an artistic product.)

There are only 16 known copies like it in the world.

“Mine has been checked, re-checked and triple-checked,” he assured.

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Dr. D. reckons the record could fetch between $30,000 and $40,000.

On Wednesday, at least one American Pie customer was unpleasantly surprised by the news that the local store is no more.

“It’s really a shame,” said Santa Barbara resident Cecil DeMille, grandson of the famous director, watching a moving crew wheel away boxes of albums. DeMille had brought a handful of records that he was hoping to sell to Hartman. “I’ve been coming here for at least 20 years.”

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