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Revisiting Survivors and Ghosts on Arden Way

While several big and small businesses have disappeared on Arden Way, family-owned Dimple is expanding.

Arden Way always strikes me as a snapshot of not just Sacramento, but American pop culture. Since I was a kid I’ve thought of it as the most familiar street in Sacramento. Sometimes I cruise down Arden Way just to take a trip down memory lane. It almost becomes a ghost story thinking of how so much of my life was spent on that street, yet so much of what used to be there is no more. 

My first media experience happened on Arden Way when I was in the first grade in 1968. I got to be on a local TV show called "Captain Delta" on KOVR Channel 13, which at the time was the ABC affiliate, whereas now it’s CBS. Back then I didn’t know networks could flip stations because I was too young to understand the world does in fact change. The station is still there but the show is long gone. It was a show that took place on an imaginary boat, in which Captain Delta interviewed kids about their favorite cartoons and what they liked to do in school. 

Then when I started listening to music on the radio in the mid 70s, KROY was my favorite station, which was at 1240 on the AM dial, and was located west of 160 on Arden Way. KROY would be my first experience on the radio. I was the correct caller so I got to be in a contest called the "Win Ten Bin." The first person who could name all ten prizes would win them all. It was an intense contest because listeners were given clues about prizes and if you listened a lot you could just name the prizes other listeners correctly guessed. I didn’t win, but it was fun being live on the radio. KROY AM, which was the top music station in town at the time, eventually disappeared after FM radio started becoming the more dominant music choice in the late seventies. 

It was KROY that got me into music and buying 45 rpm records. Two of my favorite record stores besides Tower Records on 16th & Broadway were on Arden Way: The Record Factory and Musicland. The Record Factory changed its name to Wherehouse Records, which eventually left town, but that’s where I saved up to buy my first album for six bucks in 1976. Musicland became Sam Goody and then FYE at Arden Fair Mall, which has since become a much bigger mall. These days I rarely go to Arden Fair Mall since I’ve learned to cut back on impulsive spending due to the economy. But when I do go, it’s usually just to visit the Apple Store, which is usually the only store that’s always crowded when I’m there. It could be people like their customer service, which is always friendly and unlike many computer stores, they always answer all my questions with helpful information. Another reason the Apple Store is always crowded is they only have a few small stores in the area, instead of having big box stores everywhere. 

Sears is still there, although it didn’t used to be owned by K-Mart. Toys R Us is also still there, but it has different owners. It was formerly owned by the company that owned the department strore White Front, a department store that used to be roughly where Safeway is now at  Arden & Watt. Toys R Us, now a private company, was eventually owned by Bain Capital, which also bought out Guitar Center, where I used to buy my musical instruments before I realized they were trying to hustle me too much with exaggerated information. My internet station did make history there though, in 2000, as we played local music on a sound system for their grand opening. Arden Fair also used to have a department store called Weinstock’s, which was a national chain that started in Sacramento, then was eventually absorbed into the Federated chain, which now owns Macy’s. The mall also used to have Virgin Megastore but that’s now Barnes & Noble. 

Starting in the mid-seventies my family would regularly go roller skating at Fantasia Skate Center near Arden and Watt. At that time, skating was probably the most popular family activity. It’s where I first saw a DJ spin records. Charlie Rogers was the DJ who played 45s on one turntable and would sometimes talk between the records. It’s how I learned a lot about popular music. He inspired me with his wit and overall fun presentation. In the early 80s I was in that same DJ booth, although by then there were two turntables and mixing records became part of the art.  The name had also changed to King’s Skate Country Arden, a business owned by Dan King and managed by Roger Harney. King owned other former rinks in town, such as the one on Bradshaw Road. As a roller rink DJ I learned a lot about how to have fun with the public as well as something called  "crowd control." Roger was impressed that I turned Wednesday nights, which had historically been a dead night at his rinks, into a consistently crowded night that attracted 200 people. After sessions I would hang with friends for ice cream at Leatherby’s Family Creamery, which amazingly is still there over 25 years later. 

Even though the rink was fun, I really wanted to be on the radio. I had gotten experience at my high school radio station KRAT at Rio Americano in 1979. Our teacher Chuck Gebhart gave us an assignment to get two radio sponsors, back when the area actually had a lot of local businesses. The whole class failed the assignment , although I was the only one to bring in one sponsor, which was the Bicycle Barn at Arden and Watt. I simply knew the owner because that’s where I bought my moped, that a friend drove into a  moving car with me riding on the back. I went flying in the air and landed on the grass but I only sprained my ankle.

I left the roller rink business in 1985 to concentrate on my radio career, which began at KWOD the previous year. The rink later went out of business, like several rinks in town, and became a bingo center. KWOD was never on Arden Way but it was not far from Arden Way on Exposition across from Cal Expo from 1987-1993 before we moved Downtown. You could always hear about Arden Way on the station if you happened to listen to commercials. One of the station’s popular sponsors in the 80s was Luah Garden and its nightclub next door that went through several name changes such as The Piranha Room, Shark Club and The Rage. In the 80s and 90s it was one of the hottest clubs in town. Earlier this year the club shut down. It’s in the same parking lot where Circuit City used to be. I used to buy most of my electronics there until I learned it was mostly bad deals. Circuit City went out of business about four years ago after moving to the other side of Arden Way. Although I never shopped at Linens N’ Things, that was a big box store nearby that disappeared around the same time. 

Another place where I got a bad deal on Arden Way was when I bought an ’86 Dodge Ram truck from Swift Dodge, which eventually moved away. The car salesman said the truck had AC but it didn’t. So it created heated conversations on the phone until a manager agreed to install AC for free. What  stands out in my memory more, though, was that I had saved up $4000 and spent it all on the truck because I didn’t have a credit card then, nor did I want one. I believed that things should be paid for up front. It drained my cash and the truck only lasted a few years, being that it was a lemon. 

KWOD did a lot of movie premieres at Century Theatres on Arden Way, across from Cal Expo, which used to be where all the great concerts were when they had the Amphitheater. At the time, Century was owned by Syufy, but today it’s owned by Cinemark. I remember standing out in front of the domes meeting radio listeners and then introducing movies and giving away prizes. I don’t really go to movies that much anymore because after awhile they kind of became the same predictable formula over and over – kind of like radio – whereas home movies and indie music on YouTube bring me more exciting surprises. 

Years after leaving KWOD, I launched Sacramento’s first 24 hour internet radio station that started out as "Sacramento Music Scene" in which we advertised the station at Century Theater on the big screen, which not only gave the site its initial audience, but caught the attention of a KCRA Channel 3 reporter, who contacted me and did a story on the station, which brought us thousands of listeners, but not nearly as many people who listened to FM 102, which used to be at Arden and Howe. KCRA, by the way, years ago had a remote TV studio at Arden Fair, but not anymore.

All these memories come back to me whenever I drive down Arden Way. Whenver I drive by Arden and Watt I particularly think of the old Bicycle Barn, which is no longer there. I think about how it used to only cost less than a buck a gallon for gas in 1979, which still seemed expensive back then when I hardly made any money from my paper route, my first job, in Arden Park. Funny how I haven’t read a newspaper in years now that I get most of my news online for free.The station where I used to buy gas was at the corner of Arden and Eastern. Then it was Mobil, across the street from Shell, where I also bought gas because my friend Mark worked there. That was across the street from Lucky Market, which got bought by Albertson’s and is now Whole Foods, across from Bel Air, which got bought by Raley’s. It’s interesting that one of my favorite drinks only cost 2.79 at Safeway on Arden and Watt, while that same drink costs 70 cents more at Bel Air. Whole Foods is just too expensive for my budget, although I appreciate the concept of organic foods. 

Gas, by the way, today has all kinds of different prices on Arden Way. At Arden and Eastern, Valero – where Shell used to be – had the price for regular at 3.79 yet across the street at Scott’s Corner, a family owned station where Mobil used to be, the price was 3.86. Yet just a few miles down the road at Arden Fair, AMPM had regular gas for 3.55. Strange how location makes such a big difference. It made me wonder if any of these places are aware that I list gas prices all over town on my site SacTV.com, thanks to a site called GasBuddy.com.

Arden Way kind of gives me a mix of good and bad memories. Overall, I can’t judge it as good or bad because it’s a part of me as much as I’ve been a part of it. Sometimes I wonder when I pass the post office on Arden near Fulton Avenue if they’ll still be in business years from now, now that electronic communication makes so much more sense. I used to have to wait in line 20 minutes just to get service, but now lines have died down. It must have something to do with the internet.

I would like to see more family busineses return to Arden Way, but only if they offer good deals. Sometimes, these days, finding a good deal is too much to ask. My favorite restaurant on Arden Way where I used to find good deals was Chinese Express. They still have the sign up for 3.99 lunch specials, but the building itself is empty, which is also true of the Hawaiian BBQ restaurant nearby.

The good news is Dimple Records, a family owned business since the seventies, is still in business on Arden, kind of where Wherehouse Records used to be. It’s a nice place to get nostalgic now that Tower Records is gone. More importantly, it’s where I sell my old CDs I no longer listen to, since most of my listening now is online or from iTunes. Dimple will even be opening a bookstore soon next door, which is great because that’s where I’ll be selling all my old books that take up space now that most of my reading is done online. I read an article recently how Dimple has grown because they also sell books on Amazon whereas big box store Borders had to close because they were late jumping on the internet. Dimple, like Apple, grows one store at a time, unlike Tower, which tried to expand quickly on massive loans while music fans were discovering iTunes, as clicks replaced driving all over town to find music.  

Anyway, I don’t cruise too much down Arden Way anymore because I do much of my work online at home, but it is fun sometimes taking that cruise and being reminded of local – as well as national – pop culture. 

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