A Look Back at Licorice Pizza, the SoCal Record Store P.T. Anderson’s New Movie Is Named After

The Glendale-based chain was a local staple from the late ’60s through the mid-’80s

Drivers did a double take when pinball arcades, gas shortages, and a giant billboard for defunct rock station KMET appeared in the San Fernando Valley last fall. Director Paul Thomas Anderson turned back the clock to the 1970s for location filming out on the city streets, just like his buddy Quentin Tarantino did in Hollywood a few months earlier. Well, now PTA’s epic coming-of-age drama starring Bradley Cooper has a new title, Licorice Pizza, replacing the placeholder Soggy Bottom.

The new name comes from a long-gone chain of L.A. record shops founded in Long Beach by James Greenwood in 1969. By the time the Glendale-based chain was sold in 1985 there were 34 locations in Southern California, including Canoga Park, North Hollywood, Reseda, and the Sherman Oaks Galleria. Their logo, featuring a depression-era cook proud of her freshly baked record album, was plastered all over the streets of L.A., and is currently a top-selling T-shirt at the Valley Relics Museum, which registered the apparel trademark just in time to get in on the movie action.

The store tried to lure local music fans with commercials aired during American Bandstand and Soul Train. They offered a money-back guarantee on records and heavily promoted local concerts, drawing fans in to buy the music before or after a big concert. “It’s a mixed bag of which days we’re busy,” an executive told Billboard in 1979. “It depends on what shows are at the Roxy and Whisky on Fridays and Saturdays. We’re crowded between shows.”

The store was hit with scandals, including a charge that Greenwood purchased stock that had been shoplifted from other stores, including Kmart, and competitor The Wherehouse. Another had management sifting through the bins in search of counterfeit Neil Diamond and Jimmy Buffett cassette tapes. Music was an ever-dwindling source of income for the stores, which were making 70 percent of their profit from video rentals years before Blockbuster came to California.

Greenwood’s wife Patti started a gift and novelty shop called Aah’s in the early ’80s and the couple turned their attention to the small chain, selling off Licorice Pizza to North Carolina-based Record Bar in March of 1985. About one year later, Record Bar was sold to Musicland, which operated 400 stores and was the nation’s largest record retailer. A year after that, the name died when Musicland rebranded the stores Sam Goody.

As for that name, it comes from a throwaway joke on the album Bud & Travis…In Concert recorded live at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1960. The comedy/folk duo are on a self-deprecating roll about how unsuccessful their record was, remarking that it had “sesame seeds on the other side” and could be played on a Waring blender. Just before going into their version of La Bamba, they mention that the platter was being sold at feed stores as a “licorice pizza.”

I don’t imagine Bud & Travis were big sellers at Licorice Pizza.

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