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Bananas at Large: The Heart of Music in San Rafael

The+guitars+at+Bananas+at+Large+elegantly+displayed.
The guitars at Bananas at Large elegantly displayed.

The guitars at Bananas at Large elegantly displayed.

The guitars at Bananas at Large elegantly displayed.

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An employee walks by and grins. “Here comes one of the biggest challenges,” Alan Rosen says before bursting into infectious laughter with the employee. Later in the interview, the same employee walks by.  “My favorite just walked by,” Rosen proclaims as he and his employee burst into laughter again. I can’t help but laugh too.

Rosen, the current owner of Bananas at Large in San Rafael, is a lifelong musician born in “Southern California a long time ago.”

“I started playing drums when I was four and I started playing professionally as a musician when I was nine.” He went on to study business management and music therapy at California State University at Long Beach. Before coming into ownership of both Bay Area Bananas at Large locations, Rosen had plenty of experience in music retail since he had been doing it since he was 14.

“[Working in music retail] was always great when I came off the road. I knew I could go make money, pay the bills, pay rent, and get food. Over the years and through college I would just find local music stores to work at”.

Because Rosen can empathize with these up-and-coming musicians from his experience, he treats them well by supporting them through their journey with benefits and livable wages. “We employ some really great people. We employ local musicians. We give them one of the best salaries and the best retention in our industry,” he says regarding his attitude towards employees.

The atmosphere in Bananas greatly benefits from the well selected and treated employees. The employees are inviting, friendly, and interesting. Rosen describes how it is different at other music stores,“[At other music stores the employees] talk down to you like they are the cool guitar shredder at the music store. Well, dude you still work at a music store; get over yourself. It doesn’t have to be that way.” As a guitar player myself who has been to several other music stores over the years, this resonated with me. At many other stores, young beginners like myself feel uncomfortable admitting lack of knowledge when deciding what to buy. At Bananas, they will help you pick the right guitar strings instead of sternly asking, “Well what type of string do you want,” as if a 7th grader who just started playing electric guitar knows all of the different effects different gauge strings can have.

In addition to the ebullient employees, Bananas greatly benefits from having one of the coolest bosses ever. In fact, Rosen does not even consider himself to be a boss.  “I view my job probably a little differently than most people. I am not a boss, I hate bosses, bosses suck”, he reveals. Rosen describes how his job is to provide a vision and goals as well as remove any obstacles for the different sections of Bananas such as marketing or sales. With this business mindset, he realizes that “to a certain degree I work for all of [my employees],” rather than the other way around.  

Rosen is indeed correct that his perspectives are different than most people, but that is not all that he does to make the store unique. In a world where music stores and even retail stores have tried everything to be successful, it is quite the challenge to be unique like Bananas is. Bananas being the place that it starts with the friendliness of the employees including Rosen but then stretches into the physical layout of the store, how the store contributes to the community, and how the store deals with upset customers and challenges.

“We have fun and we open up even the way it’s laid out in here. The idea is that it is very opening. We put out everything on the floor, nothing is hidden behind the counter. You don’t have to wait at the counter to get your strings,” Rosen explains.

Rosen’s skill in laying out the store is immediately noticeable. The store is indeed laid out tactfully. Apple, a leader in store design, is also known to have this same style with their stores. While not specifically mentioning Apple, Rosen humbly acknowledged how he learns from other stores.

“You can learn a lot from high-end boutique stores, local stores. You can learn a lot about what to do and what not to do from chain stores. There are things you can learn from other places if you stop focusing on ‘Music Store’. If you think in broader terms you can really learn and grow.”

This insight hinted at something I later realized about Bananas. Rosen does not pretend to be a know-it-all CEO. He accepts his flaws and works with what he has.

“I am very cognizant and realize what I don’t know and what I am not good at and hire people who are good at that who also believe in my vision.” Like other factors of Rosen’s personality, his store embodies these perspectives. Just like Rosen accepts his gaps of knowledge, the store works on accepting when it fails to fulfill the expectations of its customers.

“You are never going to be right 100 percent of the time. So own your mistakes and find solutions for people.”

With positive outlooks like these, drive, spirit, and compassion that comes from Alan Rosen, Bananas at Large thrives in good hands. They support their community with 150 thousand dollars in service, donations, and products in the last year, and they support the music community by creating a community for passionate people to organize and connect. Rosen defines success not be the monetary success of the store, but how well Bananas can support its community and customers, and it is clear that by this definition the store is prospering. Bananas is an integral part of the local San Rafael community and it is prominently due to Rosen’s personality that Bananas can stand out compared to the ever growing population of retail stores.

Strings placed for easy customer access. While more are stolen like this, it is far smoother than having all strings tucked behind the counter.

The Layout of Bananas at Large with everything on the floor ready to be tested and played.

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