Jean Spencer’s Retirement from MO Spurs Search for New Blood

Back in 2003, the SFEMS newsletter ran an article (interview) on The Musical Offering that we titled “The Last Classical Record Store,” which indeed it was. It still is worth reading, both for its insights into the recording industry and into the store’s history and unique vision. The MO’s ability to weather disruptive changes in the industry and its distribution arm over the past generation reflects to some extent the unique place of early music within the larger corpus of classical music, much abetted by the store’s location across from the UC Berkeley campus, the addition of a café to the business, and a strong partnership with its neighbor and parent, University Press Books. Most of all, though, the MO has endured because of its dedicated owners and personnel and of course community support.

It is hard to overstate the central importance of the Musical Offering to the Bay Area’s early music community, particularly for those who live or work in the East Bay. It is not only a treasure for the services it provides, its knowledgeable staff and outstanding collection of classical music CDs, LPs, and more. For the past 30 years, the MO also has been a welcoming home to SFEMS for our Annual Membership Meetings, holiday parties, and many post-concert receptions, especially during the Berkeley Festival. It also offers an intimate venue for small-scale concerts and recitals.

The retirement of Jean Spencer marks the end of an era for the store. Jean and her late husband, former SFEMS president Joseph Spencer, became owner-partners in the mid-1980s and are responsible for making the store the unique resource that it is. The partnership that owns the business is concerned about how well the store can manage in her absence, especially in an environment where sales of recorded music continue to decline.

Late last year, the partners put out an appeal to aid in a refreshment and reorganization of the Musical Offering & Cafe, and several fine people responded positively, but more involvement is needed. The short-term goal is:

1) to find a dozen people who love the Musical Offering & Cafe and will invest $3,000 to become new limited partners.

2) to form an LLC to oversee the Musical Offering and University Press Books/Berkeley.

3) to find a few engaged people who would serve on an oversight board of the LLC, with a minimum invest of $15,000 in our two sister partnerships.

If you are interested to explore one of these possibilities, please contact Bill McClung at There is much good food, great music, and community ahead.

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Written by Jonathan Harris
San Francisco Early Music Society