I was driving down Meridian Avenue the other day, and noticed a large development near Saddle Rack Street. Suddenly an alarm went off in my head and I thought, “Did they just tear down Paramount Imports?” I circled back around and to my relief the old import store was still standing. I made a note to visit the store soon, as this city is just changing faster than I can keep up with it.
Image: Paragon Imports on Meridian Avenue, just south of San Carlos Street. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce
My subsequent visit to the store was like a trip back into time. It’s been a good thirty plus years since my last visit. The smell of incense, the tie-dye shirts, and the racks of psychedelic posters takes me right back to the early 1970s when we were still involved in the Vietnam War (I was in junior high), and Richard Nixon was involved in the Watergate Scandal. In 1967, Paramount Imports began as a traditional import store (e.g., statuary and home décor from Mexico), then soon blossomed into a counter-culture shop that included smoking paraphernalia like bongs and water pipes (aka a head shop).
Image: Inside Paragon Imports is like a trip back in time to the 1960's/70's. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce
There were a few slight differences that I noticed between the old and the modern Paramount Imports. Besides not seeing a single reference to Richard Nixon or the Vietnam War, I noticed that the tie-dye shirts tend to have swirl patterns now (pretty cool), and there are noticeably more bongs and water pipes for sale. The room for viewing black light posters was also gone along with most of the black light posters. But these differences aside, the whole vibe and feel of the store is pretty much the same. Right on!
Image: The tie-dye shirts seem even more colorful than they were back in the day. Other staples of the old import shops were bumper stickers, patches, and pinbacks with social, political, environmental and generally philosophical messages. Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce
Image: Examples of the types of posters commonly found at import stores of the 1960's/70's. Other import shops I recall during that period include Eastpoint Imports and Sunvalley Imports (both at Eastridge Shopping Center), and The Company (The Pruneyard Shopping Center in Campbell). Photos ©Ralph M. Pearce
Further Reading from the California Room:
- San Francisco in the Sixties by George Perry
- Paramount Imports Stands the Test of Time, Internet, Corporatization by Gary Singh
- California Room Index: marijuana
- California Room Index: Richard Nixon
- California Room Index: Vietnam War