Unobtrusive, situated subtly on the corner of Walker and Pismo streets, lies the quaint sea-foam blue store A Satellite of Love. In the same way that there is more to this vintage store than first meets the eye, what’s hidden under the quiet demeanor and soft-spoken voice of shop owner Malik Thorne is a world of knowledge and musical experience.
After spending some time walking through the well-curated store and chatting with Thorne — as he so frequently does with his daily customers — it quickly becomes apparent how A Satellite of Love mirrors passions of music, literature and vintage clothing.
The store, previously called Appendage and Bough, first opened in 2015 by owners Ryan Ratzlaff and Tim Beebee and specialized in furniture and home goods, as well as an extensive mix of vintage items. Thorne operated the storefront for around six months until he became shop owner in 2018.
At this point, the store’s trajectory shifted and underwent its slow progression to the successful small business it is today. With a heavier emphasis on music and literature, the shop has grown to become both a reflection of his interests, as well as those held by the town of San Luis Obispo.
Thorne’s ever-growing collection of records situated in the middle of the shop is hard to miss, with stacks heavy on international, reggae, jazz and Brazilian artists, and a little lighter on the rock and pop genres.
“As a record nerd, it’s always great to engage with the people who enjoy your taste of music,” Thorne said. “Like when people who are into Afrobeat are looking for African pieces because that’s where my collection kind of sits at.”
Nestled in the mix is a Singaporean label, “Sounds of Lecak Vol. 1,” as well as an album from Colombian band Wganda Kenya that smoothly incorporates Afrobeat and funk sounds. Waiting to be picked up and enjoyed are albums like Sintesis Moderna, composed of ‘80s and ‘90s Argentinian music, South African jazz by Malombo Jazz Makers and The Aggrovators’ 2009 album “Rasta Dub ’76.”
Even a small collection of Indian classical and Disco boogie records add to the assortment of music sold at the shop, making A Satellite of Love a place both exuding and encouraging a diverse palette of musical tastes.
The store also provides selling space for people specializing in ceramics, jewelry, leather goods, graphic design prints and even kitchenware.
Customers can find ceramic goods from local maker FYK Creative, as well as Roaming Barefoot‘s dangling ornamental pieces. Small business Sticks & Stones, run by a local couple specializing in ceramics and woodworking, was added to the diverse inventory soon after they visited the shop and chatted with Thorne.
Poketo glassware, Fellow coffee products and Viski barware products, including cocktail strainers, jiggers and muddlers, also line a section of the store. The colorful patterns of Hemlock Goods bandanas lead up to the racks of vintage clothing.
Thorne allows space for community input and output to build the inventory. With A Satellite of Love being situated in an area that is less pedestrian-friendly compared to the streets of downtown, Thorne has found customer connections to be key.
A large portion of the records, books and clothes in A Satellite of Love come from customers selling their own used pieces in return for store credit. As the shop has grown over the years, so has this group of people who value the flow and circulation of pre-owned pieces.
Thorne has never had a clear-cut plan or set of criteria for deciding what does or doesn’t get a place in the shop. Other than steering clear of most fast fashion, unless it’s a unique piece, and embracing most one-of-a-kind vintage items, Thorne has taken to a more experimental process.
“I mean a lot of it is learning as you’re doing,” Thorne said. “We’ve definitely bought tons of stuff that didn’t sell, and usually we take that stuff and either donate it to hospice or Goodwill, just to put it back into the world.”
The store’s assorted collection of records can be attributed to Thorne’s long history involved in the music scene, with the catalyst of his musical passions being the radio stations he listened to as a kid. During one period of time, Thorne listened to things like Motown and a lot of oldies, while another year he dove deep into the world of soft rock after discovering a station he liked specializing in the genre.
“I would find the Stanford station and San Jose State station and surf around that side at night,” Thorne said. “I would find these really cool hip-hop programs, listening to Freestyle Fellowship and Hieroglyphics — just things that you wouldn’t really hear on the commercial radio.”
Thorne brought his love for radio over to Cal Poly when he studied political science in the early ‘90s, working as a DJ for KCPR and participating in the soul and funk show happening at the time, called WeFunk.
Working at KCPR diversified Thorne’s taste even further, by exposing him to all sorts of students with eclectic musical interests that he wouldn’t have met otherwise. There were goth metal enthusiasts, hip-hop kids, twee kids and even some Rastafarians with their own shows.
“At KCPR, music was the big thing,” Thorne said. “We all listened to everyone else’s music with open ears, and even if you didn’t understand it, just by having the interest, people would engage you.”
Upon graduating, Thorne secured a job at local record store BooBoo Records, and to this day he works as both a manager and buyer, focused on ordering new inventory of records and vinyls.
“His passion for music reflects itself in how he buys and how he conducts himself in the store with customers and his fellow employees,” BooBoo Records owner Mike White said.
Thorne also has years of experience working at KCBX and as a wedding and events DJ. Having been highly involved in the town’s music scene for over 20 years, it was only the next step in Thorne’s musical career to make A Satellite of Love a venue for local artists and performers to play at.
A poetry and jazz night last September featured Arizona-based band Music for Connection, along with poet and musician Caleb Nichols who read excerpts from his new poetry collection “Soft Animal / O Anima.” An October show featured artists Omar Velasco, Johnathan Wilson and Chris Beland.
The Satellite of Love storefront windows are pasted with fliers of upcoming events around town, working to spread the word to passersby and encourage more community involvement in San Luis Obispo’s music scene.
“That kind of community connection is so, so important, and he does it so well,” White said.
To White, Thorne embodies his musical passions through all he does, especially in the work put into scheduling and hosting his in-store performances. He regularly befriends his customers and finds himself engaged day-to-day in conversations about music or art with other like-minded, passionate people.
“Music has always been a source that fosters powerful connections between people,” Thorne said. “The more you frequent the shows, the more you will see familiar faces.”
Down to its core, music is “what helps get the town a bit smaller,” Thorne said. For information on A Satellite of Love’s in-store performances and inventory, visit @asatelliteoflove on Instagram.