Clarion was established in 1982, when owner Clara Hsu received an offer from the Captain of the Salvation Army Corps in Chinatown to take over a retail space in the basement of an old church.
In the early days, Clarion dealt mostly in pianos, violins and Chinese traditional musical instruments. Musicians who discovered the shop wanted the Chinese instruments, and would trade in their own doumbek or berimbau for a dizi or erhu.
After a few years, Clarion collected many unusual and beautiful instruments. These instruments in turn inspired Clarion to become a world music instrument shop, a consummate meeting place for exotic music, where musicians and non-musicians can explore sound, history and art.
The instruments are displayed in a way that stimulates the imagination and curiosity. Besides more than 100 varieties of instruments from every continent, there are books, instructional videos and CDs for teachers and students.
In 2000, at age forty-four, Clara discovered poetry as her artistic expression. She wrote energetically and began to engage with the poet community in San Francisco. The demands of running a business and the desire to work on her skills as a poet came to a breaking point, and Clara had to give up one in order to pursue the other. She chose poetry.
Clarion was sold to Clara’s long time employees, Jien Ha and Lu Xian, in 2005. Because of Lu’s China connections, Clarion shifted its world focus to specialize in Chinese music, carrying classical as well as minority musical instruments.
The powerful internet finally caught up with Clarion. Retail sales steadily declined year after year and profit margin became smaller and smaller. In early 2016, sensing the inevitable, Jien and Lu decided to close the business.
After a ten-year hiatus in business Clara has a new vision of the role of Clarion in the 21st Century. This 34-year old institution that has been an amalgamation of music and art and a symbol of diversity must reinvent itself. Now a published poet and well recognized for her reading performances, Clara bought Clarion back in July 2016 with the intention of celebrating music, theater, art and poetry in this high-tech world. Our story is just beginning here . . .