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Friday, Dec 8, 2023

Vinyl Destination

Bob Say isn’t willing to forget the days when you could trek to the local record store, plop down a few dollars of pocket change, and walk away with pure gold –an album by your favorite musician. In fact, as more people flock to downloading music online, the 58-year-old is still living those good old days. He’s founder and owner of Freakbeat Records on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, one of only a few Valley neighborhood record stores still in existence. “There’s no doubt we’re one of the last guys standing,” said Say, who opened the shop in 2003. “And it’s fortuitous that we started Freakbeat right as everything else (a reference to many chain record stores closing their doors) collapsed.” Say buys, sells and trades used and new vinyl records -many of them collectible, CDs and DVDs. About 20 percent of his half a million dollar-plus a year business is done online, and the rest is done through foot traffic and being located on Ventura Blvd, he said. Ironically, vinyl records and neighborhood record stores are experiencing somewhat of a come back. But for Say, who’s worked in local record shops since the early 1970s, making money is just part of why he opened Freakbeat. “I remember when there were hundreds of record stores in the Valley,” said Say. “The business has shrunk back to the entrepreneurs who want to open their own record store. I do it because I like it. I enjoy arguing with my customers/friends about music all day.” Say got his start in the business in 1971, when he took a part-time job at Moby Disc Records. He worked with the store off and on while going to school. And in 1975 he took a job with Moby Disc’s import and distributorship for vinyl records. Back in the day, the distributorship was one of the first to handle albums by iconic Los Angeles punk bands like X, said Say. He also remembers importing albums by the Sex Pistols when they first came out. Business acquired Moby Disc grew to about six stores scattered throughout L.A., and Say eventually took a small ownership stake in the company. The business was acquired by a dot-com company and closed its doors in 2001, according to Say. “I never finished college, and this is something that I fell into,” he said, adding from an early age he sunk most of his money into buying records anyway. He’s still a hardcore collector of vinyl records. While at Moby Disc, Say learned about the potential of selling records and CDs online. After the business was shuttered, he began putting every one of his extra used CDs online and was able to generate $2,000 per month with relative ease. He figured that if he played his cards right, he could open a record store and cover most of his costs from online sales. Additional sales would just be “gravy,” he said. So he took money from the sale of Moby Disc and opened Freakbeat in 2003. “I had no fear of doing this, because I knew it was going to work,” said Say. “We started small; we’re located on Ventura; and I think we’ve helped transform this block into something hip.” Say generates 40-50 percent of his income from the sale of vinyl records. Some are inexpensive. But he also sells rare collectibles, like The Beatles “Yesterday and Today” butcher cover ($1,000). He once moved a Bob Dylan acetate -advanced copy of a record- for $10,000. CD sales make up for the other half of sales, and about 20 percent of his stock is new product. Customers range from collectors to those just looking to score from the 99 cent bin. Jim Kaplan has been collecting records most of his life, loves old school vinyl and is equally happy to find a great CD. He’s the publisher of Burbank-based “Record Collector” magazine. “I was so happy to see a store like Freakbeat open, and even more pleased when it turned out to be a great shop,” said Kaplan. “When it comes to used records, you never have to worry about quality here. And the prices are fair.” Interest in vinyl Interest in vinyl records and neighborhood record shops is increasing, said Kaplan. A number of small shops have recently opened up from San Diego to Seattle. Some bands are releasing music on vinyl. And 20-something women are frequenting shops. “My 13-year-old nephew got a record player for his Bar Mitzvah and is asking me a lot of questions,” said Kaplan. “Now he’s going down to the record store once a week. Vinyl is hip and hot.” Say won’t talk about the specifics of how much money the shop takes in each year, beyond saying it’s north of $500,000. It’s enough to live comfortably and employ three other people, he said, and the store is not hurting. But money is only part of the reason he’s in business. He recalls one time when a woman came into Freakbeat to sell or trade a stack of records. A quick scan of the vinyl nearly knocked Say off his feet. He pulled out what many collectors consider to be one of the rarest records from the psychedelic music era in San Francisco: a copy of a promo record cut by Country Weather. The band, which never signed with a major label, only made 50 copies of the promo for radio play. The woman had no idea what she had, said Say. “I immediately cut a check to her for $800. And I kept that one for myself.”

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