Now celebrating its 25th year, Pepperland Music made its rep as the go-to place in Orange County for Beatles memorabilia. We last checked in with owner Mike LeFebvre five years ago on the occasion of his shop's 20th birthday, but a lot has changed in the past half-decade.
The space is still filled with CDs and vinyl (everything from Fred Astaire to Pantera), but the store doesn't have as much, well, Pepper. The Beatles collectibles (the cookie jars, the lunch boxes, the endless piles of stickers and pins) that were once sprinkled around the store are now confined to a few glass display cases near the front entrance. Leaving the toys and tchotchkes behind in its mid-20s, Pepperland seems to have grown up, swapping its childhood obsession for a more mature objective.
"There's been a major change in the past few years," says LeFebvre. "Years ago, Tower Records started selling toys, but that didn't save them."
Thanks to the Internet and the rampant practice of downloading music, record stores have become few and far between, particularly independent stores. Many need a speciality or unique trait to keep them alive. Apparently the music-and-toys business wasn't so lucrative.
"I decided that for us to survive, we had to start carrying guitars," explains LeFebvre. "You can't download a guitar."
Now specializing in the sales and rentals of musical instruments, Pepperland's store walls are lined with guitars in practically every color, make and model.
"We have over 500," LeFebvre boasts. "We also have keyboards, drum kits, cellos, saxophones, flutes, pocket trumpets . . ." The list goes on. "We try to have a variety of things for everybody."
So what will Pepperland look like at 30?
"Everything is so unpredictable—who knows what's in our future? But we keep trying to introduce the public to new things." LeFebvre shrugs, then adds, laughing, "But sometimes we make bad purchases! Like that Liberace bobblehead that took forever to sell, and that upside-down guitar . . ." He points to a wall, on which hangs the strangely out-of-place contraption, sticking out like a naked trannie at a Republican fund-raiser.
"What about the cabbage-shaped shakers!" calls out Parker Macy, LeFebvre's fresh-faced right-hand-man, referring to the bowl of large plastic vegetables by the front door that presumably rattle when shaken. "I thought they were the coolest thing," says Macy, "but we haven't sold any."
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Silly knickknacks aside, one addition to Pepperland that proved to be fruitful are the store's readily available music lessons.
"We have no problem setting someone up with a free lesson," LeFebvre says of the six practice rooms nestled in the back of Pepperland. "Basically, we just want to get people comfortable with the instrument they pick up."
Turning passive listeners into active music-making participants? Even the Blue Meanies would approve.
PEPPERLAND MUSIC, 850 N. TUSTIN AVE., ORANGE, (714) 639-0909; WWW.PEPPERLANDMUSIC.COM.