Rand Foster: The Vinyl Prophet
When digital sharing began overtaking the music industry in the early 2000s, employees of the independent Long Beach music store Fingerprints approached owner Rand Foster about doing away with vinyl altogether. Foster immediately nixed the idea. "I said, 'But then we can't say we're a record store,'" he recalls.
A decade later, it's clear Fingerprints is anything but your average CD store. A visit to the new, 10,000-square-foot location on Fourth Street, just east of downtown (it moved from its original spot on Second Street in Belmont Shore in 2011), can at first seem overwhelming. Assorted music junkies browse through stacks of merchandise near towering, exposed brick walls bearing silk-screened prints autographed by the bands who have played in the store. The selection is vast, with sounds for every taste: from Jimi Hendrix and Sun Ra to local indie bands such as Two Gallants and the Littlest Viking.
When Foster opened Fingerprints in 1991, he left a well-paying job in the amusement-park industry. It allowed him to telecommute, but he found working from home too dull. "My wife said, 'You need to get a job,' and I was like, 'I'm going to work in a record store,'" the 46-year-old father of two says.
"If I'd been smarter, I'd have recognized sooner that I spent all my time in record stores," he adds, laughing.
Though the digital revolution witnessed the downfall of giants such as Tower Records, Virgin Megastores and Warehouse Music, all of which disappeared as though mammoths run off a cliff, Foster persevered by selling a seemingly obsolete musical medium that seems to be experiencing a new run on life: vinyl records. Also distinguishing Fingerprints from an ever-diminishing herd of independent music retailers are the impressive names Foster brings in for live, in-store appearances. So far this year, Fingerprints has hosted the likes of Yo La Tengo; Richard Sherman, the Disney composer of Mary Poppins and Jungle Book fame; and Matt Costa. Other recent guests include Beach Boy Al Jardine and the Foo Fighters.
Though the brick walls could probably tell some stories, Foster says most musicians respect the sanctity of the record store. "There's been no real debauchery," he says, laughing. "The worst we ever had was an artist who got ferociously drunk and got a little abusive."
Asked whether he believes his store will continue to thrive as the digital onslaught continues, Foster says he remains hopeful. "I feel like the vibe in the music-collecting community—those who want a tangible item vs. people who have to have something this second—I think that divide will continue," Foster says. "Historically, we've identified ourselves with our things."
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