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Music Lovers Take a Final Spin at Indie Record Store

Rhino Westwood is packed as it holds a going-out-of-business sale after more than three decades. It is lamented as the end of an era.

January 23, 2006|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

David Gilmore stepped up to the cash register at Rhino Westwood on Sunday, bought a stack of CDs for a song and then broke into a lament.

The 37-year-old gave a blunt description of his mood to the cashier at the store he has patronized since he was 12.

"Don't get me wrong, I love technology," he added. But the closing of the independent outlet Sunday after more than 30 years is "a travesty," Gilmore said.

Rhino, like other independent record stores in Los Angeles and around the country, succumbed to a host of ailments, from the explosion in music downloading and CD burning to the drop in album sales and the rise of big chain stores.

The founders of the store launched their own record label, also called Rhino, which eventually was sold to Warner Music Group.

As a goodbye gesture, Rhino held a giant sell-off of its inventory Saturday and Sunday. Vinyl LPs were going for as little as 10 cents. Many CDs were 50 cents.

And for once, the store was so crowded that the air inside grew hot and moist with the crush of shoppers, while outside the parking lot was filled to beyond capacity, creating at times a cacophony of honking on Westwood Boulevard.

With bands such as the Flaming Lips and Pavement providing the soundtrack, hipsters in jeans and older gentlemen in shorts and knee-high socks stood side by side, pawing through stacks of albums looking for bargains and bidding farewell to a place and an experience many said was an integral part of their youth.

"I used to shop here in the 1970s," said Mary McFarland, 54, who drove from Covina, bringing her daughter Erin Enmark, 15, to show her the place.

"It was a great selection," she said. "If you wanted it, they had it -- the Beatles, the Moody Blues, all that stuff."

Beside her, Erin flipped through stacks of 20-year-old records. "I never really went to a record store," she said.

"She's just now discovering vinyl," her mother added. "She just discovered my vinyl about two months ago."

Other customers confessed that they felt responsible for the demise of places such as Rhino.

"I help put 'em out of business," said Mike Goldstein, a 42-year-old librarian from San Francisco who was buying hundreds of CDs that he planned to resell on the Internet. The sale of music online is part of what has doomed stores such as Rhino. "It's too bad," Goldstein added. "You lose the personal touch."

The staff watched the crush of customers with a mixture of sadness and joy at seeing the place full again, if only for a day.

"It hasn't been this busy in a long time," said Marcus Kagler, the store's 28-year-old general manager. "People are here to say goodbye."

He said he had seen some parents dragging their children in to show them what a vinyl record looks like. "My children will think of an independent record store like I think of a drive-in," Kagler said.

Bob Marin, who has been a consultant to the store for decades, was answering the phone Sunday afternoon. "This is the last time I'm going to say Rhino Records in Westwood," he said.

Among his fondest memories, Marin said, was the day that an unknown musician named Kurt Cobain brought his band Nirvana to play in the store.

But Marin said what he will treasure the most are the relationships forged in the store.

"Through Rhino," he said, "I met my partner, as well as many longtime friends that I'll have for the rest of my life. It's truly the end of an era."

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