By Darlene Donloe
WEST ADAMS — COVID-19 can’t stop the music.
While some record stores in Los Angeles have had to close their doors, there are a few that continue to thrive, proving their resilience, even in the midst of a pandemic.
One of those is High Fidelity Records, Inc., an independent vinyl shop in the Adams District. According to its owners, the store has been “getting by” because of its robust online sales.
“We’re doing OK,” said Ray Limon, one of the shop’s co-owners. “When COVID hit, most record stores closed. People were home, so they went online to buy records. That gave us an advantage because we already had that in place.”
Limon, 37, and his business partner Stanley Swinger are two music aficionados who are lucky enough to listen to music all day for a living.
“We’re not struggling,” Swinger said. “There are challenges, though. What has helped us tremendously is our online component. We didn’t have any fear about having to possibly close permanently because we already had a system in place where we sold records online — pre-pandemic.
“When we were forced to close our doors, we increased our energy to our online business. Everything in the shop appears on the website. We used social media to let people know we had fresh records.”
Swinger said online sales are just one reason the shop is surviving. He also points to neighborhood support.
“The neighborhood component is huge for us,” he said. “They seem eager to support us. We’ve gotten a great response from the community.”
High Fidelity Records’ clientele is a mix of everything, according to Swinger. The average age is 20-45. All ages come to buy, sell or trade. The shop also carries CDs, DVDs, and refurbished turntables and speakers.
“People from the neighborhood come in who are older,” he said. “They come to buy what they used to have. It’s a good mixture. Some are young, some are old-heads and some are older-heads. Whoever they are, they come in knowing what they want.”
Swinger, who loves to chat with customers, believes music has been a comforter to everyone during the pandemic.
“It’s one of those art forms that is passive and has a creative environment and atmosphere,” Swinger said. “Maybe it encourages people to draw, cook or do yoga. It’s something that is getting them through the day while they focus on other stuff.”
The coronavirus altered how High Fidelity Records operates. Music lovers can no longer linger in the shop listening to new music, discussing an artist’s merits, arguing about and analyzing a new sound, or spending time searching for that elusive piece of vinyl.
The shop follows COVID-19 protocols. Sanitizer is made available, everyone must wear a mask, and stay six feet apart. Limon said they are constantly disinfecting the store.
When COVID hit, Limon and Swinger closed the shop from March to July. It’s now open for in-person shopping 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. There is curbside pickup throughout the week.
Proprietors of their dream jobs, Limon and Swinger bought the popular neighborhood hangout in 2019. Both were co-workers from 2000 to 2005 at Aron’s Records, the 40-year-old Hollywood landmark independent shop that closed its doors in 2006.
“My sister worked at Aron’s and got me a job there,” Limon said. “That job shaped my whole life. Then I got an opportunity to work for Classic Records. They asked if I knew anyone else and I immediately thought of Stanley. They hired him. Classic eventually turned into High Fidelity Records.”
In 2011, High Fidelity opened in Los Feliz. At that time, Limon and Swinger worked for the owner, Michael Hobson. In 2018, the partners arranged to buy the business. The record shop moved to Hollywood and then to Adams in 2019.
Although the shop has nearly 8,000 pieces of vinyl on stock and upwards of 50,000 on back stock, Limon doesn’t consider it “old school.”
“We have old school elements,” he said. “Our inventory changes from day to day. We have all the old records, but we are a modern record shop. We don’t have T-shirts or posters on the wall.”
“You can call it old school in as much as it’s a very specific niche thing,” Swinger said. “The store has a modern feel to it. Some young people are now getting into records for the first time. They are discovering LPs. It’s not just for dads and grandmas anymore.”
Limon, whose favorite LP is Caetano Veloso, because it “hits me right in the heart,” insists that vinyl is still “cool.”
“It’s extremely cool,” he said. “We had so many years of CDs and downloads. The new generation is catching on to having a tangible piece of music they can hold on to. They can actually read liner notes or take it to a friend’s house.”
In 2019, U.S. sales of vinyl reportedly rose by 14.5%, part of a 14-year ascent, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. The format accounted for just 4% of U.S. music sales, compared with 82% for streaming. In 2019, 18.8 million new LPs and 46.5 million CDs were reportedly sold. By comparison, more than 1 trillion songs were streamed. These numbers don’t account for used album sales.
Known for its wide spectrum of genres, the best-selling music categories in High Fidelity Records are R&B and jazz.
“It’s very rare that we have an Al Green or Marvin Gaye in store for more than a day,” Limon said. “Classics like Led Zeppelin always sell. People ask for Sade every day. Anything by her sells immediately. She has become bigger than just music.”
Over the years, shops like High Fidelity Records have experienced a renewed popularity.
“It has come around all the way,” Swinger said. “It’s on the radar. It’s better for the record community when there are more record store opportunities. That way, it’s easier to have access to music. There was a period when a number of stores were closing and there weren’t many places to get your music. It’s now being reestablished. Record stores have gone way past being a niche.”
Limon believes High Fidelity sets itself apart from other record shops.
“The draw of our shop is that myself and Stan know our music very well,” said Limon. “We try to help find the piece of music you’re going to connect with. When we talk to people they talk about their experience with the record. We hear great stories all the time. I learn about good music from our customers. It’s all about the music.”
Swinger likes to hear music every day.
“It’s a way of life,” he said. “It has many different effects. For a lot of us, it’s something we don’t notice. It’s just on.”
“It’s the soundtrack of my life,” Limon said. “It gives me an opportunity to relate to someone else through music. I can listen to music and forget about what’s going on. I definitely can’t live without music. It’s the energy that floats through me and keeps me going. It’s like my cup of coffee – even though I don’t drink coffee. It activates me.”
High Fidelity Records is located at 4765 W. Adams Blvd. Its web address is Highfidelityla.com
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.