“Big-box stores started selling CDs near cost around ’95, which started to impact smaller record stores,” says Record Alley co-owner Jim Stephens. “Around 2000, downloading became an even bigger issue, leading many of these stores to close their doors.” Kids coming of age and cruising the mall around the turn of the century likely remember shops like Record Alley — where you could drop by, tune in, and check out.
Located in Palm Desert’s Westfield Mall, the Record Alley originally opened in 1978 on North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, when eight-tracks were more popular than vinyl and had yet to be overshadowed by cassette tapes. “Some of my best memories are from the old store in the early ’80s,” Stephens says. “In ’83, they had concerts at the old Bronco Billy’s in Cathedral City. It was quite a show for the valley — concerts were rare then, especially after the ’69 riots at Angel Stadium. Felony, Sparks, and Missing Persons were the headliners, and Missing Persons did an in-store signing here that drew hundreds of fans who lined up all around the building.”
A move to the mall later that decade meant steeper rent and greater pressure to keep business turning. Attracting visits by such artists as Billy Gibbons, Barry Manilow, and Alice Cooper, Record Alley also made news for more rowdy appearances by bands like New Boyz, whose on-site dance contest caused a riot and subsequent coverage by KESQ.
Fearful that their shop would suffer the fate of the Sam Goodys of the industry in the early 2000s, Stephens and his wife, Shelly, played outside of the box and began “experimenting with merchandise” that would keep customers interested. It turns out the newest item is also the oldest — or at least a version of it. “The only music we sell is on new vinyl,” he says. “Mostly classic rock, but current stuff too.” The rest is on used tapes and CDs.
Music lovers of the old and new schools alike seem to still appreciate artist memorabilia, from Beatles T-shirts to Bob Marley posters and Pink Floyd sew-on patches. Perhaps what keep fans coming back, aside from a hit of nostalgia, is the shop’s exclusive items. “Just about everything we carry is unique to our store,” Stephens says. “We stay away from products you’ll find at other places.”
Record Alley, 760-341-2017; recordalley.com