Record Alley was the top Coachella Valley music store for decades—a premier spot for music in all formats, plus a hangout spot for people of all ages. After the store closed, valley vinyl enthusiasts wondered where to take their business.

Finders Thrift and Vinyl in La Quinta was one of the options. However, owner Matt Lehman earlier this year transitioned his business into the online Spatula City Records shop and departed for Arizona. Shortly thereafter, the building on Calle Tampico became Finders Keepers Records, with new owner Sean Cox.

Cox had been the entertainment supervisor at Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage for five years. Then the pandemic came, and he found himself without work.

“Then one day, Matt Lehman called,” Cox said during a recent interview. “I was a customer of Matt’s who became a friend … but I still came in and bought ridiculous amounts of albums from him. He called me in November of last year, and said, ‘I’ve got a huge buy. I’ve got to take the truck, and I need another man to help me do this.’ I’m like, OK, great. No problem,’ and on the way to the buy, we started talking about what his future plans were. Spatula City Records was already online by then, and he knew he was going to move to Arizona, and he just kind of said, ‘Have you ever thought about owning a record store?’”

Cox hadn’t. But by the end of the drive, he already had a rough mental plan in place.

“The fact that we both had support from our spouses made us both genuinely excited, and then we were off and running,” Cox said. “I started unofficially working for him; he started taking me along on buys; he started teaching me the ropes, and it is still something that I’m learning. I’m still learning a lot about presses, quality and how to fix warps. I think it’s going to be a lifelong process, or at least for as long as I’ve got this, which will hopefully be for a long time.”

The store has been open as Finders Keepers Records since May.

“I’ve heard the expression, ‘If you do what you like, you’ll never work a day in your life,’ and this is the first time I’ve actually felt it,” Cox said. “Have I had slow days? Yeah, of course I’ve had slow days, but right now, I’m doing OK, as far as money goes.”

Cox also said he’s happy about the vibe he’s created.

“There are people who come in and feel comfortable here, and I like that,” he said. “Once we get on the other side of this (pandemic), people want to do listening parties here, where they don’t necessarily need to buy anything, but someone just brings an album that they’re really passionate about. It’s that kind of community so far. … It feels like it’s a safe space.

“There was a kid in earlier, and he’s big on electronica, and I don’t know a lot about electronica. But he felt like it was cool enough to come in here and bring two albums of his to play for me, to say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m into,’ and I fucking love that. I love that he feels safe.”

Sean Cox.

While he admits he was taking a big chance by taking over the record store, Cox said he now knows it was the right thing to do.

“I’ve had 12-year-old kids come into my shop, and they’re used to their phones,” Cox said. “I love the fact that they can come in now—and they get excited about finding liner notes, posters or label artwork. That’s totally cool, and it’s something that’s been my thing, because I was raised on albums.”

Cox said he’s comfortable with the fact that he may mess up sometimes.

“Matt was very good at a lot of things, but I think one of the biggest things that Matt was very good at was being able to look at me and tell me, ‘You’re going to make mistakes,’” Cox said. “’There’s going to be a press of something that you’re going to sell—that’s going to be a press that should have been sold for more.’ … The only pressure I think I felt, and still do feel, is this weird month-to-month thing of being the adult and paying the bills here and paying the bills at home.”

Looking toward the future, Cox said he wants to grow his business—without stepping on any toes.

“I’ve been in business for a quarter, so I’m still looking at my numbers and going, ‘OK, am I doing this right?” Cox said. “Would I love to be able to open up a bigger space? Yeah, I think so. Would I love to be able to have live bands like (Dale’s Records in Palm Desert) does? Yeah, but Dale’s already got that, and I do not want to step on Dale’s toes, because I owe Dale a lot, too. Dale was still working at Record Alley when I first met him, and Dale and I bonded over punk rock. I was a friend of Dale’s first, and now it doesn’t feel like there’s any kind of competition, but I think if I started booking bands, it’s something that I would want to ask Dale about first.”

While Cox is encouraged about the future of his store, he did express some concern about the state of the vinyl-records business.

“We’ve got six active record stores in the valley right now, and with the way vinyl is right now, I don’t know if used is sustainable,” he said. “In the small time that I’ve been in business, people are starting to get a little bit more knowledgeable about what they have. … I think these are going to be a little bit more scarce in the future, but I could be completely and totally wrong. There are also only two pressing plants in the U.S., so I think (new vinyl) is going to be more scarce. I think that people are going to hold on to (vinyl records) more, because they can see right now how much things are going for.”

Finally, Cox said he’s proud of the connection Finders Keepers Records has to the late, lamented Record Alley.

“I’ve got Record Alley’s racks, and I’ve always thought that was totally cool,” said Cox. “It’s kind of hippie-dippie. It’s kind of sentimental, but it means something to me to have 40 years of the valley’s history in the shop, and I kind of want the valley to know that. … Whenever anybody mentions Record Alley, I ask if the racks look familiar. I’m honored to be a part of that lineage, because coming out here, being a music head, one of the first things I did was research the desert scene. Being a metalhead, the only band I knew was Kyuss, which begat Queens of the Stone Age. Then coming out here, I learned more about Sean Wheeler, Brant Bjork, Fatso Jetson and all these guys who were the scene before nothing was out here. Knowing how Record Alley was a part of that, I really think it’s cool that I’ve got that anchor to the desert scene.”

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Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

3 replies on “A Music Safe Space: Sean Cox, Owner of La Quinta’s Finders Keepers Records, Helps Keep the Valley’s Love of Vinyl Alive”

  1. Being a little older I was able to bring some albums to Sean who is so welcoming. Wish him well as the pandemic settles down.

  2. Look forward to stopping by the store to check it out next time I’m out there visiting! Great job, Sean! My best to you and Dea💕

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