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20 Apr 2020

Pandemic Stories: Get to Know a La Quinta Record Store Owner Who Picked the Perfect Time to Take His Business Online

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The discount bin at Finders. The discount bin at Finders.

I miss being able to go to record stores. When we’re not in the midst of a pandemic, much of my time and money is spent flipping through and purchasing vinyl that I may or may not need. On the plus side, this means I’ve amassed a substantial collection that will last me through the quarantine—but I’m still having withdrawals from visiting Finders Thrift and Vinyl.

Finders, as you’d guess from the name, is part thrift store, and part record store, on Calle Tampico in La Quinta. Matt Lehman is the owner who keeps the shop packed with rare finds and classics at great prices. Most of the records I own came straight from his famous discount bin.

In recent months, Lehman has been working on taking the record-store portion of his business online, using the name Spatula City Records. Turns out his timing could not have been better.

“I was extremely lucky when this whole quarantine came down,” Lehman said. “I had been building Spatula City Records for over three months, with the intentions of launching in May. The day I shut down Finders was a Tuesday, and I spent the next three days working as hard and as fast as I could to get the site up. I had a friend test-buy one item to make sure the process was working—surprise, it was not, and took me another day to figure that out—and it was sink or swim from there.

“Again, I was very lucky that I had a customer who became a friend that had coaxed me for years to go online. He had been selling books online through his site for decades, and I was apprehensive, because the work to sell a $3 record is insane, which is why most online record stores don’t do it.

“For the non-website people, think about this: Each record has a listing and a grade for the record and jacket, three pictures, a track list, internet search words, categories for surfing the site—and that’s just the front end. When I launched, I had 1,800 records on the site. That’s a lot of work. Generally, the idea for a website is to have multiple copies, and once the work is done, you sit back and reap the rewards. Records don’t work that way, because of grading, re-issues, represses, variations, errors, etc. Realistically, each record has to have its own listing to be done right, and that doesn’t even get into the cleaning, boxing, shipping, returns, etc.”

Still, Lehman put in the work.

“It wasn’t a particularly hard transition—just tedious, and I spent a lot of time surfing other sites and deciding how things need to be organized,” Lehman said. “I’m still doing that and will probably always be doing that. One of the things I learned is that most online stores don’t cater to new buyers; they are boutiques that deal in one specific genre, or maybe two.

“I started out Finders with no intention of becoming a record store. I had to make mistakes and learn from them. I wanted to help those people starting out. I don’t care if they like Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers or Birth Control. I didn’t want Spatula City to be a boutique. I want anyone and everyone to be able to come and get info and not feel like it’s a hassle to ask what WLP means, or how to read a matrix code, or what’s the difference between a scuff and a scratch. Eventually, I will have a blog, vlog or posts—something that will explain all of these things for new collectors. Some are listed on the site now as FAQs.”

What’s up with the different online name?

“I have always been a Weird Al (Yankovic) fan, and Spatula City is a reference to the movie UHF,” Lehman said. “Finders was created to be a thrift store, and when I started seriously carrying vinyl, I added and vinyl (to the name). But being online, your name needs to have zip.

“OK, I just wanted to name it Spatula City Records in the hopes that someday Weird Al would buy something or stop by.”

For a short time, Lehman experimented with a delivery service.

“I did my last delivery (on April 10) for records in the Coachella Valley,” Lehman said. “With the new laws, I didn’t want to get fined, and more importantly, this virus needs to go away, and that’s not gonna happen if rogue idiots are driving around delivering records. … I haven’t been out of my house and shop in three weeks except to (go to) the post office to drop boxes and a few deliveries. I never touch anything other than my truck.

“After this is over, I will not do deliveries; it’s too hard to run a brick-and-mortar (store) and an online store and find inventory and do deliveries. … All the inventory online is in the shop, but it’s separate from the shop. Neither Finders nor Spatula City is going anywhere anytime soon. I have a few weeks to figure out how I’m going to juggle them both when Finders opens back up.”

It also should come as no surprise that the owner of a record store is turning to music to help brighten his spirits during this dark time.

“There are so many albums that I have emotional attachment to that I lean on in times like this,” Lehman said. “When I know I have a lot of orders to fill, I need something to motivate me. Sometimes it just sucks walking into the shop and having to flip the sections back and forth so they don't warp out from the weight of the other records, and I need something to pick me up or maybe something that feeds the pain to motivate me more. … These last few weeks, I’ve really been able to shake the windows, because all of my neighbors are closed, too.

“Generally, I try to listen to three to five new records a day, but I honestly have just been listening to my staples during this quarantine.”

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