Origami Vinyl to open in Echo Park: Crazy like a fox?
Last May, Neil Schield was laid off from IODA, a digital music distribution company. Schield knows the grim state of the music economy as well as anyone, and no one would fault him of steering wide and clear of the business of selling songs in the future.
So Schield's forthcoming venture into a retail business -- one devoted entirely to selling vinyl records -- feels as if it falls somewhere between absolutely crazy and completely insane. But Origami Vinyl, the soon to open brick-and-mortar arm of Schield's record label, tucked in a dizzyingly gentrifying strip of Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, might just be crazy enough to work.
"It's the only corner of the physical music business that's growing," Schield said over a pint of craft ale at nearby cafe Masa. "I've lived in this neighborhood for eight years, and I've always been inspired by how much people here know about music and want to spend money on it."
Schield's journey to record-store ownership is true to the classic narrative of music-nerds looking for a fiefdom. After a yard sale to cull his huge herd of vinyl, he started entertaining the idea of renting store space.
He soon ran into an associate of Spaceland czar Mitchell Frank and got a tip that Frank was renting out a space he owned at 1816 W. Sunset Blvd., a chip shot away from the gauntlet of young-skewing retail and nightlife businesses in Echo Park. The layoff from IODA only cemented the idea that this store was somehow meant to be, and the admittedly unhandy Schield single-handedly tackled much of the painting, flooring and carpentry by hand. He hopes to have doors open in two weeks.
It's not the first attempt at a rock-centric record store on that strip, and the ghost of now-defunct Sea Level Records, which closed in 2007, does come up quickly in conversation about his plans. But Schield believes he's refined his business plan to what people are actually buying. The mission's not as outlandish at it sounds: 2008 was the best sales year for vinyl since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991, moving nearly 1.9 million copies, two-thirds of which were bought at independent retailers.
Schield's staying far afield of the Amoeba-cornered market on buying and selling used records and DJ vinyl. He'll focus instead on in-demand indie rock and the classics of hip-hop, folk, soul, metal and world music, and he's making a point of creating a kind of minimalist-vintage atmosphere (think lots of wood and tungsten-filament light bulbs) that could play the role of a neighborhood farmers' market to Amoeba's musical Costco.
"The cautionary tale of Sea Level was that Todd [Clifford] told me he got sick of being there after a while," Schield said. "I don't want to feel like I'm stuck here. I wanted to make sure it was a clean, easy place to shop with a good vibe, not snooty or snobby and definitely not like the whole Empire Records thing with bad service."
As a new business catering to young aesthetes opens up in Echo Park seemingly every few weeks, Origami Vinyl is in apt company. Schield knowingly laughs at the suggestion that Echo Park has become something of a hipster Disneyland in the last few years, but sees the recent influx of new businesses as almost entirely a net positive for the neighborhood, even if it reinforces a different demographic.
"The timing for me couldn't be better, and there's a camaraderie that I think the neighborhood will hold onto," Schield said. "I was walking by the Jensen Recreation Center [at 1710 Sunset Blvd.] one day and saw an architect's mock-up of what looked like a Coffee Bean on the ground floor. I don't think that sort of thing would get a lot of support here. You know those stickers that say Keep Austin Weird? I think Echo Park will always stay artistic."
Schield wants to keep a wide breadth of the neighborhood's local music in his store. He admits that Latin music is "something I don't have a lot of knowledge in, but we're never afraid to admit our naivete," and would carry it if the neighborhood asks him for it. Wait.Think.Fast., one of the flagship bands on his label Origami Records, records songs in Spanish.
The store will double as a performance space (he hopes to have bands play in an upstairs loft) and will open at an on-message time of year: Schield curates the Monday night residency at the Echo this month, which features his roster of Origami bands. While the whole venture is swimming against a considerable tide of contrary conventional wisdom, Origami Vinyl is, in its way, a love letter to lost causes that may not be as lost as one thinks.
"We've gotten so much excitement from labels about the store," Schield said. "Sometimes I wonder 'What am I doing?' but the neighborhood's been so supportive. Any local band that presses vinyl, we'll stock it on consignment, because vinyl is something you have to commit to."
The Origami Records residency at the Echo kicks off tonight at 9 p.m. and continues each Monday in March.
Photo by August Brown / Los Angeles Times