This yard sale is all vinyl records, all weekend long
Vinyl records are record collector Tom Justice’s only wares at his weekly yard sale in L.A. He passes along his love and knowledge of music whenever he can.
On weekend mornings, just off the corner of El Paso Drive and Cleland Avenue near Highland Park, 67-year-old former organizational consultant Tom Justice wakes up to make a cup of coffee and schlep cardboard frozen-food boxes holding about 8,000 vinyl records out of his garage and onto the concrete driveway along the side of his house. It's a relaxed, kind of messy shop he has set up — some of the LP jackets are dusty and warped from years of use and some overnights outside, him in a worn Grambling State University sweat shirt, beanie hat and blue jeans with a scruffy white-stubbled face and crooked smile — that holds the promise of treasures.
For the last seven months, this is how Justice spends his weekends, selling albums for good prices, usually just $2 to $10 a pop, from 11 in the morning to 7 on Saturdays and noon to 4:30 on Sundays. A day or two in advance, he sends out a weekly open email to a list of a couple hundred “Vinyl Aficionados,” as he calls them, or “Vinyl Brethren” or sometimes “Exclusive members of the Mt. Washington Vinyl Country Club,” mentioning deals and new finds for the upcoming weekend. Usually this notice will have a few people casually waiting around before the sale starts Saturday mornings, looking to “get some of the good stuff,” said Justice. That might include anything from “two ultra clean” copies of Michael Jackson's “Thriller” to “the super rare oldies LP ‘The Crystals Sing the Greatest Hits,’” as it did last weekend. In an average weekend he'll sell a few hundred albums, he said.
A record collector for 50 years and regular around local swap meets, Justice has only recently launched his yard sale, and his reasons are straightforward: “Because there comes a time in life when you just decide it ain't worth it to do anything you don't like,” he said on a recent Saturday afternoon. “I've always liked records and so being semi-retired I can just make enough to get by doing it, and I enjoy it. And I don't have to work on Maggie's farm no more.”
For Justice, working on “Maggie's farm” meant traveling all over the country training organizations how to work in groups and “refrain from killing each other,” he said. His book “The Facilitator's Fieldbook” is widely used and he is preparing the third edition.
“But it was high-stress work and when you're dealing with people's livelihoods the emotional toll is real heavy,” Justice says.
Justice picks up most of his records at the monthly Pasadena City College Flea Market Record Swap and through ads on Craigslist and the PennySaver. Sometimes, locals driving by will stop and offer their whole collections for sale. When he lived in Santa Monica five years ago, he and another man used to make trips to South L.A., walk up and down the streets and if they saw someone over 60 ask if they had any records. “Got some incredible stuff,” Justice said.
Actress Marlee Otto arrives in big, round sunglasses and asks Justice if he still has the Johnny Cash album “At Folsom Prison” he advertised in the last email blast. He already sold it but directs her to some other Cash records, making a few recommendations. She found the vinyl club simply by seeing the “Records 4 Sale” sign Justice keeps out front.
“I don't even have anything to play it on right now but I've just started collecting them,” Otto says. “I'll get a player soon. But some things are just too good to pass up.”
This is the kind of interaction Justice likes.
“There's a lot of people who are in the entertainment business but they're usually writers and producers and they're not super wealthy. A lot of cool young people are taking up out here, trying to buy their first house. Of course, I only deal with people who stop to look at records so that's a different type of person anyway.”
The day before, Tim Koh, the long-haired bassist of lo-fi psych-rockers Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, stopped by to sort through the vinyl club’s wares. “A really nice guy,” Justice said. “You could tell he really knew music because he didn't just go for the Pink Floyd stuff. He wanted to get at some unusual country stuff and that kind of thing. It's always fun to deal with people like that.”
--Colin Stutz / Special to the Los Angeles Times
Photo: A customer holds her treasures she found at Tom Justice' sale of vinyl records in his driveway in Highland Park.
Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times