It’s All in the Hunt

Searching thrift stores for tangible musical gold


My idea of a perfect Saturday is spending my time hunting. While some might associate the word “hunting” with stalking wild game, my version of hunting takes the same amount of time, patience and diligence. I spend my time going from thrift store to thrift store hunting for the latest addition to my record collection.

As soon as I arrive at the thrift store, I go straight to the back where the records are kept. Other people might see an overwhelming number of rows filled with dusty, old records but I see an opportunity to dig for tangible musical gold. Fatigue and eye strain threaten to bring my hunting to a halt but the inner gold miner in me fights it by saying “just one more stack, this could be the one.” Truthfully there have been days where I’ve rummaged through hundreds of records, not leaving one unturned, yet come up short of one to purchase. While this can be very disappointing, the absolute thrill of finding a record near and dear to me is unmatched. I could go to a record store like Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, one of the largest record stores in my area, and likely find a great piece of music but what is the fun in that? Not to mention that most new records can cost anywhere from $15.99 to $40 while I have never seen a record at the thrift store cost more than $3.

One Saturday, I was at Antique Row in Pomona, Calif. making my usual rounds at the antique stores. It was not my intention to buy any records since I did not have a lot of time. I specifically went there looking for Roy Rogers memorabilia since it was my grandfather’s birthday. Low and behold, right under a large framed picture of the “The King of Cowboys” himself was an original pressing Rolling Stones record. This is probably not the most valuable record I own, monetary wise, but it has the most sentimental value to me. The Rolling Stones have been in my life as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories include my father waking me up every day for school with the song “Start Me Up.” I turned the record to look at the track list and there it was — “She’s a Rainbow,” the one song my dad always said reminded him of me. Needless to say, it’s a song that I’ve cherished since childhood.

There’s something to be said about being able to hold a piece of your childhood in your hands again; something that cannot be achieved through an audio file.

Summer Allen, owner of the popular website Design is Mine, said, “One of the main reasons I collect records is because I feel a connection to the past when I play them. It is how music has been played in homes since the forties- the same way my grandmother and my mother listened to their favorite songs over the years.”

Having a collection of original release records is a way of physically passing music and traditions that go along with it from generation to generation, much like my own grandmother has done with me. I inherited her collection of around 150 original 45rpm records from the 50s. I play them frequently and have every intention of passing them on to my kids as well.

Vinyl lovers share their treasures

Brianna Flores, 21, who interns at Burger Records and is a communications major at Cal State Fullerton, received her first record player as a hand-me-down gift from her aunt which ignited her passion for music and vinyl records.

“As soon as I got my first record player, I begged my parents to take me to the closest record store. The closest store was The Glasshouse Record Store in Pomona, Calif. Unfortunately this was when vinyl was just making a ‘comeback,’ so the store only had a few crates of records to choose from. I was happy to look through those records anyway and had to take home the Ramones record when I saw it. Although it’s a re-issue and nothing too special, it still means a lot to me because it was the first record I got and where my love for collecting grew into an obsession now. I now own 300–400 records.”

Robert Contreras owns Zoinks Records in Pomona, Calif. and has owned between 5,000 and 10,000 records in his lifetime but said that there are only a handful that are meaningful to him.

“I went to a flea market and ran into this collector that I know really likes doo wop and he had his eye on the most valuable 45(rpm) I brought with me. He handed me a box and said ‘I have some stuff you might like’ and I saw Long Tall Girl by Carnations which I’ve looked for and wanted for 15 years. It’s a tough record to come by. He didn’t really like that I wanted to trade him for that one, he kept trying to change my mind but I told him ‘no I want that one!’ I call that when ‘a record finds you,’ if you’re digging through something, you found it, but if someone brings it to you, then it came to you. In a way it’s kind of romanticizing it but that’s how it really feels.”

For Summer Allen, owner of the website Design is Mine, her love of thrifting led her to her most favorite record find — The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead.

“Not only is it one of my favorite albums of all time, but it was the first Smiths album I ever owned and was found for a mere 99 cents at Goodwill in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. It was the last of many thrift stores we had visited that day and I was exhausted, but took a quick look around and there it was in all its glory, in the front of a stack of records, in pristine condition. I have probably listened to it more than any other album in my collection. The songs are extremely dear to my heart and as corny as it might sound, this record feels like an old friend to me.”

Anthony Toledo, 22, is an English major at University of La Verne and found his favorite record at a record swap held at a local college. A record swap is held flea market style but with an emphasis on purchasing and/or exchanging vinyl records.

“My favorite record that I own by far is the original pressing of The Velvet Underground: Live at Max’s, Kansas City. I got so excited once I saw it, not only because it’s one of my favorite albums of all time but because of how reasonably priced it was. It’s like they didn’t know how valuable this thing was. It’s by far the most valuable piece of vinyl that I own because The Velvet Underground has been one my favorite bands for years because they had a huge influence on punk music. I read after the fact that this is the last show that Lou Reed played with the Velvet Underground before they broke up which makes it that much more special of a find.”

Robert Alvo, 22, who deejays at Slingshot Collective, had been on the hunt for the Operation Ivy Energy album since he first started collecting at 17 .

“I’m a huge Outlook Records connieussour. Operation Ivy Energy album, which is from Outlook is one of my favorite records. [When I found it] it meant the world to me because I felt like I had a piece of history in my hands. My friend had found the record before I did and when he texted me to tell me, I thought he was toying with me. I would’ve paid up to $45 for that record because of how much it meant to me. I felt like it was a missing piece that explains who I am. When I found it, it was a magical moment and I felt like I was on cloud 9.”

Header photo taken by Adam Ernesto Fuentes

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.