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It's a matter of record: Burbank's Atomic Records and Backside

Different shops, different customers, but the same interest in vinyl.

March 27, 2013|By Craig Rosen
  • A customer looks through movies at Atomic Records in Burbank on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.
A customer looks through movies at Atomic Records in Burbank… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

Over the last decade Burbank has seen the music chains Virgin Megastore, Sam Goody and FYE disappear as consumers shifted from buying CDs to downloading their music online. However, two independent record stores started in the ’90s have managed to thrive in the city as a new generation of music fans discovers vinyl records while faithful repeat customers keep coming back.

Atomic Records on West Magnolia Boulevard has found success by sticking to its original game plan of specializing in used vinyl records. “We focus on the things we know and we have not followed various trends, like hip-hop. Instead we focus on jazz, ’50s and ’60s rock ’n’ roll, classic rock and R&B,” says Rick Alper, the store's co-owner, who opened the store in June 1996.

Backside, on the other hand, has embraced hip-hop and street culture to such an extent that clothing and lifestyle items now account for three-quarters of its sales. Music chips in for the rest, with vinyl attributing to 90 percent and CDs the other 10 percent. Yet manager George Jojo Baghdasarian notes that at least emotionally, “music is first. Putting the needle on the vinyl record keeps us grounded.” Backside carries merchandise from such lifestyle brands as Radyo, Supremacy, Quiet Life, Black Scale, Huf, Odd Future and Obey.

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The story of these two stores and their one-time chain competitors represents what's happened across the country, says Joel Oberstein, president of Almighty Music Marketing, which operates a database of music retailers. “Atomic and Backside have been able to thrive in Burbank for so many years because they cater to a community that notoriously loves and supports independent business, and they know what their customers want,” he says.

While both stores cater to different customer bases and have different philosophies, both benefit from their Burbank locations and see the Internet as a plus, rather than a threat to potential sales.

Backside is located on North San Fernando Boulevard, outside of the Burbank Media Center, on a stretch of shops that resembles a miniature version of Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade or Hollywood's Melrose in its heyday. The store benefits from foot traffic from the nearby AMC multiplexes and other retail stores, including Urban Outfitters located across the street. That chain specializes in clothing, but also carries some new vinyl records as well as portable turntables.

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