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Record stores have been on the decline in recent years, thanks to online downloading and piracy, but don’t tell Phono Select Records owners Dal Basi and Nich Lujan that. Loyal customers to the store would be the first to tell you otherwise, as well. Phono Select is here for the long haul.
On a sunny, green spring afternoon, a customer locks his bike up outside the midtown shop and walks inside, where a few others already browse the aisles of vinyl and CDs, the shelves of cassettes and ’zines, and racks of T-shirts and other accessories. Paintings by local artists and photographs of rock ’n’ roll icons line the walls.
Behind the counter, co-owners Basi and Lujan go about their work, the former taking inventory and the latter placing another record on the turntable. As with any other job, life as owner of a record store can have its own brand of tedium, but the two music-lovers seem to have found serenity in what they do. And success.
“We wanted to be the best record store in Sacramento,” says Basi of the initial conception of the business. Many would claim that they succeeded.
Phono Select Records opened in September of 2010, within months of Basi and Lujan’s decision to finally follow through with an idea that they had only casually thrown around in years prior.
Basi, who had worked at Tower Records for almost 20 years, found himself jobless when R5 Records, where he was currently employed, went out of business in June of 2010.
He wasted no time when he called up Lujan, whom at the time was living in Berkeley, California, and teaching introductory computer classes at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. After receiving the call, Lujan immediately packed and moved on up to Sacramento.
It was time to open up their shop.
Lujan and Basi had a history of their own when it came music and local businesses. The two first met at a skate shop in Stockton, California—where they both grew up—and formed a bond that would last up to the present date. Basi, 12 years Lujan’s senior, moved to Sacramento, but the two kept in touch.
When it came time to fully realize the daunting endeavor of starting an independent business, the two music enthusiasts already knew their mission. Not wanting to be a “full-catalog” record store—essentially one that stocks anything and everything, with a preference to mainstream releases—they rather went for a more curated collection of music.
As Lujan puts it, they wanted “to be the antithesis of a stereotypical record store.”
“Dal and Nich know what they like,” says Jackson Griffith, former Arts & Culture Editor of Sacramento News & Review and senior editor of Tower Records’ Pulse magazine. “What I love about Phono Select is that it does what every good record store or record label should do: It articulates and curates an aesthetic.”
Something that the owners were—and continue to be—very interested in, is community and the Sacramento music scene. On select occasions, they host free “in-stores,” when they have touring or local bands play live sets inside.
“It has given the music scene another outlet to promote and sell their music, but at a more grassroots, personal level,” says Ken Doose, a Sacramento music historian active since the 1980s.
Lujan is quick to admit, though, that the scene in Sacramento has become bereft of venues to cater to its musicians and music-lovers. As he puts it, it has become “the land of the house-show.”
When pressed about what needs to be done about this, he says, “Well, we’ve outgrown this spot. As far as being a musical community hub, this space doesn’t accommodate that.”
The owners of Phono Select Records confess to being in the market for a new location. Inspired by the record and magazine stores of their adolescence, Lujan and Basi want to be more than just a record store; they want to be a community hotspot, complete with pinball machines, video games, a sizeable “library” for music-related digests, a lounge, and, of course, a stage to host consistent live music for underground artists.
They want the storefront to be more “hangoutable,” as Basi calls it.
So, as if wanting “to be the best record store in Sacramento” wasn’t enough, the two businessmen have found new lofty goals for the future.
“We want to put Sacramento on the map,” says Lujan.
They have all the faith of the local scene behind them.