Geoff Leamon, born in 1968 in Northern California, grew up surrounded by the sound of music constantly playing in his house. His parents’ interest in vinyl introduced him to various artists early on. He began his own vinyl collection with the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” movie soundtrack.
Little did he know, one day he would own his own record store.
Today, Leamon is the proud owner of “Left of the Dial Records” in Santa Ana. He originally opened his store in Seal Beach, but he felt that his business would be a better fit in a more urban environment.
His position gives him the opportunity to introduce youth to the unique sound of vinyl. Since 2011, Leamon has hosted annual art walks in his store. The art walks are an effort to support local musicians from Santa Ana.
Leamon recently participated in an interview conducted by the Santa Ana Oral History Project to share the story and growth of his store.
Q: Why did you decide to open a record store; how did it all start?
A: I move[d] to Sacramento [and] work[ed] at a few record stores, [and while] working there I didn’t even think of opening my own store. Finally, [I] worked my way to [a] distribution center where I distribute[d] records and CDs to businesses and countries all over the world.
That was right in the height of the Internet explosion in the mid-[to]-late 1990s, so the music industry was really changing. The small record stores [and] the distribution store that I was working in [were] going through some tough times, so I decided to find other options.
For a good 10 years I had nothing to do with record stores or distribution centers. A lot of stores clos[ed], and people were pretty much downloading and not buying vinyl at all.
I moved to Southern California, [and] I worked part time at a record store in Long Beach. [I] got back into the music industry, [and] it felt like getting back on the bike. More people were buying vinyl, and [I] saw that it was a good opportunity to get back in the business.
Q: Why did decide to move your business to Santa Ana?
A: There was something about Seal Beach that wasn’t a great fit. I didn’t want to close the store. I knew there was an opportunity, and to find somewhere for a fresh start, I was asked by the owners that owned a coffee shop if I was interested in moving in Santa Ana, and they gave me good deal in rent and worked on just helping me move in, and I couldn’t have done it without them. They are good landlords as far as that goes and helped us to get on our feet and establish in Santa Ana.
Q: Can you talk about the pros and cons about having a business in Santa Ana?
A: The pros are that there are more people. Also, what’s going on in Santa Ana with trying to build the arts [is] very positive. It has a lot of character and fits our type of store.
As far as the cons, it has been tough moving to a new neighborhood [where] some people don’t realize that record stores exist because people listen to CDs or MP3s.
Q: What is your opinion on the gentrification that is going on in downtown Santa Ana?
A: There are a lot of good things but also a lot of push-backs. I think what they’re trying to do in the west end with the whole artist community is to have it more diverse as possible. If you only introduce yourself to one kind of customer you limit yourself. By bringing more people, the opportunity for success is bigger.
Q: Have famous musicians ever stopped by to check out the store?
A: Well, since we['ve] been in Santa Ana we had [a] guitarist from Pearl Jam, [a] drummer from Black Sabbath and few other punk members — just all great people. There also has been a homeless man claiming to be the singer from Bronx and he sang in a deodorant container wasn’t pleasant but something to behold.
Q: How do you feel about teenagers buying records?
A: We have many high school kids that buy vinyl. They see their friends buying vinyl and what’s going on [in] the store, and soon they think it’s cool. I think it goes a long way; that’s why I do what I do.
Q: Is it a challenge to own a vinyl business, or do you find the experience to be overall rewarding?
A: Oh very much. [It’s] a challenge to compete with people that are still getting their music through MP3s, but we try. [We] educate people in records and sell inexpensive record players so they can at least give it a try. It’s tough, though, [to] get records that aren’t warped or scratched. We still keep CDs as well.
Victor Elias is a youth fellow with the Santa Ana Library's Oral History Project.