by Michelle Thornton
photography by Michelle Zimmerman
Having been a sales associate at a big name music retail chain, I cannot tell you how many nights customers would come in humming an unrecognizable tune and approach the counter asking, “Do you know that song that goes . . . ?”
Of course, even if I had no idea what the customer was talking about I would scour over all our stock, checking the back room and the catalogs to try and locate that B-side track. It was not an uncommon occurrence to shuffle the customer from one sales rep to the next, hoping that someone would know so the sale would not be lost. But sales reps are only human, and, unfortunately, for those in search of the perfect wedding song, graduation waltz or instrumental, they do not know everything there is to know about every person who ever made an album. But when a customer was looking for those alternative, not so mainstream bands on those independent labels we did not carry, we would lean close and whisper, “You might want to try Rhino Records of Claremont.”
Rhino Records, located in Claremont is known as the light at the end of the tunnel for those tough to find buys. Established in 1976, it has undergone many face lifts. In 1976 it began as small store on Second Street in Claremont, opened by two young men by the names of Richard Foos and Harold Bronson, both fresh out of college. These two men are the founders of one of today’s largest record labels in the business, Rhino Records. Go figure on how the store got its name.
Foos and Bronson sold the store, but they continued to allow the new owners to use its name as long as they did not start any other similarly named businesses. The store has moved twice, ending up in in the site of a former grocery store on Yale Street in April 1991.
Through Rhino’s moves, its legacy has stood strong. “Overall, even though we have gotten larger over the years, we are still trying to maintain the vibe of an independent store,” says assistant manager, Nathan Wilson. He has worked at Rhino for 10 years and says he remains because the people he works with share his same enthusiasm for music.
Customer service is and has been a large part of Rhino since its opening 23 years ago. “There have been times over the years when we would have said, “Oh yeah it’s the high school kids or the punk rockers,” but now we cater to everyone. Whatever people in their 30s and 50s are listening to, we are stocking,” says Wilson of the change in the store’s clientele. The store hires knowledgeable employees in specific facets for a wide range of music to better serve customers. “To put it simply, we try to cover a lot of areas that big chains don’t,” says Wilson.
Rhino Records carries a large selection of imported music, mainly English, plus independent bands and labels. “These days we still carry vinyl. We believe that it is a good format, and people who are into records come in here,” says Wilson. Rhino also features intimate in-store concerts, including a large well known touring band such as “Everclear” to local bands looking for a break.
A sister store in Riverside, called the Mad Platter, holds to the Rhino model of excellent customer service.