Rhino Records has always thrived outside of the bounds of conventional music retail.
The first Rhino store.
California native and Rhino founder Richard Foos began selling records out of the trunk of his car in 1973, and the first space to bear the Rhino name was shared with an electronics shop in the Westwood area of Los Angeles. It did not take long for the independently owned and operated Rhino Records store to garner a reputation as a hip, collector-savvy trade shop, and Foos’ sense of novelty allowed the store to weather the growing pains of establishing a small business: he lured customers with themed events (Redneck Day! Hassle the Salesman Day!) and commissioned none other than Wild Man Fischer to caterwaul the “Go to Rhino Records” jingle that would fast become a college radio hit. Soon enough, the store’s promising success allowed for expansion: a bigger and better Rhino store was established near the UCLA campus, and it was at this store that Foos encountered Richard Bronson, a ferocious collector with whom he became fast friend and business partner.
The birth of the Rhino Record label.
Hot off the success of the Fishcer 7” and hardly satiated from his first sweet taste of a genuine underground following, Foos started the Rhino Records label in a warehouse on Pico Boulevard in 1975. Ever the record buyer’s record merchant, Foos and Bronson sought “to create records which did not yet exist that (they) would want to buy” and began, with the resurrection of 60s pop band the Turtles, to fashion the label around the kind of lavish, fanatic-focal reissues that have since become a pillar of pop music ephemera. A legacy of sonic treasure hunting was born, and eventually Foos, his hands plenty full with running the burgeoning Rhino imprint, sought to sell the store.
Steve buys the store.
Enter Steve Ferber, a local reggae aficionado who laid claim to the Rhino store in 1979. Ferber maintained the shop for a decade in its existing west-coast habitat, but after growing weary of California’s glossy culture and amphibian climate he sought to move Rhino to the East coast. Ferber’s initial gambit was to set up shop in Tannersville, NY, but within a year he realized that the area was far too rural to house a successful record trade. “We weren’t in Cali anymore” that was certain, but Ferber’s tenacity saw to it that Rhino would find fertile ground in which to take root on the East Coast.
Steve moves the store to the Hudson Valley
Easily accessible off the New York State Thruway and equidistant from Manhattan and Albany, the bustling college town of New Paltz revealed itself to Ferber as both a thriving cultural hub and bustling epicenter of commerce in the Hudson Valley area. It was, indeed, an ideal home for the shop, and a Rhino Records store was established in New Paltz’s Convenient Plaza in 1990. Even as the digital era loomed, the store’s extensive collection of LP’s remained the bedrock of its appeal, and the shop gradually earned a dedicated following from local collectors, sound-obsessed under-graduates, and vinyl junkies far and wide.
Surviving the 90’s and the digital download boom
The Rhino store soon blossomed during the indie rock boom of the early 90s, its formidable vinyl trade generously bolstered by its status as a go-to for underground esoterica, obscure new releases, and college rock cornerstones. Expansion was imminent: in 1994, Ferber established a new Rhino store in Albany, and soon after, a third shop was set up in Hyde Park before being relocated to Poughkeepsie near the Marist college. This veritable retail triumvirate would cement the Rhino reputation, as the stores became sweet sanctuary for music fans who were cast aside by the escalating big-box dominance. The proverbial cherry on top was a string of memorable in-store performances from the likes of Yo La Tengo, Mercury Rev, Social Distortion, and John Darnielle of Mountain Goats, among many others.
With a new century came a new set of challenges for independent music retail, and Rhino was one of countless small stores across the country that was forced to adapt to the effects of the digital revolution. In the face of burgeoning online music distribution, a virus of big name box stores, and the resultant changes to the core economics of music retail, Ferber decided that in order to continue thriving, Rhino needed to immerse itself further into the local culture that had initially attracted the store to New Paltz. In 2005, the Rhino Records store uprooted from the Convenient Plaza and moved downtown, setting up shop at intersection of Main St. and Church St, a stone‘s throw from Main Street Bistro, a downtown staple, and just below Barner Books. This relocation placed the store smack dab in the middle of the cultural epicenter of the Hudson Valley, and soon enough Rhino staked its claim as an indispensable pillar of New Paltz’s distinctive downtown appeal. Rhino Records recently celebrated its third year on Church St., and the fanatic-friendly selection, copious rows of vinyl treasure and off-beat curiosities, and warm, attentive, and knowledgeable customer service on which the store built its reputation remains, along with the store itself, a fixture of the Valley that has been its home for nearly two decades.