Record Store Day, every day: You got it nicer at Licorice Pizza stores in the 70s and early 80s

By on April 22, 2017

In honor of National Record Store Day, we’re reposting this blog in which talked about what it was actually like to work for Licorice Pizza, a cool record store chain that existed back in the original vinyl daze of the late 70s/early 80s. For a short time, for some of us, it was “Record Store Day” every day.

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And so, once again, to tell our nostalgic tale, we must revert from the plural first person “we” to the first-person “I” in order for us to tell you just how fucking cool it was for me, your humble author, to actually work at the Licorice Pizza store in Anaheim, where I was hired as temporary Christmas help in late November of 1977.

You may already know all about the Southern California-based Licorice Pizza store chain, but for those of you who don’t, please let me digress to set the scene properly, and perhaps, after reading this epic blog (9200 + words — better pack a snack!), you’ll be inspired to leave a comment about the record store where you worked, or a memory about where you bought your first albums or tapes.

(By the way, we apologize for this crap audio quality video of Quiet Riot doing an in-store appearance at a Licorice Pizza in 1983, but it appears to be the only Licorice Pizza-related clip on Youtube we could find, which makes us very sad… sure wish one of their TV commercials would have been there).

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Check out the prices for these albums in 1969!

The first Licorice Pizza was a stand-alone store opened by owner Jim Greenwood in 1969, and it was located at 131 W. Fifth Street in Long Beach, California, which is about thirty-five miles south from L.A. for those of you who don’t know.

Greenwood got the idea for naming his store after something he heard in a comedic sketch on a live album, recorded at the Santa Monica Civic, by 60s San Francisco-based folk duo Bud and Travis: one of them had joked about recording an album that they could cover with sesame seeds so that if the album didn’t sell, you could buy it at your local “A&P” Feed store as a “licorice pizza.” Sometimes I’ve heard that the joke is attributed to Abbott and Costello (I’m still in touch with Jim today, and he says it was Bud and Travis so that’s good enough for me).

Whoever said it, Licorice Pizza turned out to be a good moniker for a store in the late 60s, back when store owners were often coming up with something semi-psychedelic in order to sell whatever it is they were selling to a hip, counter-culture crowd.

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The store was a huge success, and in just a few years, by the end of 1973 — around the time I’d turned thirteen and was already becoming fully immersed in listening to music, pretty much non-stop — Greenwood had expanded his Licorice Pizza concept to eight more stores, and by now the chain was being touted for having what Billboard magazine called “an unusually wide metropolitan spread” (they said it in the issue published on December 22, 1973).

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Music Retailer gave Licorice Pizza national exposure. Across the back are Martin Black, Jim Greenwood, and Ron Geiger, and the girls are: Suzie Boudreau (she was also the voice of Licorice Pizza in many of their radio commercials) and Melody Richardson. The dogs are: Temple and Bear.

New Licorice Pizza stores were being opened all the time too, and the chain’s expansion was so rapid and successful that by the fall of the next year there two more stores, by now bringing the total up to eleven stores, all located within a 40-mile radius in the greater Los Angeles area.

The swirly somewhat cursive LP logo and the store’s motto (“You Get It Nicer”) were selling a recognizable brand that you were soon seeing all over. If I was out with my friends, driving around, I might have run across another store now and then, but because I wasn’t venturing up into L.A., or down to Long Beach, I didn’t really know how far and wide the stores were expanding, not yet. I only knew about the handful of stores in Orange County.

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I was still too young to drive in the early-to-mid 70s and so I mostly ended up buying most of my albums and singles and cassette tapes (I was never an 8-tracker) at a local Wherehouse store that I could walk to after school (and frequently did), which was located within a large shopping center at the corner of Brookhurst and Ball, in Anaheim.

Sometimes if I was with my mom, and she needed to go by the Alpha Beta grocery store, where we bought our groceries, she’d let me walk over to the store while she shopped, and then we’d meet back at the car. It was sort of a big deal, I remember, and I really loved the experience and looked forward to going into that store, and smelling the incense they had burning, and seeing the long-haired hippie dudes and cute older girls that worked there, stocking the store, ringing the register, putting everyone’s purchases in these orange and purple plastic bags that said “Where? At the Wherehouse!” on them.

(You might also enjoy reading this post I’d written about my experiences at the same time going to a local head shop called Swinger’s Psych Shop).

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I remember the Wherehouse store in Anaheim had bitchen shag carpeting, and walking through it was like walking through freshly mowed grass or something, you’d almost want to take off your shoes (but of course I never did). They had blacklight posters and I remember there was a black light that hung right above the posters so you’d get the full effect flipping through the framed display case.

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Seth Dudley, an employee of the West Los Angeles Licorice Pizza (store #9), circa 1974, posing for a print ad for an album by Montrose, which ran as full page in Rolling Stone

By July of 1974, prices of full-length albums were carrying a manufactures suggested retail price of $6.98, but the Licorice Pizza price was $4.98, and that was principally the price for new releases by major label artists. Can you imagine?

Even so, customers were pushing back at the perceived high price. Greenwood told Billboard at the time that he was “just beginning to feel a reticence” from his customers for the price hike, which he thought might hold back some from buying as many albums as had been their habit at the time, but that they would probably continue to pay whatever it was sticker-priced at.

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Ron Geiger (left) and Jim Greenwood (right), who owned Licorice Pizza (photo courtesy of Frank Gutch Jr.)

Within a few months, he was talking with Billboard again, now telling them “The price rise has had its affect. We are maturing. We have our advertising and marketing functions together.”

Jim Greenwood took care of his customers, though, and really thought about their experience coming into his stores, providing fresh red and black licorice to them in these bowls that sat on the front counter, free for the taking while they walked around the store (some of them came into the store already with a case of the “munchies”), shopping for music. Those of us who worked in the stores ate plenty of it ourselves, and to this day, I really can’t stand eating licorice, I just got so sick of it.

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The stores made special orders for albums they didn’t have, provided info on the chalkboard behind the counter about upcoming concerts and new releases and overall it was just a great place to come and hang out. You could even sit on the couches they had in the store and read the magazines and no one really ever gave a shit about it.

Greenwood also took care of his employees, too. In October of 1974, he even closed all eleven of his Licorice Pizza stores and brought all of his company’s 200 employees to Elton John’s last concert at the Forum, where the employees actually handed out free balloon and licorice candies to concertgoers that were in the audience.

Later that same year, Jim Greenwood opened up the twelfth Licorice Pizza store in a prime location at 8878 Sunset Blvd., on the southeast corner intersecting with San Vicente Blvd., in West Hollywood, which was situated diagonally across the street from the famed Whisky a Go Go.

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More importantly, perhaps, the new store was located just one short block west of the giant 10,000-square foot Tower Records store, and they were, as you might expect, pretty pissed to have competition so close to their flagship store, within walking distance. It was a calculated move on Greenwood’s part, which he explained at the time to Billboard’s Nat Freedland, in the issue published on December 28, 1974:

Greenwood: “Licorice Pizza chain prices are only pennies away from Tower. We’ll run promotional sales that undercut them and they’ll run promotional sales undercut us. West Hollywood has proven to be a great record market and customers will get into the habit of walk back and forth to shop both our stores.”

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The Music Hall Record Store (circa 1971), later the site of the Licorice Pizza store on Sunset

Greenwood had bought out the lease of Music Hall Records, and then knocked down a few interior walls in order to expand the floorspace to 2,500 square feet, paneling the entire store and exterior in natural-finish wood, which is how all of the stores in the chain looked. The exterior of the store also featured a huge set of ears for awhile, located on either side of the sign out front, and there was a billboard on the side of the building that said “Do Your Ears Here!”

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The stores in the early to mid-70s were also places were you could buy paraphernalia, bongs, rolling papers, power hitters, all types of things, and so the parking lots of record stores were a great place to hang out and get high and stand around and talk about upcoming concerts or albums we’d recently bought (as I found out mostly from my trips up to the Sunset store whenever I was going to see bands at the Whisky or Roxy). There was kind of a clubhouse vibe, actually, a private clubhouse were you could just go and meet like-minded people who were into the same things you were into. The employees were all pretty cool too, and I remember getting my employee discount if I bought something at their store. What can I say? Pizza People Deliver.

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In that previously-mentioned Billboard article, Greenwood continued: “I like the visibility of being on Sunset Strip now. It should be especially helpful in terms of record industry recognition.”

In just a few years there would be a concentrated collaborative effort between record companies and record stores, who were both trying to sell as many albums as possible.

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Around the time I’d turned seventeen, in October ’77, I’d already had and left two jobs (both were my first paycheck jobs; I’d quit the first one after working for a year and a half, and was fired after just a few months from the second one) and now I was looking for a job in a record store, but the dudes at the Wherehouse never hired me, and I don’t even think they took my interest in music that seriously, and I’m sure they had hundreds of applicants who wanted to work there.

Somehow, because the Wherehouse job never did work out, I ended up applying for a job at the Licorice Pizza store in Anaheim, my hometown.

The original Anaheim store, which was located in a tiny shop that had been the site of a Currie’s Ice Cream, a popular chain noted for their “mile-high” ice cream cones (their replica was often displayed billboard-style on roofs), was in a perfect spot, located across the street from Fremont Junior High, at 608 W. Lincoln Ave. near Harbor Blvd.

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The original Licorice Pizza store was located across from Fremont Junior High School (this photo was taken on February 12, 2014, by Bill Hackbarth)

I filled out an application and when I turned it in, the manager, Barry, asked if I’d like to step into his “office” to talk about it. I said sure, and that’s when he accompanied me outside, to the curb on Lincoln, right across from the junior high (still open at that location at the time), where we sat and talked about the jobs I’d worked at already, and I think he wanted to get a feel for how much I knew about music too.

At the time, my music taste was pretty limited to whatever I was hearing on the FM stations I listened to (KMET and KLOS) and to what my friends and I liked, which was mostly a lot of hessian rock bands, all the popular classic rock ones (Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, David Bowie, etc.) and some more commercial-sounding up-and-coming artists that were becoming popular (Boston, Heart, etc.). I realized pretty quickly that I had pretty generic taste in music, but didn’t really know it until I started working at the store.

I was also reading every issue of Circus, Creem and Rolling Stone that I could get my hands on, and was writing for the school newspaper at the time too, and it was around this same time that I’d done my first interview with Angel, which you can read all about here if you want to.

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Barry, one of the best bosses I ever had

Barry — who I think had just started managing the Anaheim store in August ’77, and before that he’d worked at the Costa Mesa and Garden Grove stores — hired me on the spot, as I recall, but said that he could only promise me full-time hours as Christmas help during their busy end-of-the-year season, so it going to be a temporary job to start, but I remember being pretty excited about the prospect that it could possibly be a full-time gig if I shined at the job. That’s when he also told me that it would be at the store’s new location — they were moving west on Lincoln, near the corner of Euclid Ave.

I was really disappointed about not getting a chance to work at the original location, to be honest, because I really liked that little store, and its funky old school record store vibe. The walls were “wallpapered” with burlap sacks that might have, at one time, even carried vegetables or fruits. It wasn’t big, and so you’d bump into people who were shopping, and who knows, they might have been stoned out of their minds, it’s hard to say.

Sometime in late November ’77 I started working at the new store, which was a much larger space, long and narrow. The store — which looked very much like this photo of another of the Licorice Pizza stores — was brand new and so it was cleaner. There were illuminated display panels on the walls, spaced evenly down the walls.

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There was a woodsy natural feel to the store, and there were a few hanging plants as I recall, and ferns and larger plants in standing bowls. The color scheme was just like this, lots of browns and orange, Licorice Pizza’s two main colors, particularly in all of their signage.

There were bin cards sticking up out of the record bins, which, just like this photo shows, were angled and arranged facing the front doors. The front of the store, in fact, was all glass, floor to ceiling, but there were two or maybe three (I forget) hanging panels, on chains, that obscured the view of the street and the parking lot. This isn’t a photo of the Anaheim location but it’s about as close as I could find.

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It was crazy that Christmas ’77 as I remember now — we were given red t-shirts to wear, and I don’t remember what I did exactly, but I remember that this was back at a time when literally dozens of people would line up at the register with their purchases and during the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, the line didn’t seem to shrink. We’re talking about people buying gifts — albums, t-shirts, whatever — and spending hundreds of dollars, and since records were pretty cheap, they sometimes had STACKS of albums in their hands.

After Christmas, apparently I’d showed that I had good potential, because Barry asked if I wanted to stay on into the new year, 1978, which was right in the middle of my last year in high school, and I jumped at the chance. I began working the night shifts, mostly, since I was in school until sometime in the early afternoon, and I’d go into work after school and work right up until the store closed at 10pm, then I ended up staying after to vacuum the carpet, empty the ashtrays (which also needed to be filled with cat litter) and I Windexed the front doors and sometimes had to Windex the big windows too (people would come late at night, after we’d close and in the mornings you could see their handprints and face imprints smudged on the glass where they’d stood outside, looking in). I worked both weekend days too as I recall, and jumped at the chance to do it.

I usually worked with one other person, sometimes two, and the guys or gals in charge were called “keyholders” because (naturally) they had the keys to the store. A keyholder opened the store in the morning and one closed it up at night.

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The managers back then had a lot of responsibility — hiring and training, financial control, merchandising and supervising typically 6-8 employees — but each employee was given a section, or a station. I worked at all of them at some point — like Tapes, Singles, Paraphenalia, and duties that involved replacing the Phonolog pages or restocking the Pfanstiehl record player needles, or styluses.

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Our Licorice Pizza singles crates were big sellers — I had about five of them full of singles at one point

We’d ring the register and mark down, by hand, with little hash marks what we sold in an order book we kept right at the counter — in those early days, everything was done “by hand,” even punching the prices number-by-number in old archaic registers — and then the buyers would come along later and take both books, side by side, and in an order column they’d put down the number of copies we needed for the store and also make copies of those hash marks for the orders in a second book, showing what was being ordered.

Then, we’d send the original order book off to our main office in Glendale (where they also had a large warehouse), which was called “Mother Superior,” and the second order book would now be the new counter book, and the whole process would continue like that all week. I think we sent the order books in once a week (we’d lock them up in a lockbox in the back of the store, and during the wee hours a driver would come by and pick up the books — now, of course, all those drivers would be out of work because it would be done by computers).

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John Houghton in a Billboard profile piece, published on June 9, 1979

I learned so much about the company, and the other store locations, and learned that Lesley, the woman with the chirrupy and sometimes sexy-sounding voice who did all of the company’s popular radio ads (“Hi, I’m Leslie from Licorice Pizza”) was actually the wife of the company’s original VP of Marketing, John Houghton.

(She’s now a New York Times best-selling author, and on this bio page she says she did thousands of the radio commercials, which resulted I her getting a commercial acting agent, which led to small parts in MOW’s (movies of the week) and sitcoms, including a guest-starring role on TV’s popular “Laverne and Shirley”).

There were also a few TV commercials — I remember they shot one of them at our Anaheim store, and we were up pretty late into the early morning hours, watching the actress in the commercial taking a bite out of circular LP that was made out of colored wax. Then she’d say something about it tasting nicer or something like that (I forget), and then when the director would say cut, she’d spit it into a nearby bucket. She told us it tasted awful.

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

I don’t remember how long it was before I got my first real responsibility at the Anaheim store, but I ended up being the Singles Buyer, which meant I had a section to keep clean and upstocked with titles and since we had a little Top 30 section that was changed on a regular weekly basis, that’s what I remember most, taking the new chart and switching around the titles. I later became the Tape Buyer and ordered cassettes and 8-tracks, but eventually the 8-track format was on the way out and I remember we sold those off in sales bins which I also stocked and kept organized.

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I worked with a handful of really memorable characters, too.

There was Tim, who was very tan and wore a lot of Hawaiian shirts and corduroy shorts, sometimes with white knee socks pulled up over his hairy legs. He was really into jazz and fusion, and lots of world music, but he was also a pretty straight forward rock fan too. He looked a little like Jimmy Buffett, I guess, with long blonde hair and a big mustache and I remember he had a great laugh. He usually worked the day shift, and so I didn’t always get the chance to work with him — except for a few hours in the afternoon — unless I was opening the store with him.

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Bryan (left) and Tim behind the counter at Licorice Pizza, Anaheim (photo by Tim)

There was Steve, who had long straight center-parted hair and a big Doobie Brother-ish mustache at the time, and he was a professor at Cal State Fullerton, as I recall, teaching classical music theory or something like that. He knew everything about classical music, just everything, and he had a contemporary classical group called the Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra, who I’d occasionally go to see when they played in art galleries and nice venues, usually in L.A. I learned so much from him — after the store would close, and before I’d start vacuuming, we’d often smoke a joint together (he always had great pot, sometimes some Thai stick) and we’d relax and listen to Beethoven’s Late Quartets, or whatever else he wanted me to hear that night, and he’d blow my mind by pointing out intricate little things about the music, which really gave me a lot of in-depth interest in classical music, an interest that continues to this day. He had a great laugh too.

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Your humble author (center) goofing around with co-workers Elizabeth and Danny, circa 1979

I worked with and became what I considered best friends with a co-worker who was around my same age named Danny, and he was so completely incredibly knowledgeable about everything too, and he turned me on to so many bands and musicians and artists. Any knowledge I would soon have about Brian Eno, Roxy Music, progressive rock bands, just so, so many — it all came from Danny. Danny and I of course had a ton of laughs too… in fact, I think that was what I liked most about working at the Anaheim Licorice Pizza store, just laughing all day long. I don’t think I ever had another job where I did that consistently, every day, all day and night.

I also became friends with many of his closest friends, and, as I’d just moved way across town with my family, during my senior year — think about that for a sec, being uprooted like that —  and I had left a lot of my high school friends behind after graduating, never to hang with any of them again, really.

Danny and his mostly childhood friends became my closest buddies for the next ten years or so. I’m still friends with almost all of the guys from this group, even today.

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I worked a lot with Barry too, who worked really hard. I can still picture him, with a pencil behind his ear, doing inventories, climbing ladders to replace overhead lights, helping to unload the shipments and checking in the boxes, and he also did a lot of our really elaborate wall displays which were done with album flats, which are the front panel of the album covers. They’re typically just the front image, and printed on different flimsy paper stock (not the stiff cardboard of the actual album covers), which made them more flexible and thus easier to fold and be staple-gunned to the walls, which were burlap-covered wood paneled walls.

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I did a lot of those wall displays too, crawling around on the bins with a staple gun, sometimes doing them for contests — the main office (“Mother Superior”) would often arrange with record companies to give away free concert tickets or other prizes to the winners, which meant that pretty much every store in the chain would go all out and create the wildest displays, sometimes with props or water fountains.

I remember adding a little pool with dark blue water — colored with Ritz dye as I recall — for a display I did for the Sea Level album On The Edge, which came out sometime in 1978, and if you look at the album cover you can probably get an idea how elaborate those displays could get (didn’t win that contest but I do remember winning a few of them). I also did some of the front window displays too.

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Dennis Wilson’s in-store appearance, promoting his Pacific Ocean Blue album

I’m obviously going to have to leave out quite a bit about working at the store, but it needs to be said that one of the things that Licorice Pizza — as well as other record stores, including Tower — were known for was their in-store appearances by bands and artists who would meet and greet their fans, sign autographs and we’d always sell a lot of albums. We didn’t have as many in-stores as other stores in the chain did, as Anaheim was a little off the beaten path for most of the touring acts who’d made it to the west coast, but I remember that some of us would drive to the other stores, usually in L.A., to go to their in-stores and it was always great to see the people who worked behind the counters of our brother and sister Licorice Pizzas.

We’d also see each other at the company Christmas parties (Rick Springfield played at one of them) and Buyer’s Meetings (Yngwie Malmsteen played at one of those).

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There’s also that famous appearance Licorice Pizza makes in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was filmed in the Sherman Oaks Galleria shopping mall, but here’s a rare photo you might not have seen, from the deleted Licorice Pizza record store scene where Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) helps Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) find a record he’s looking for.

I eventually became a Store Buyer at the Anaheim store, and Barry eventually moved on to another store, sometime in May 1980, to open up a new store in San Bernardino — it Licorice Pizza’s 27th and largest store, comprising almost 8,000 square feet — at which point Steve, then an Assistant Manager, took over as the new manager. I remember the day I came into work and he’d chopped off all his hair — it was something everyone did in the early 80s, I’d done it too (regretted it almost immediately).

I also became a Keyholder, and had a lot of responsibilities (late night closing, book work and bank runs), but it wasn’t ever a drag, truthfully, it was almost always fun (okay, prepping the store for an “inventory” wasn’t fun, but that didn’t happen too often). It was fun to go to work, and I enjoyed the responsibility of being a Buyer, and in charge of staying on top of what was selling. I felt like a tastemaker — people came into the store and asked me what was good and I turned them on to all kinds of stuff.

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Debbie Harry wearing a Licorice Pizza t-shirt and a Peaches employee button

I also learned a valuable lesson which has served me well for most of my life, working as I did in either bookstores, record stores or at record companies: I learned to be tolerant and accepting that there were people who were buying albums by really awful bands and artists that I didn’t like, but I had to learn quickly not to show any disdain for their choices and keep my opinion to myself. It actually did help me to make better decisions as a buyer and to make sure I was ordering in enough copies, even if it was something I secretly loathed. I now think everyone should have had a chance to work in a record store and not only be exposed to more music than they are typically exposed to, but to also learn the value of keeping their opinions to themselves (it really helped me a lot when working at record labels).

I also made little pilgrimages over the Zed Records store in Long Beach, where I surreptitiously wrote down catalog numbers for import singles they carried (they had an awesome collection, I bought tons of albums and singles from them) and then I’d come back to our store and place orders for the same titles. For awhile, we had an incredible selection of import singles, and people came from miles and miles around to shop at our store because I’d ordered in all these titles that you could only find in L.A. stores (and Zed’s in Long Beach). But then the dudes at Zed’s got wise to what I was doing and they kicked me out of the store, and not only that, but the buyer at the main office who was getting my orders started balking at tracking down all of these expensive import titles for me and suddenly, our import section dried up and the customers stopped coming into the store.

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Around this time, record company label reps regularly dropped into the store to talk to those of us who were buyers to tell us about new releases, but one of the main reasons we looked forward to them dropping by was that they always gave us promos (promotional albums) although at the Anaheim store, those albums were handed over to the manager first, who as I recall sorta picked through them and decided which copies should become our official in-store play copies, and which ones could be taken home by the employees.

As I recall, the handing out of those promos was part of our regular store meetings, and as such came to be considered to be some kind of reward for doing a good job. You could always buy a copy of something you wanted to own, and I did, pretty much every week, but getting a promo — usually we were given just one copy — was nice too, because it meant you were being singled out for working hard.

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The Runaways, Canoga Park Licorice Pizza in-store, 1977

By the way, I could always tell if someone working for either a label or a store was more interested in selling albums than listening to them because they often used the word “units” instead of calling each record sold an album (as most of us passionate music fans referred to them) or an LP or whatever.

You could always tell who the motivation was, and some of us where always more interested in turning on the customers to new music that we’d learned about at the store and so they were always to me fellow music fans before they were customers, but every now and then I’d talk to someone from Mother Superior, or a label rep, and they’d use the term “units” and it always bugged me.

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Some of these sales reps — dudes and chicks, both — because good friends of ours, and we looked forward to the day the dropped in. They typically kept to a schedule and so we knew which days they were coming in and I always wanted to be working when the dropped in because we’d chat about new releases, but more importantly, they sometimes also had free concert tickets, which was fucking awesome.

Man, I loved it when they hooked me up with a couple of free tickets (and sometimes backstage passes) and I’d try to reciprocate by making sure I ordered tons of the albums they were pushing that week, but I also sometimes shared joints with them in the back of the store too, and I think we all pretty regularly gave these guys (most of them were dudes) our employee discount on albums they wanted to buy, or we even handed off extra promos that we had copies of.

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Another look at the Sunset Strip store — in this one you can see the sign on the side of the building advertising new releases beside a billboard advertising a low album price of $3.98!

These reps would show up wearing satin jackets with band names and they always had cool stuff, bumper stickers and stand-ups and posters and all kinds of record label ephemera. Sometimes we’d keep it and share it with the rest of our fellow employees, sometimes not! Jim Greenwood even gave all of the Licorice Pizza employees their own satin jackets — brown and orange, of course — and I wore mine for awhile until I got really drunk at a party one night and hurled all over the jacket, pretty much ruining it forever.

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I remember once there was a guy who was a sales rep for Epic Records (or maybe Columbia, who distributed Epic) and he and I (forgot his name) were pretty friendly with each other. I remember giving him a home-taped cassette that had been given to me by a good customer of ours, a Japanese guy named Wes, who always brought in tapes of imports he’d bought that had come out in Japan but not the U.S. and he had an advance copy of Cheap Trick’s Dream Police album, which was being delayed by Epic in the U.S. at the time because their successful At Budukon live album had come out and was still charting well.

I think this was sometime in the summer of ’79, and I was pretty excited to have a rare advance copy of the album, courtesy of Wes, and I foolishly let this rep dude borrow my tape — my only copy, of course — because Cheap Trick were one of his favorite bands too, and he hadn’t heard it yet and he was stoked that I actually had a copy (he said no one at the label had turned him on to it yet). He was supposed to give it back to me the next time he was scheduled to be in the store, in a week’s time, but of course you can already guess what happened: he didn’t have it with him, and then soon thereafter I think he stopped working for Epic… I soon began to think that the rep traded territories with someone else, but I think I learned later he’d been fired, actually, and I can even remember calling up Epic’s offices to find out what happened to him after a new sales rep showed up one day. I had to wait to hear the album again just like everyone else — it was released in the U.S. on September 21, 1979 — and I held that grudge for awhile, as I recall.

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The Go Go’s at the Sunset location in July 1981 — their very first in-store appearance, which they mentioned here

I also remember that a certain coked-up regional Licorice Pizza rep named Kent would drop by the store from time to time, and one time he’d driven up in a new Porsche and I made a complimentary comment about the car when he came into the store,, and he said something like, “Well, if you work hard, someday you can have a car like that too.” Dick.

My fondest memories — and I still to this day have dreams about working in that store, really great dreams — involve hearing a lot of music I love to this day for the very first time, blasting it out into the store. We had an incredible stereo system, and after hours I remember we’d just crank it up and we could never hear people who had come to the store and were banging on the front door, for whatever reason.

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After awhile I started buying a brick of blank cassettes (Maxell XLII’s were my favorite), and in the evening hours, when it wasn’t as busy, I’d put a tape into our tape deck, put it on record and pause, and then throughout the evening, I’d hit the pause button and record whatever it was that we were listening to. I’d make little tape covers for these mixtapes too, cut ups from whatever I’d find in old National Lampoon or Mad magazines. I still today have a closet full of these awesome little mixtapes — hundreds of them — and may have to post about them someday. If you knew me in the late 70s or early 80s, you likely got a personally-made mixtape from me at some point.

We also used to paste and scotch-tape funny little cut-up shit to the walls of the bathroom at Licorice Pizza too, especially Danny and I. Wish I had a photo of those walls, they were so great. The bathroom itself was kinda disgusting as I recall, but the walls were entertaining.

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

I continued working at the Anaheim location and had so many strange experiences there, many I haven’t had again in my life, not in the past thirty-plus years that have elapsed since then, which is why I probably still dream about the store. I remember some of the crazy customers that would come in, especially in the evenings, and it was always a different experience how we dealt with them, usually depending on who I was working with, customers like Lute Miller, who was an old guy, probably in his 70s, who special ordered a lot of albums that we never seemed to have in stock for him, and he’d frequently say the oddest things to us, and Danny and I would have to keep from laughing out loud because we weren’t sure if he was pulling our chain, or not (he once said, “I like some of these new singers, like Linda Ronstadt, but Mahalia Jackson?!!… don’t like her at all.”)

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Check out the Pop-Rock bin cards and wall display with curved flats

I remember another customer named Morris, I think, who would push an empty shopping cart into the store, then he’d stand up by the front counter and he wouldn’t say anything, he’d just stand there smoking. Danny and I would stare right at him and he’d stand there, silent, smoking. He seemed like some sort of Russian mafia looking dude as I recall, and it’s possible he was probably homeless, but for some reason I just remember that Danny and I would crack up whenever he came into the store.

I also remember the time that I came into the store, starting my night shift (usually 2-10pm), and behind the counter, punching numbers into the register, was Wild Man Fischer and when I asked what he was doing, he looked at me funny and said, “I work here.” I said, “You don’t work here, I do,” and we went back and forth like that for awhile until the other people who were working that day — probably Steve and Barry — came out of the back office, which was just behind the counter, laughing their asses off. They’d been watching from the little one-way glass window in the door, looking out to the counter area. We had these little one-way windows, which were mirrors on the side facing the store, and we’d frequently use them to watch potential shoplifters.

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A section of a Licorice Pizza tape wall: “Need help? Please ask.”

Shoplifters, in fact, were kind of a constant problem, as was “shrinkage,” which was pretty much the same thing. We didn’t usually know how bad it was until after a store inventory, and that’s when I’d find out that we didn’t have all of the stock on hand that we thought we did. For awhile — before we removed the glass cases where all the drug paraphernalia was locked up — we’d have to have someone stand at the tape wall and help customers, but they’d usually give us a lot of shit, so we’d open up access to the tape wall and then watch people going behind there to steal cassettes, and I remember catching a lot of shoplifters who tried bolting out of the store (if you’ve seen the movie High Fidelity, or worked in a record store in the 70s, you know this is something that happened on a regular basis).

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

If I remember correctly, we eventually installed a metal detector contraption thing along both sides of the store’s front doors, which customers had to pass through to enter and (more importantly) to exit, and that thing would be set off with a blaring alarm if someone carrying a cassette out of the store that hadn’t been purchased at the counter (the tapes had little magnetic strips stuck to them that we’d remove or swipe at the counter, as I recall).

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A worse problem, however, was that the Anaheim store was frequently getting robbed, at gunpoint, by bad dudes. I myself was robbed twice, and each time I had a guy pointed at me (one time at my face, but now that I think about it, I think one of the robbers just showed me a gun stuck in his waistband, which was enough, it was almost as the same as if he’d stuck it in my face). I think Danny was tied up once when he was robbed.

The store was located in a somewhat diurnal area where there weren’t a lot of businesses upon after sundown and we were really close to two different freeway on-ramps too, which I guess made it an ideal location for armed robbery, which is what the cops always told us. It was something that happened company-wide, as I remember now — we’d read about it in our company memos and it was, I have to admit, a little bit scary when we’d be working the night shift and a really bad motherfucker would come in and you just never knew if you were going to get shot during a robbery just because you happened to be working the night shift.

Eventually the Anaheim store was closed down because there were just too many robberies going on at that location, and I’m sure there were probably other issues I didn’t know about that factored in. I remember Jim Greenwood himself came to the store to tell us personally, telling us that a new Licorice Pizza store was being opened in the Lakewood Mall in a few months, and we were all offered the chance to transfer to that store, and some of us did — Steve became the manager of the store, in fact — but some of us (Danny, his girlfriend Sonia, and Tim, as well as other co-workers I’m forgetting now) didn’t.

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Joan Jett wearing a Licorice Pizza t-shirt

It was truly the end of an era, after just a few short years of working at a great little record store in Anaheim that meant a lot to a lot of locals, not to mention all of us who worked there. Years later people I would meet who lived in the area would talk about how heartbreaking it was to drive by the store and see the permanently closed sign on the front door.

You can read about some of my experiences working at the Lakewood Mall in this post. I worked at the Lakewood location for another three years until sometime around August 1984, and then I didn’t work in another record store for about ten years, and when I did, it just wasn’t the same at all. There’s just no way to compare working at a record store in the early 90s with working at one in the late 70s, everything had changed by then.

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By the time I’d left, we’d already had to box up the vinyl albums and send them back to record companies — hundreds and hundreds of fifty-count cardboard boxes — to be replaced by compact discs, which for the first few years came in these obnoxious longboxes because the stores didn’t change out the furniture that was made to hold 12-inch albums. The CDs had to stand up in the bins and to do that all this wasteful extra un-need cardboard was created in order for the product (yes, product — record albums were one thing, but CDs have always felt to me like products or, egads, “units”).

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The Licorice Pizza stores also got heavily into becoming video stores, as the lucrative video rental business was now a big thing, but it was short lived; in 1985, Jim Greenwood sold the company he’d built into an empire to a company called Record Bar, Inc., who were based out of Durham, North Carolina. Then, just a month later, the Minneapolis-based Musicland Group bought Record Bar Inc. for $13 million in April of that same year, as they had wanted to get into the video rental business too.

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Just about exactly thirty years ago, the L.A. Times wrote about the sale of Jim Greenwood’s Licorice Pizza empire — which had grown to 34 stores at the time it was sold — the Musicland Group, the nation’s largest specialty retailer of records and tapes.

Greenwood, meanwhile, kept the Aahs! gift store chain stores — one had opened by then in the Sunset Strip location formerly the home of a great Licorice Pizza store — for many years.

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Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people that have told me they worked at Licorice Pizza stores and we all pretty much have the same fond feelings for our former employer.

One of those friends is Gary Calamar, who today is the president of Go Music, and a five time Grammy-nominated producer and music supervisor who has overseen the music on some of the most acclaimed and popular shows on (mostly cable) television, including “True Blood”, “Six Feet Under”, “Dexter”, “Entourage”, “Weeds” and “House.”

Listing his entire resume of accomplishments would be nearly impossible in a single blog post, however, but I do need to mention — perhaps because it’s appropriate to do so, even a day after-the-fact — that Gary is also the author of Record Store Days (with Phil Gallo), and many in the L.A. area know him for his longtime stint as a deejay at public radio powerhouse KCRW (his radio show “The Open Road” is a favorite of mine from way back, and currently airs Sunday 6-8pm west coast time).

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Gary Calamar

I asked Gary if he had any particular memories about working at Licorice Pizza, and he says it was his first job when he moved to L.A. from New York in the late 70s. He worked as a manager trainee at Licorice Pizza #22 in Pasadena, and says:

“I was hearing and loving new music from L.A. bands like X, The Plimsouls, 20/20, The GoGo’s, and The Knack, while putting up cool displays, and mixing with customers. I loved the Licorice Pizza logo on my name badge and was thrilled each time I heard a radio commercial on KROQ featuring the friendly and warm voice of ‘Lesley from Licorice Pizza.’ I couldn’t wait to go to work each day. Jim Greenwood and the Licorice team taught me a great deal about management and customer service and how to work with people. Things that I carry with me to this day.”

Gary says that the agent who represents his music supervisor work, Randy Gerston, also worked at Licorice Pizza and “as a matter of fact, some of my best friends today are people I worked with at LP. I feel proud and honored to have been a Pizza Person.”

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Frank Gutch Jr., left side (wearing a Pure Prairie League t-shirt)

Another friend, writer Frank Gutch Jr., wanted to share about working for Licorice Pizza, which he writes about here. He describes how Jim Greenwood had come into the location where he worked, that West L.A. LP store (#9) on the heavily-traveled Wilshire Blvd., and he says Jim was doing an interview at the store for a trade magazine (possibly R&R, which stood for Radio & Records), but he stopped the interview because he wanted to know what album Frank was playing right then. It was Bustin’ Out by Pure Prairie League, which Jim said he liked too, and that led to them working with RCA Records, and selling a lot of ads which promoted the album, and that, in turn, led the band selling a ton of albums, all because Frank was playing a band’s album that he liked in the store.

Read the entire story at the link.

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UPDATE: Barry contacted me and sent along his thoughts, which I’m happy to share with you:

The only funny thing I remember from the old location was when Bowie’s Low album came out, and a guy named Hans made a sign that said, “Bowie’s New Low.”

Danny McGough used to hang out at the store, sitting on a stool behind the counter. And if anybody asked him for help, he acted like an employee and helped them. I suppose that’s why he eventually ended up on the payroll.

DANNY

Danny

Nobody knew what to do with the old record bins when we moved to the new store, so they had us leave them in the rented truck, parked near the warehouse in Glendale, exposed to the elements. A couple of months later, they had us drive them back down to Anaheim and plunk them down in the back room of the new store. And there they stayed.

We had an instore appearance by Ambrosia during those first few months at the new location. I think they had maybe 2 or 3 fans show up. There may not have been as much advertising for that appearance as there should have been.

We had people complain about the “No Nukes” album, but I told at least one customer that it was just an album for us, not a statement. One lady complained about a hand-made sign for “The Compleat Beatles”, but I pointed out that it was spelled that way on the packaging. And we had a lot of complaints the time we had the maybe-three-week sale at the lowest possible price – what was it, 5.39 for a 7.99 album? Customers thought that was misleading, and the finance guy in Glendale was fired after the sale ended.

Wild Man Fischer was hanging out at the store for awhile. I think Danny liked having him there at first, but it got real old real fast. Eventually the Anaheim Police reportedly threw him out of the city – Wild Man Fischer, not Danny.

You probably remember having those TV commercials filmed at the store. The actors were eating wax records that had been colored black somehow – not really eating them, of course, but chewing them during the commercial, then spitting out the wax. At least one woman called the main office to gripe that her son had tried eating a record, but I think John Houghton more or less told her that her son was an idiot. Before filming, Houghton had been excited that one of the actors was a woman who got eaten by the shark near the beginning of “Jaws 2″, but I don’t think that movie did as well as expected, and I don’t know that the commercials helped sales noticeably.

Chris Doucette [another employee] and I were robbed at gunpoint at the old store. A couple of people had just left the store, and the one remaining customer headed out, too. I asked him if there was anything he couldn’t find and he said he was just going to get something out of his car – which turned out to be a big-ass handgun.

Danny McGough and I were robbed at gunpoint at the new store. There was one customer in the store – an Australian guy touring the states – when two guys in stocking caps and sunglasses came in. It was nighttime, so I thought it was a bad sign that these guys were wearing sunglasses. The one guy herded the Australian up to the front, and the other guy demanded all of the money. We spent an uncomfortably long time trying to get the second register open just so that I could prove that it didn’t have any money in it – it probably hadn’t been used for months, since Christmas season. They even took the petty cash box, which I think had about 97 dollars’ worth of receipts and a couple of bucks in it. Then they had the three of us lie facedown on the floor of the office, which was the scariest time. The thing I noticed about those guys, besides the sunglasses and guns, was that they both had really short hair, where it showed below the hats. I decided that they were probably Marines on leave from Pendleton for the weekend, looking for a little extra cash. I felt bad for the Australian guy, but at least he went home with a story to tell.

You may also remember the time the guy tried to get the bank bag away from me as you and I were leaving one night. He hit me in the back of the head and I reflexively hit him in the forehead, the only spot I could reach. And you were ready to fight him, but I thought that would be a bad idea as we didn’t know what he was capable of doing. So we left him there, and I think after incident that maybe we just left the bank bag in the store overnight most nights.

I think I left Anaheim in May, 1980 – holy cow, that’s a long time ago. We opened San Berdoo about 6 weeks later. I had worked in Anaheim for a little more than 3 and 1/2 years, since August or September 1976. I only got the job in Anaheim because Chris Doucette was in a car accident and had to miss several months of work. I had been working at the Garden Grove store, but with Chris hurt, Mike Haight called his wife Jana Haight, the manager at Garden Grove, and asked if she had anybody who could pick up a couple of shifts at Anaheim. I volunteered – I think it was a Friday, so I went straight from Garden Grove to Anaheim to work second shift, then went in again the next morning. When Mike found out that I lived closer to Anaheim than to Garden Grove, he asked me if I wanted to transfer to his store and I agreed. I suppose I should be offended that Jana was willing to let me go.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • John Sinkowski

    Fantastic read . Thanks so much. I truly traveled back in time reading it.

  • Eugene Sotela

    Fantastic read! I remember the one in Pasadena on Lake Ave and Union behind the Del Taco (which is still there btw). In 1984 they held a break dancing contest right on their parking lot that me and my crew (Xavier Sotela, Cesar Osorio) took part in! Around that time I do remember buying two breakdance electro records there “Einstein (Eat Em Up Yum Yum)” by the Beat Box Boys and “Into Battle” 12″ EP by Art of Noise!

  • AllThoseThingsILove

    Love it. It was seriously the best job ever. I worked at The Wherehouse (Anaheim, Tustin, Fullerton, Costa Mesa) starting in 1985. I caught the tail end of LPs transitioning to CDs.

  • LouAnn Rossi

    I remember hearing Carole King singing “I Feel the Earth” for the first time in a Garden Grove Licorice Pizza. Was with some friends and we all bought Tapestry that day. And I grabbed some black licorice on the way out!!

  • Douglas Love

    Shopping one evening at the Downey Lic Pic – when gunmen stormed in. Not fun. Ended up testifying in court when they foolishly tried it again and got arrested. That was fun.

  • In the Net

    I still have about 125 vinyl records stored in an original Licorice Pizza crate. I think I picked it up at the Upland store back in the day.

  • Greg Weatherby

    Great article! It cleared up a question I have had for a long time. I remember buying a record or two at a store across the street from the Whiskey, but I couldn’t remember the name. I read the article and bam, The Record Hall. This was early 70s. I am pretty sure I bought the first Humble Pie album there. Of course I never realized it became a LP!

  • John Kalb

    I worked with Mike McGoldrick at the big Huntington Beach store from 1979-1981. We always had fun with the contests, even putting a Morris Minor in the window to win the Gary Numan promotion for Cars. Our imports section was second to none as Mike was a serious collector and I got turned onto more European avant-guard artists than I can recount. We also had a big Japanese section for audiophiles and I admit to spending a lot of time with my stoned head in-between big speakers listening to tracks so pure you thought you were in the studio. Every day was fun.

  • robodoll

    I grew up in Long Beach, so the (original) 5th Street location was my “hangout” for many years. They eventually moved to a newer location, which I also shopped at. It was not the same as that tiny hole in the wall 5th street locale. I ordered obscure singles and imports for years from them. Still have them to this day…worth a fortune. Article brought back fond memories. Thanks for the free licorice too!

  • Bruce R Kilgour

    I worked with Mike from 84-85, until I became (thanks to him) a district manager. What a great guy.

  • GloriaU

    Just came across this article and loved it! I worked at Music Plus from late 1979-early 1985. There were many things that were done in the same way, this really brought back some memories. Fun to see the photos that accompanied the story. Aaah, I miss my old record store days.

  • Chris Moriarty

    Really enjoyed your blog about Licorice Pizza, the coolest Record Chain of all time. I worked at the downtown Long Beach store, hired as extra help for Christmas 1976, worked there when I was 18, only 4 weeks, also worked at Taco Bell a few blocks away. Had fun there. Then went to KEZY (Anaheim) Broadcast Workshop and became a DJ.

  • Jamie Simmons

    Great read, I remember going to the Licorice Pizza in Downey as a kid. Also remember going to the Warehouse and Alpha Beta. Add Pup ‘N’ Taco and Circuit City and it’s a great trip down memory lane.