Rolando Alvarez and Eddie Vela had been thinking about opening a record store ever since they began renovating a former church set against the warehouses of downtown some three years ago. Alvarez had even bought furniture for the dream shop, but it sat tucked away in the building for about a year-and-a-half as the multi-use space became in-demand for music events, art shows, and even a few weddings. With the COVID-19 shutdown, though, the two decided to reboot their headquarters. Today, it’s a live-streaming studio and the record shop they had long imagined is now a reality. Chapter One is open (by appointment only) for vinyl lovers who want to dig through the collections of L.A.’s underground DJs.
“It’s the beginning of a new story, if you will,” Alvarez says on a recent video call. “It’s a rebirth.” And, it’s one that they’ve been carefully plotting since the onset of the pandemic. “Like with any story, the first chapter is so important,” says Alvarez. “It’s very important for us to get that first chapter right.”
The story’s prologue, though, goes back more than a decade. Alvarez and Vela—born in El Salvador and the Philippines, respectively—both grew up in Los Angeles. They met so long ago that at this point they struggle to remember how they first crossed paths, but they think it was at a birthday party downtown, a few years before they began working in event promotion and as DJs. In the years that followed, the two would launch memorable party brands in the city. Alvarez, who started out photographing shows and club nights, is part of the Midnight Lovers crew. Vela co-created Disco Dive, a rooftop party at the Standard downtown. More than seven years ago, they formed the brand Dialogue, which initially focused on events and has, more recently, branched out as a record label. Their first release, the EP Solace in Repetition from Romanian producer Ada Kaleh, is out on April 23.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I stopped by Chapter One to take peek inside the record shop. It’s set up at the front of the building, in a small, tidy room filled with soft, purple light that looks as if it were once a church vestibule. A handful of records are displayed on the walls. Most are filed in stylish wood bins, where they’re organized by the DJ or crew who brought them into the store. The vinyl, which is sold on consignment, can include releases from the artists and their affiliated labels, plus pieces from their personal collections. On the day I visited, releases ranging from Patrick Cowley to the Sisters of Mercy to Kerri Chandler popped up in the eclectic, yet club-centric stock.
“Keeping this space, just in general, has been such a task,” says Alvarez of the past year. “For us, it was hard to invest in the space and put the energy into it when we were so uncertain to how we were going to reopen, how this was going to play out.”
Early in the pandemic, the idea was to sell records online. “We had so many rare records,” says Vela. That helped them gain momentum online (you can still check out Chapter One’s goods on Discogs), so they brought other locals into the new venture. “We wanted to have everyone within the music community participate in the record shop,” says Vela. “I think that’s what really took off and gave us the passion to push forward with the record shop, getting all the different music communities involved.”
When it comes to selling vinyl, Alvarez and Vela are maintaining a vibe that’s not too different from what they were doing in the party world. “It’s really fun because we can program all this music that was at our events, the same artists that were at our events,” says Vela.
As the city reopens, Chapter One is positioning itself to become a sort of hub for likeminded artists. Since the collections inside the shop are organized by DJ and/or crew, it’s designed to help promote events when those return. Crucially, though, they’re building a model that can adapt when necessary. “Things may not go 100 percent back to normal,” says Vela. “We accept that, but we’re not going to accept not being able to talk about good artists, good music, and sharing that with people, making it available for other people.”
For the future, they’re thinking about in-store events like record fairs and workshops, which would likely be invite-only. Vela says that it’s also likely that they’ll stick with the appointment model for shoppers. “It’s nice to engage with people who are interested firsthand,” he says. “It makes the experience special and more warm.”
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