World Famous V.I.P. Records hopes to remain a staple in its community
The Long Beach music shop fights to keep their iconic sign and open a new multimedia center to help the youth.
On a bustling Tuesday morning in Long Beach, the original building for World Famous V.I.P. Records remains vacant 20 feet beneath its faded sign. In a much smaller space next store, owner Kelvin Anderson opens the doors to his shop’s third location — just like he’s done for the past 38 years.
From the rise of hip hop to some of the first utterings of “213” in the back of his shop, Anderson has seen it all. The spot, which opened in 1978, was taken over by Anderson from his brother Cletus. The Long Beach location is the last holdout of what was once 12 V.I.P. Records stores.
“I’m just hanging around here until my next venture, which will hopefully be again working with the kids in the neighborhood,” Anderson said.
Despite his efforts to give back to the community by housing a safe and creative space for kids on the block, he faces the possibility of closure and a convenience store replacing his original location, where the sign still stands.
Long Beach to Strong Beach
With 7-Eleven in the midst of what some members of the sixth district feel to be the gentrification of a historic corner in their community — it’s the fate of the record-shaped icon above the store which has become an ongoing debate. Anderson will finally see a resolution to this on Nov. 13, as he and members of the community will go before the Cultural Heritage Commission in order to make the sign a landmark. The Long Beach City Council has committed $80,000 to helping take the sign down for restoration and finding it a new home.
“My sign is definitely not going to sit on top of a 7-Eleven,” Anderson said. “That’s just not going to happen.”
Through fundraising efforts and the city’s help, Anderson hopes to procure an empty lot directly across the street from his current location. There he would build a place where his sign would sit on top of a Black music history museum, and a multimedia center with recording capabilities to once again work with kids in the community.
“It was a great feeling to come to work everyday to bring joy to people that came,” Anderson said. “Because of the support of the community and great business in the early years [of V.I.P. Records], that afforded me the ability to do the things that I did for the kids in the neighborhood.”
Although Anderson was forced to close his original shop due to the plummet of record sales, he’s far from ready to give up on his community.
“There’s still a lot of talent out there, they just need a place to record and they need some direction,” Anderson said. “I feel that V.I.P. still can offer that.”
So much drama in the L-B-C
In 2015, Anderson planned to close his shop and convert to online sales. He also decided to list his store’s famous sign on Ebay, which Anderson said led to councilman Dee Andrews expressing the city’s interest in keeping the sign where it stands today. According to Anderson, in an attempt to satisfy all parties, negotiations had been made with 7-Eleven to keep the sign as it presently stands under the premise that 7-Eleven would designate a section of their store to historic memorabilia of V.I.P. Records.
Meanwhile, Anderson was told that the sign would be added to the agenda at an upcoming council meeting. As a year rolled on, Anderson had heard nothing from the city. As it turns out, a local law passed in 2015 would allow the sign to become a local landmark — without the owner’s consent. The application had already been submitted and was set to go before the Cultural Heritage Commission to become a landmark on April 10.
“I couldn’t understand why they would go behind my back like that,” Anderson said.
Members of City Council had been in communication with the owner of the building, Offer Grinwald, instead of Anderson. Through social media campaigns, petitions and a change of heart from Grinwald, the plan was foiled.
According to Anderson, the 7-Eleven corporation also experienced a change of heart and the charitable funds which were discussed to go towards V.I.P.’s legacy were instead allocated to the nearby Long Beach Polytechnic High School.
“We tried through all the channels that we had available to us to secure the building,” Anderson said. “But with 7-Eleven being as powerful as they are, we lost that battle.”
According to John Edmond, chief of staff for councilman Dee Andrews, much of this debacle has been out of the city’s hands.
“We can help facilitate dialogue but that’s really all we can do,” Edmond said.
From the streets to V.I.P.
One might say that the west coast G-funk era was conceived on the streets of the Long Beach’s 6th District and born in the back of Anderson’s shop.
“After working in other communities, I found Long Beach to be a lot different,” Anderson chuckled as he recounted his memories.
Anderson recalled the makeshift recording studio which served as a second home for kids down the block. He described the area at the time as a hotspot for gang violence, with killings every week.
“V.I.P. was a no-fly zone,” Anderson said. “No one ever got killed, beat up or stabbed at V.I.P. Records.”
According to two Long Beach locals who used to work at the shop through the ‘80s and ‘90s, V.I.P. was what raised them.
“I see him as like my uncle,” said Michael White, who began his DJ career at V.I.P. records as Mix Master Mike. “[Anderson] was a busy man, but if you needed someone to talk to or needed advice, he was always there.”
White said his years working as a DJ for the shop changed his life.
“He’s kept a lot of people out of prison just through his mentorship,” White said. “If you had a project, V.I.P. was the store that would let you sell it. Back then that was unheard of.”
Similarly, Keith Thompson, also known as DJ Slice, credits Anderson for his mentorship.
“Kelvin took me under his wing,” Thompson said. “He let me become the manager and showed me how to manage money and how to balance my life, and at the time I’d just had my daughter.”
Thompson was the football coach at Long Beach Polytechnic High School for many years, and is now a campus security officer for the Long Beach Unified School District.
“It’s bittersweet,” Thompson said. “It would have been great just to see that building stay where it was to become a museum.”
White is currently retired but will be spinning beats for Anderson once again on Dec. 3 for V.I.P. Records’ ‘70s Soul Jam for Puerto Rico Relief & Youth Programs.
“He has paid his dues in our community for almost 40 years,” White said. “He not only changed a lot of lives but he’s saved a lot of lives.”