Justin Dex stands in front of his record store, Dex Records, which opened February 11. Photos by Peter W. Gacek.
When Justin Dexter, 42, moved to Long Beach in August of 2014 he didn’t have any plans of opening a record store. Dexter—who goes by Dex—had friends in the area and was attracted to the “small community” and “vibe of the city.”
A native of Orange County, Dex was working in his hometown doing fire protection work, a job he described as non-rewarding and boring. This pushed him to leave his job of nine years with little to no plan for the future.
“Call it a mid-life crisis or whatever but it just got down to what am I doing? What do I want?” he said.
A collector since high school, Dex had "always been in and out of bands and on the fringe of the music scene," but never considered opening a record store.
“If the thought ever entered my mind before, I would immediately think of Dave or Drak and they’ve already got the bases covered, I can’t do it better than them," Dex said.
Dave James, owner of Factory Records, formerly Noise Noise Noise in Costa Mesa, and Darren “Drak” O’Connor, owner of Vinyl Solutions in Huntington Beach, were two “older brother figures” who ran the record havens that formed Dex’s musical palate as a young collector. These older brother figures would also be instrumental in getting Dex Records off the ground.
When Dex left his job this past May, he had few plans, let alone to open a record store. After “kicking around for a month,” followed by a monthlong trek “taking stock” across Europe, Dex was still not any closer to figuring out his next step. It wasn’t until going to a show at the Hollywood Bowl with James and Noise Noise Noise co-founder John Weir, that the idea began to seep that he could run a shop.
Weir, another big brother figure to Dex, has been in the industry for over 20 years and has been "invaluable" and a "huge help” in making Dex Records what it is. It was only after Dex reached out to Weir for his help with opening the store that things started to come together. In August, they began to acquire a stock through Weir’s knowledge and contacts combined with around 700 items from Dex’s personal collection.
"It’s a good way to put it back into circulation, and maybe the 16-year-old kid that comes in that was in my shoes at that age, I can give them that moment and pleasure of taking that record home and putting that record on," he said.
In November they acquired the 7th Street location and spent the next few months cleaning and curating the collection while getting the shop together before it’s opening in February.
Dex decided to open his shop in Long Beach, inspired by the “good examples” of other small businesses in the area and by a community that “makes a concerted effort to stay unique.”
Dex also appreciated that the community is supportive of cyclists. Having commuted by bike for a previous job, he wanted to work within a bikeable distance from where he lived.
Those driving down 7th Street might miss the shop despite its lime yellow tile and bright pink trim.
Located between Mira Mar Avenue and Termino Avenue on 7th Street, the shop isn’t the most obvious looking record store, even with the large Dex Records sign out front, but as any collector knows it’s not about the size of the store but the selection inside.
Surrounded by Dodger Blue walls, the selection at Dex Records is small, but of quality, and inspired by Dex’s mentor, James of Factory Records.
I personally purchased six records from Dex, all of them played and sounded fantastic. Among my plays were Rolling Stone’s Let it Bleed from Dex’s personal collection and a Gang of Four 12-inch single that Dex recommended and was easily my favorite purchase of the six.
“Going to Noise back in the day, not only did he have a bit of everything, but he really put a lot of energy and focus to put together what I consider the best examples of the genre, whether it be jazz, or punk or hip hop," he said.
This is apparent in Dex’s selection, with Dex Records inventory featuring a powerful sampling from seemingly every genre.
"One thing Dave taught me, the key to any shop is a steady stream of good stuff, not only new stuff, but good stuff to keep people interested," he said.
Dex also used the Factory Records owner as an example of how to treat customers that come into his store.
“Dave at Factory, and O’Connor at Vinyl, they were the most unpretentious people,” Dex said. “I learned from watching them how to treat a customer and how to come off as non-judgmental and let them have their space."
Since opening on February 11, the shop has seen quite the influx of business thanks to word getting out through channels like James and O’Connor. Other record shop owners like Dyzzy from Dyzzy on Vinyl and Gary at Third Eye have come by the shop to lend their support. Even Hirax lead singer Katon De Pena, a staple of the Long Beach music scene, lent his support and got the word out about Long Beach’s newest record store.
"One thing that's inspired me about this city and me going into this venture, is that it feels like a tight-knit thing and everyone’s got each other’s back," he said.
Like any record store owner, Dex wouldn’t mind a bit more space and stock, but right now he is completely content with what he has.
“It’s been a nice feeling, getting up and looking forward to work, and talking to people about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart,” Dex said. “I’m not trying to get rich, or looking to rule the world, I love to be able to make other people happy and in that turn makes me happy."
Any collector who is honest with themselves has dreamt of Dex’s purview.
“It's like having your own ultimate record collection that's constantly evolving because things are leaving and coming in," he said.
Dex Records is located at 3906 East 7th Street and is open Mon-Sat from 11:00AM-7:00PM, 11:00AM-6:00PM on Sundays.
For more information, visit the Facebook page here.