Rhino moves on, so does Claremont

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

People my age — I’m 58 — tend to yammer on about how much better their lives were before things were so expensive, politics were a literal blood sport, and our kids played outside joyously, in the dirt, with a rock, a tin can, and a half-roll of electrical tape.

Sure, the modern, digital world is unrecognizable to some older folks, but despite the bewildering nature of everyday life in America, it’s my well-researched opinion that nostalgia is a killer.

Reminiscing with old friends can be amusing in micro-doses. But living in the past is a drag, and worse yet, boring.

So it’s with mixed emotions that I write about the closing of the beloved and unmistakably influential Claremont Rhino Records store, which will shut its doors Sunday after 48 years in the Village. It will mark the occasion with one big, final weekend sale, with discounts of 20% today and Saturday and 25% on its final day in Claremont on Sunday.

On one hand, the Village will lose one of its cultural lynchpins in Rhino Records.

On the other, in August, Rhino will open its doors at a new, larger, and more affordable location at 5458 Moreno St. in nearby Montclair. So, good for owner Chuck Oken Jr. and his employees, some of which have been with him for decades.

It’s no big deal to drive 10 minutes east to dig through the bins for the latest massive pop thing or that rare Bear Family Records blues box set reissue. I’m hoping Rhino’s roomy new spot helps lure more customers from further afield, assuring its financial viability for decades to come.

But the loss stings because Claremont is losing more than a record store.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment in some dreaded nostalgia, when I discovered it in the late 1970s, Rhino was a place to find not only your music, but also your people. The store looked cool and there was always something interesting playing on the turntable. The clerks were quasi-rockstars. It seemed like they knew everything about everything cool. It was intimidating and glorious at the same time.

Rhino was one of only a handful of record stores — Pomona’s Toxic Shock, Pasadena’s Poo Bah and Vinyl Fetish in Hollywood being our other go-tos — that carried a deep selection of punk rock, which we were all mad for in the late 1970s to early ‘80s. My friends and I spent untold hours flipping through the used and cutout bins upstairs at the old location, where Viva Madrid is today.

As my tastes broadened with time, I came to also appreciate Rhino’s collection of blues, country, jazz, world music, and eventually, hip-hop. The store had something for everyone, even mainstream music fans. It also hosted countless live in-store performances and readings over the years that deepened its impact as a cultural mecca, where interesting things happened.

And it stayed that way for a long time. But Claremont has changed. There’s no need to go into more gory detail of the financial pressures facing Village businesses amid skyrocketing commercial (and residential) real estate prices. It’s all been said. Besides, this isn’t a complaint, it’s a love letter.

So, what will we gain when Rhino is gone? Another restaurant, hair salon, or upscale boutique? My money’s on one of those three. I like food, haircuts and clothes just as much as the next guy, but Claremont’s clearly not lacking in those comforts.

Rhino closing in Claremont was probably inevitable. It’s not like it’s a shock. Slowly, the city’s non-College-related culture is slipping away. (The Claremont Colleges continue to lure all manner of world-class art, artists and thinkers for lectures, exhibits and performances, albeit mostly under the radar of city residents). The Laemmle will soon join the Candlelight Pavilion, Rhino and The Press (fate TBD) on that list. And no restaurant, hair salon or upscale boutique can fill the void left by live dinner theater, a record store, arthouse films or live music.

Claremonters love their amenities, and new businesses and the associated sales tax revenues help pay for those things. But the intangibles cities can choose to prioritize — such as a welcoming, supportive community for all kinds of artists, not just the established old guard — are difficult to build and near impossible to recreate.

At one time people outside the city thought of Claremont that way, as an art-friendly and creatively vibrant place. I know because I was one of those people.

I fear the city has, over time, traded in its funky appeal for an upscale model that includes a lot of new visitors to the expanded Village core, but leaves up-and-coming and non-traditional working artists out of the equation.

I want to be wrong about this. Some of you will no doubt write in to tell me I am. Thank you! I welcome learning about what I’m overlooking.

All that remains now of the Village’s charming art funk is perhaps the funkiest of them all, the iconic Folk Music Center. God forbid something should come of that place.

Maybe this is just how towns evolve. I don’t know. Nothing stays the same forever, and nobody, not even a preservation-minded city council, can keep things small, quaint and family owned.

And who’s to say cities should prioritize art? After all, commerce makes the world go-‘round. Maybe it’s a liberal utopian fallacy to think otherwise.

And Rhino isn’t going away. Vinyl is huge again, and the store is thriving. They’ll do fine in Montclair.

I welcome change. It’s the only thing we can rely on, honestly. But I do wish the city’s long term vision included carving out space for art and artists alongside the condos and mixed-use dwellings.

There, I just spent nearly a thousand words lamenting about the good ol’ days. That’s enough nostalgia for today. Onward.

1 Comment


    Glad you wrote this, because there is so much more happening in the City in regards to art. The Public Art Committee (appointed by the City Council) has made strides over the past five years to increase opportunities and both permanent and temporary exhibits which allow Claremonters to interact with and be moved by art.
    The city also has had a Master Plan regarding art. It is called Momentum and is available on the city website. Surprised you are not aware of that as a reporter and resident.

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