By Eleni Austin

Apparently, in this most horrible, terrible year, the Grinch is actively stealing Christmas. In this case, the Grinch in question is the {HEAVILY REDACTED} Mall in Palm Desert, who refuse to come to terms with the Record Alley, forcing the store to close after nearly 43 years in business.

For Palm Springs native Jim Stephens, music became an obsession during his teen years. After high school, he spent a few years working assorted construction jobs until he earned enough to make his dreams come true. In 1978, at age 24, he opened The Record Alley in Palm Springs.

Located waaayyyyy down on North Palm Canyon, next to KDES Radio, it was a narrow little store, a little wider than an alley, hence the name. Jim’s competition in those days included Tape & Record Rendezvous downtown and Showbiz Tapes & Records in the Palm Springs Mall. Further east there was Record Oasis in Cathedral City and the Record Shop in the Indio Fashion Mall.


Despite being on the less populated side of town, The Record Alley built its reputation on stocking a huge variety of music. True music aficionados made the trek from Palm Desert, La Quinta, Indio and beyond to find the latest Punk, Funk, Jazz, Country and Rock. 12” dance singles were as plentiful as Oi imports in those days. Jim also hired employees that were as passionate and knowledgeable about music as he was. In the earliest days that included Dave Field, Jack Epsteen, Mike Keane and the late great Phil Liebert. The Record Alley quickly smoked the local competition.

In 1985, when the Wherehouse corporation invaded the desert, opening locations in downtown Palm Springs and Palm Desert, Jim thought their slashed prices meant the end of his independent store. But rather than close, he feinted and regrouped, relocating to a recently vacated location in Palm Desert’s Town Center Mall.

For the last 35 years, The Record Alley has not only persevered, it has thrived in that same location, now known as the {HEAVILY REDACTED} Mall. Somehow, Jim and his wife Shelly have run a successful business, managing to outlast chains like Wherehouse, Sam Goody, Music+, Blockbuster Music and Musicland, that opened (and closed) stores in the desert.

Even when records were considered a dead format, The Record Alley kept “record” in the name and vinyl in the store. He also kept a wide selection of genres on hand, offering a lot of used music, along with band t-shirts and Rock & Roll paraphernalia. Most importantly, Jim always employed a knowledgeable staff, which in recent years included Dale Myers, Lauren Ivy Holm, Cory Heskett, Matt Olson and Me.

This is the end of an era. I don’t say that lightly, because this is also very personal for me. I discovered Record Alley, well, more accurately, my mother, Irene, discovered The Record Alley, when she was working for the Urban League in Palm Springs in 1980. Even though we lived in the La Quinta cove and the Record Shop in Indio was closer, I made weekly pilgrimages to Record Alley, the only place I could find music by Elvis Costello, Romeo Void, X, the Jam, and some Tito Puente for my mom.

I started a career in music retail at the Record Shop while I was a 15 year-old high school student (coincidently in 1978). I spent 19 years working at the Palm Springs Wherehouse, as well as a few years running the music departments at Borders Books & Music as well as Barnes & Noble. Luckily, happily, finally, Jim and Shelly hired me to work at The Record Alley, and I have to say it was the best working experience of my life. As I said to them recently, I know a lot of words, (maybe too many words), but I will never be able to completely express what working at Record Alley for eight years meant to me.

Despite the fact that The Record Alley has not only outlasted all other music retailers, but outlasted nearly all the businesses in the mall (save Hot Dog On A Stick, and who amongst us can resist a hot dog, on a stick, no less!) They will be gone by January 2021. In this pandemic year when every small business is struggling, this landlord is playing hardball. So, the desert’s only real Record store is forced to close…

In Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” Sal, the owner of the Pizzeria has this great quote toward the end of the film about how proud he is that it’s his pizza that has fed and nourished all the people in the neighborhood. For 43 years The Record Alley has provided that same service: it musically nourished this community. Don’t just take my word for it.

Zach Huskey: “I was a teenager and a young musician in the early to mid ‘80s, looking for new ear candy. The Record Alley was the only game in town back then. First, I was fortunate enough to meet Phil Liebert, who worked there. He was a freak for music, and loved to talk all things music. Phil and the Record Alley introduced me to so many great bands, like almost every Garage band from the mid ‘60s, plus what Kraut Rock is, and all those artists. Obscure Blues, Proto-Metal, Free Jazz and so much more. I can’t emphasize how much all that music shaped me as a musician and as a fan. Later, it was Eleni that continued what Phil started. Jim always hired people with great knowledge and passion for music. He was also cool enough to carry our Dali’s Llamas albums, as well as so recordings of other Desert bands. From ’82-’86 and beyond, we were lucky that the only game in town was a great one.”

Herb Lineau: “1979-1980, I spent any $$ I had at the Record Alley in PS. That’s when I was transitioning from Cheap Trick to Punk. They were the only place in the desert to get real Punk records, which were a rarity to begin with, since there weren’t that many Punk releases at that point. They also had Punk pins. I got Iggy Pop! I remember the small Import section in the back where I got Dead Kennedys’ FF4RV (only an import at the time), Siouxsie & The Banshees, Mittageisen “Love In A Void” ’45, Also ROTVR V1, The Decline, Black Flag “Jealous Again,” just to name a few. Those records really changed my life. Thanks for your service Record Alley.”

Lawrence Lalli: “I have fond memories of taking the bus from Palm Desert to Palm Springs to shop at The Record Alley. Highlights include in-depth talks with Phil about all sorts of obscure musical topics. The end of an era!”

Andrew Gillespie: “PS Record Alley. I bought the Adolescents record when it came out. If you moved the record back and forth and side-to-side the letters would jump around.”

Mario Lalli: “So many memories of discovering music at both locations. The Record Alley was our connection to experimenting with Punk Rock, New Wave, Import releases on vinyl and cassette. They also offered a great selection of fanzines; Flipside and Maximum Rock n’ Roll. I remember getting really influential records there. “Cracks In The Sidewalk,” an SST compilation that featured Black Flag, Saccharine Trust, Minutemen, Artless Entanglements, that one blew my head wide open. “Flex Your Head” from Dischord Records, “Not So Quiet On The Eastern Front” featured 30+ bands. Imports I scored were Peter And The Test Tube Babies, Throbbing Gristle, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Bauhaus. The days of pre-internet exploring the vinyl bins…. buying stuff because the cover looked intriguing or an article in a fanzine…so grateful to Record Alley, much love.”

Mark Anderson: “We’d stay out on our skateboards all day- and at some point, always escape the heat and stop at the Record Alley to play Asteroids or Missile Command. We were usually high AF. There, we’d buy vinyl of the bands we knew like The Germs and The Clash, and take a chance on Punk bands we never heard of, purely based on the band’s name & album cover artwork. Jim and Phil always treated us well-not like the smack-talking kids we were. Record Alley forever shaped & influenced my life and the music I listened to-even today, 40 years later.”

Craig Swedin: “I remember walking into the PS store and Jim was watching a pay-per-view Rolling Stones concert as I was shopping. I also bought my first 5 CDs from them. I was turned on to so many artists and groups shopping there.”

Bryan Peterson: “Would there have even been an ‘80s Desert Music Scene without The Record Alley? The PS location was literally the only place in the desert we could get our hands on most of the music that inspired us all. I worked there briefly during the mall years and Jim was the best. His Christmas parties are legendary. Thank you, Jim Stephens, and enjoy your retirement!”

Mark Landau: “Countless days and weekends spent playing video games, listening to music, bugging Jim and Dave, going to get potato salad at Jurgensens’ market across the street for sustenance. Pretty sure I was one of the first customers, as I lived in the neighborhood. Found it one day when it really hadn’t been found out yet.”

James Opie Boran: “What The Fuck!!! Jim was the coolest! I got all the Punk Rock records I could get there ALL THE TIME! That store, along with WILLFULL FAILURE, DEAD ISSUE and ZEEZO shaped my love for music!! Truly gonna miss going in daily to finger all the coolest LPs no one wanted to carry except Jim!! Thanx ‘Bro, so much love…OPIE.”

Sophia Possidon: “So, I remember taking a bag of 3,000 pennies to buy a Simpletones 7” single called “I Like Drugs.” I would walk down to The Record Alley on Palm Canyon Drive and I would buy my Punk records, X “Los Angeles,” Black Flag, DOA, Bad Religion, Adolescents, Agent Orange, Social Distortion and more. One day I walk in and buy Iron Maiden and Jim says “Hey, wait a minute, you’re not into Metal.” I laughed and said “I am now!” What was great is that Jim knew us so well and knew what music we were into. He stocked what we wanted.”

Zachary Abelardo: “Spent many paychecks at Record Alley. Jim and Phil always made spot on music recommendations for me. Enjoy your retirement, Jim!”

Gary Burns: “Spent way too much money in the original location from the late ‘70s and continued that habit into the mall location. Anytime I came back to the desert I tried to pop in. Sad to see it go. End of another era.”

Jerrod Elliott: “A couple of my best buds and I would ride the bus from PD to PS Saturdays to spend whatever money we had on records. We were 12 and 13 years old at the time. Punk Rock was certainly one of our main targets, as we had just started to discover Black Flag, Agent Orange, Bad Religion, Circle Jerks, etc. I remember buying a Damned record and Phil so enthusiastically telling me about Naz Nomad and the Nightmares. His passion for music embodied his whole body and spirit. On to PD and the mall-Tony Tornay reminded me of the catalogue we would make special orders from. I had forgotten that. The staff through the years had many passionate music lovers. Carrie Caldwell, Nicole Huntly, Dale and of course, you, Eleni. I think probably close to half of my music collection came from Record Alley.”

Jack Epsteen: “Yep, very sad. An important part of all our formative years!”

Dave Field: “Sad news. I was the very first employee, waaayyy back when it was in PS, next to KDES, and the only place in town to get vinyl. Hell of a run for an independent music store. Thinking of Phil and all the crazy music loving characters who were regulars over the years.”

Lauren Ivy Holm: “Jim, I just want to let you know that you, Shelly and The Record Alley left a lasting imprint on my heart. Your store was a saving grace for me as a kid that had just moved to the desert. Know that your store impacted SOOOO many people in the Coachella Valley. You really gave us all a glimpse outside the desert landscape. So, thank you for that.”

Bruce Fessier: “I was 25 when I first wandered into the Record Alley on North Palm Canyon Dr. in the spring of 1979 it was an oasis of youth culture amid the white-shoed customers and Hawaiian shirt stores of Morrie Guyer and Waltah Clarke. All the best to Jim Stephens who made an enormous contribution to the Coachella Valley Music Scene.”

Jim & Shelly Stephens: “We made our final decision last week. I wrote it on Facebook and Shelly hit “post.” Very emotional, but the outpouring of love from our customers and the community made us feel great. We knew we would be missed, but we were amazed at all of the memories that people shared on Facebook and how the media got involved too. We’ll continue to sell stuff on We’ll see how that works without a storefront.”