The Signal Tribune newspaper

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It’s a sign

Recent winner of community-icon award plans soft launch of V.I.P. Create Space, revival of World Famous VIP Records store.

Pictured above is a rendering of the V.I.P. Create Space, which will soft launch this month.

Courtesy VIP Records

Pictured above is a rendering of the V.I.P. Create Space, which will soft launch this month.

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A young man– a recent high school graduate– walked into the World Famous VIP Records store on Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach earlier this week.

It was his first time in the store, and his parents were with him. As they walked through VIP Records, fascinated by its history, owner Kelvin Anderson talked with them and discovered that the recent graduate was not just a lover of music and its history, he was also planning to pursue his own career in the industry.

Assuming the young man would be attending school at a music institute in Los Angeles, Anderson said he was pleasantly surprised to learn that the man planned to return home with his parents after this trip to attend a music school near his home in Mississippi– not too far from Anderson’s hometown.

Anderson said the young man and his parents had journeyed to Long Beach for one reason– to visit World Famous VIP Records before school started and take a photo with the historic World Famous VIP Records sign that had marked the store’s location for nearly 40 years.
“They had no idea the sign was gone,” Anderson said. The World Famous VIP Records sign came down from atop of the store’s building in January.

Instead of a photograph of himself with the historic sign, the young man posed for a photograph of himself standing next to a pop-up image of the sign. The photo of the young man, fresh out of school and at the start of his career, is reminiscent of Anderson’s beginnings.

“Two days after graduating high school, I migrated [from a small town just south of Jackson] to California,” Anderson said. “And I went to work the same morning [working for my brother] in the record store. And it really hasn’t stopped. I’ve been part of the record industry for 47 years now.”

Anderson’s brother, Cletus, opened VIP Records in 1967 in South Central LA and brought the store to Long Beach in 1978. Anderson worked for his brother for seven years before becoming the owner himself, as the store was settling into the Long Beach community in January 1979.
In the years that followed, Anderson worked to ensure that his store was a safe space for kids and that it was a place for building community. A series of gang-related casualties in the early ‘90s inspired him to create a studio space in the back of the store.

“For six weeks straight, I would come to work on a Monday morning and there would be someone dead in the mortuary between 12 and 24 that I knew,” Anderson said. “And it was revenge killing from the 20s and the Insane, which were, at that time, the two dominant black gangs, who grew up together, went to school, who some were distantly related to each other. So, when I opened the studio in the back of the store, it was just a no-fly zone. I mean [we had] two gangs, rapping together […] and there was never a fight at VIP.”

Artists, including Snoop Dogg, Ricky Harris, Sir Jinks, DJ Slice and many others, spent time in the studio space and took pictures with the historic sign. The sign came down in January after more than two years of conversations with the City of Long Beach about making it an official landmark and opening a museum to preserve the music history that was born out of VIP Records. In recognition of his contributions to the community and honoring the recent designation of the sign as an official city landmark, Anderson earned a community-icon award from Senator Ricardo Lara last month.

Anderson and business partner Shirin Senegal, also the president of VIP Records, said they have gone through countless meetings, conference calls and email conversations with the City over the course of the process of making it an official landmark and securing land for the museum. Anderson said taking the sign down was a difficult day because he had been looking up to that sign for nearly 40 years.

“It was tough because 40 years, average six days a week, average 12 hours a day almost,” Anderson said. “It’s just been all my life really.”

Senegal said when she partnered with Anderson, he remained the boss, but she officially became “in charge of the bullshit.” She said that on top of the many conversations and meeting with the City, she has also been fighting to preserve the brand and the integrity of the historic sign since it came down earlier this year.

“As the landmark sits in storage, our brand has suffered greatly,” Senegal said. “And so has the community, from losing what to many is a sense of pride and home, and, well, amazing history.”

Senegal said the brand has been ripped off on many occasions, including a shirt by artist Vince Staples and a parody of the classic Monopoly board game called Long Beach-opoly by Late for the Sky Productions.

“Vince Staples […] cuts a deal with a company owned by Turner Broadcasting, and he does a Long Beach shirt, and he has a thing up here that says ‘World Famous’ on it on a vinyl,” Senegal said. “We don’t own the words “World Famous,” but that “World Famous” represents VIP. And it’s really unfortunate, because, ‘You know what, Vince, you’re from Long Beach […] you should’ve contacted VIP Records, and you should’ve cut a deal with VIP Records.’”

Senegal said she has been trying to understand their full legal rights over the last several months as these incidents have unfolded. In the case of the board game, Senegal and Anderson said they were in conversations with the creators of the game to try to convince them to pay for the rights to the brand.

“They could’ve negotiated with us and had the actual logo in the game,” Anderson said.

When the game first launched and went on sale at local Walmart stores, it included the name VIP Records Store on a property tile, according to a report and photo by the Long Beach Post in August. The Late for the Sky website now includes images of the game without the words “VIP Records Store.” The property space now includes only the street names “PCH & MLK” with an image of a vinyl record, which Anderson and Senegal said they feel is still grabbing at their brand.

“It’s a brand, and it’s a historic landmark, and [Anderson] didn’t work all those years just for people to grab at the brand,” Senegal said.

In spite of the lengthy process they have undergone to secure land near the original space for the museum and preserve historic integrity of the sign, Anderson and Senegal plan to return the sign to a location as close to the original store space as possible in the future.
In the meantime, a commemorative new sign will be placed atop a new project of theirs– V.I.P. Create Space.

The new project, on Long Beach Boulevard, will include a retail store, a radio program and a multimedia creative space for entrepreneurs, organizations and local kids to work in and create together. Anderson and Senegal also plan to kick off hip-hop tours early next year, wherein they will guide 16-passenger buses all around the city, stopping at places that tell the music story of Long Beach, like Ramona Park and Poly High School, while playing a video of the history of VIP Records and ending at V.I.P. Create Space.

“V.I.P. Create Space will operate as the new home of VIP Records to help raise the money to secure and build a home for the historic landmark while ensuring we keep the history alive while the sign is down for the next couple of years,” Senegal said. “We want to build on MLK and Pacific Coast Highway on land owned by the City, but, unfortunately, the City of Long Beach is making that part a fight. We have made a decision that we will fight for that land no matter what it takes, because we have an obligation to preserve the history. We lost out on the original home, and [the land we are pursuing now] is the closest to [VIP’s] history.”

Anderson said he has continued to push forward with his store because of his love for the industry and his passion for the community. He said even if they have to fight for the rights to their brand, let go of the original location and build something new, he plans to continue and keep VIP Records alive and work toward creating his museum.

“I see the effect that music has on some people,” Anderson said. “It’s seeing something that really makes people happy and changes lives.”

The wall of the conference room in what will soft launch as a business incubator in V.I.P. Create Space later this month is covered in photographs of members of the Long Beach community who came out to take one last picture with the sign on the day it came down.

“People are still upset and stuff, you know,” Anderson said, reflecting on the young man who traveled with his parents from Mississippi to see the sign. “When they come to the store that I’m at now […] it is like that is the first thing they ask, ‘Where is the sign?’”

Editor’s note: The above story features information obtained from a recent interview with VIP Records. Efforts to contact the City and other parties mentioned in this article have not yet been made.

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It’s a sign