Twenty years ago when this city boy beat a retreat from the concrete jungle and moved off the coast to within a twenty minute ferry ride of Nanaimo, BC I knew that feeding my addiction was going to be a serious concern.
I was trading a lot of access in exchange for a big dose of nature. Gone would be all the live music clubs, concerts, urban festivals, and most concerning of all, I didn’t know how I was going to fill my desired, and required, dose of new music.
I’d been spoiled with all the wonderful independent record stores in Toronto and Vancouver, and if I had to sacrifice live music for the most part, then the idea of losing my supply line to fresh product might be too hard to bear.
Sure, back then downtown Nanaimo had A&B Sound, it’s one big chain store, but chain stores had limitations. Especially in smaller markets like the Harbour City, where the population grew up with only a couple of top forty radio stations that would shuffle the typical two hundred pop classics perpetually. But music freaks like me need to mix with other addicts.
Nanaimo is considered a mall town and I knew that mall chain music stores were the bottom of the barrel for connoisseurs such as I. So you can imagine how it blew my mind when I encountered one of the best independent record stores ever in a sleepy little mall in the suburbs of this sleepy Vancouver Island mill town.
Fascinating Rhythm is a music lover’s dream store. Founded by Steve Lebitschnig, a friendly and super laid back guy who lights up when you ask him about his wildly eccentric music store. “I started the store in 1988, just a young fellow with a dream to have my own record store, and the mall seemed like a good fit at the time. They offered me a good deal on the lease and what did I know, right?”
After twelve years operating out of the mall location an opportunity opened up allowing Lebitschnig to move the business right downtown. Even though the store was doing alright in the mall the move turned out to be a smart one. “Once I had moved downtown immediately I started kicking myself. I thought why didn’t I do this a long time ago, because it just felt like a better fit.”
In 2000 Lebitschnig moved Fascinating Rhythm into the heart of downtown Nanaimo. Ten years ago he moved again, this time across the way, where you’ll find it today, still going strong at 51 Commercial Street. “And that’s not something I ever want to do again,” Lebitschnig confesses. “Since the last time I moved the store — which was a long time ago now — and it’s a bigger location — we’ve done our best to fill it right full. So I really hope that time never comes.”
Fascinating Rhythm keeps on top of the new releases in many genres but the big attraction is the fact the majority of store’s huge stock is second hand. Every inch of the sizable location is packed to the rafters with CDs, vinyl records, DVDs, cassettes and even 8 tracks. There’s no such thing as empty space at Fascinating Rhythm and in the spaces that won’t accommodate music Lebitschnig has filled them with guitars, vintage record cases and an abundance of vintage radios and collectables.
Full time staff members Dave Morrison and Neil Parsons are barely visible baracaded in behind the checkout counter between two listening stations and piles of boxes waiting to be sorted. Lebitschnig, unfazed, is in his domain, and he lights up when he reaches through the clutter to show me one of his collectables, a tube of hair gel promoting singer Robert Gordon’s classic Rock Billy Boogie album from 1979.
“People bring in their things and every day we get more stuff, so getting stock in isn’t a problem,” says Lebitschnig. “Fortunately, we are able to sell enough to keep going and a big reason for that is the current resurgence in vinyl.”
The former location of A&B Sound stands boarded up just a block away as evidence of how music downloading and streaming has killed the business for the big chain stores. Meanwhile, Fascinating Rhythm is alive and well, benefitting from a renewed interest in a format thought long extinct. “A lot of young people are excited to buy records, and every few days a young person comes in who has bought a record player and now they are starting a collection.”
I personally think DJ culture is what has kept up the interest in vinyl, and this is evident with the reintroduction of Pioneer’s iconic 1200 turntable and the appearance on the market of high tech USB patchable turntables that allow you not only enjoy vinyl, but to rip your favourite records to your computer.
Listed as one of CBC radio host Stuart McLean’s (The Vinyl Café) favourite record stores, Fascinating Rhythm is a music addict’s wet dream, and it’s obvious that owner Lebitschnig approaches his business first and foremost from a music lover’s point of view. “I’ve always wanted to be proud of the store I have. Of course I have to make enough of a return to make a living. But I have always wanted a store that I would be really happy to go and shop at myself. To have as good a selection as possible, for reasonable prices, and I think I’ve succeeded.”
With Fascinating Rhythm Lebitschnig has proven that over the passage of time a passion for the product can supersede the bottom line and survive the unexpected market fluctuations that end up taking out the big competitors.
“I’m happy when I’m selling good music that people are going to enjoy listening to, plain and simple,” says Lebitschnig. And that seems to be the winning formula in these times of massive change.
Come on down to Fascinating Rhythm on April 16 to celebrate Record Store Day with a free live performance by Victoria’s infamous garage punks The Mants. If you’re a music junkie like me, Steve and his crew will keep you supplied.