FeeLit Records Keeps Vinyl Spinning in San Diego

Photos by Joel Barhamand

Shop owner Mark Hamilton on bringing vinyl to the masses and the city’s music scene.

Twelve years ago, Mark Hamilton took a risk in an uncertain economy to follow his passion for music by saving his favorite San Diego record store. The DJ — known to his disciples as Markalan — wasn’t detoured by the looming shadow of digital technology that seemed to overshadow the popularity of vinyl. He tapped local artists and makers to help fill the retail gaps between record sales, until collecting and spinning was back on the upswing. Today, FeeLit Records is the city’s premier record shop, not only for its vinyl selection, but its community connections. We caught up with the our Lyric at Park 12 music curator to talk about his love of vinyl and the San Diego music scene.

What inspired you to open a record store?
I started working at my first record store in 1999. I told myself I just wanted to be around the music and I wasn’t going to buy anything. It wasn’t long before I was trading my hours for records. I got into spinning records and DJing at house parties, lounges and nightclubs.

I was bartending, DJing five nights and working at Siesta Records one day a week when around December 2007, I learned the owners of the record store were going to be closing it down. Each of them had other businesses that were requiring their attention, and the record store was not a priority. In an attempt to save the shop, I borrowed $1000 from a friend, took $600 from the bar that I was working at, Kava Lounge, knowing I could put it back before the owner returned on Friday. About 45 minutes after I got the call, I signed a three-year lease and quickly realized why they were closing the record store. The technology was available to go digital, and the economy was terrible. The DJs who used to purchase records and play them at parties, nightclubs, and underground events disappeared. Most people weren’t buying physical music, especially vinyl, at the time. Luckily, I was able to survive long enough for the economy to right itself and for people to start collecting again. The majority of my guests are music fans, collectors or buying a gift for the vinyl lover in their life. I've also noticed an increase in sales with DJs getting started on vinyl, and even some who went digital, then chose to return to spinning records.

FeeLit's since become a community hub - was that always a part of the vision? Why is that important for you?
Before social media, the local record store was the source for sharing event flyers, posters, talking about shows, bands, and learning about new music. FeeLit became a hub for the community. Since records weren’t selling initially, I contacted my friends who were already creating art, apparel, accessories, jewelry, and music. These local musicians, artists, and designers helped me stock the store with creative merchandise in order to survive. During the first few years, FeeLit was a place for people to network, collaborate and promote their music, art, apparel and accessories.

How would you describe San Diego’s music scene? 
Diverse, just like the people who live here and those that visit us from around the world. There’s something for everyone. Punk, Funk, Soul, Rock, Jazz, Hip Hop, Reggae, Blues, Metal, Cumbia, Salsa.

Which neighborhoods are the best for live music? What’s your favorite under-the-radar spot? 
The neighborhoods that have a lot of live music venues are Downtown, Little Italy, North Park, and Ocean Beach. One of my favorite venues for an intimate show is The Belly Up in Solana Beach. Music Box, in Little Italy, is a great venue for shows too.

Any local legends we should look out for when visiting?
Bobby Lee at The Comedy Store in La Jolla. 
Steve Caballero at any local skate spot or art show.

What are you listening to right now?
Tank and the Bangas, Khruangbin and Dre Trav

What’s one place you always take friends when they visit?
La Jolla Cove 

Your favorite place to…
Spend a quiet morning: Cowles Mountain
Dig through records: Kobey’s Swap Meet
Get inspired: Torrey Pines Gliderport
Relax and recharge: Windansea Beach

Check it out
FeeLit Records
909 E St, San Diego, CA 92101