Nov 192008
Authors: Kelli Pryor

Walking into The Finest record store, a retro vibe lingers in the air. It could be the racks and racks of vinyl, newly released and old classics alike or the music paraphernalia tucked into every nook and cranny. But one thing is certain: The Finest exemplifies an old-school record store.

“People will come in and say that their parents used to shop here,” said Jim Risser, owner of The Finest and self-described “Led Zeppelin freak.”

The original Finest store was started in Greeley in 1972 and the Fort Collins store was started two years later in 1974. Risser has been working at The Finest since 1981, when he was 19 years old and working as sales associate for the Greeley store. Now, 27 years later, he owns the joint.

“I’ve been at [The Finest] almost 28 years, but I still love it,” Risser said. “I got to make a career out of my hobby.”

Recently, Risser’s hobby has been affected by the failing economy, he said. A few months ago, the Fort Collins Finest moved from the space on Shields and Elizabeth that they had been leasing since 1989 to a smaller space in the same shopping complex.

“Our lease was up last August and we couldn’t afford to renew it,” Risser said. “Sales have fallen off.”

Instead of shutting down for good, Risser decided to get a one year lease on the new space and see how business goes.

“Renewal [of the lease] will depend on business,” he said. “Our business [the music industry] is tough enough and the economy is not helping.”

Risser said that music has always been a discretionary purchase, something that rises and falls with the times.

“That hurts us,” he said, “It is well known that big boxes like Best Buy and iTunes affect us smaller music stores.”

“Our battle is that music is now not so much to be on its own as it is a file transfer,” he said.

For this reason, Risser added a few amenities to his store that have brought it more into the 21st century. He purchased a Media Port machine, which stores a very large amount of songs so they can be downloaded onto CDs. Now, customers to The Finest can download essentially any CD they would like or they can make a mixed CD of any songs, using this technology.

“It allows us to instantly serve our customers and gives us the largest amount of music of anywhere in town,” Risser said.

Risser wanted to make sure people knew about their music selection.

“Anyone who is looking for something, we have a great selection on digital and vinyl,” he said. “We want to get you the music you want.”

Mary Harrison, a resident of Estes Park shopping in Fort Collins for the day, came to The Finest hoping to find some obscure records.

“I’m trying to rebuild a collection of hard-to-find records,” she said. “It’s harder and harder and harder to find record stores.”

For The Finest’s manager Mark Cheatham, he always knew he wanted to work in a record store.

“When I was five years old, the Beatles came to America and I wanted to be a rock star or work in a music store,” Cheatham said.

But he said the economy and the music industry itself has fallen off track.

“The music industry has gotten bland and manufactured,” he said. “Record labels and artists don’t seem very forward thinking.”

Even so, Cheatham remains hopeful for the recovery of the industry he loves.

“I think there are bands that will come and change the music industry and get people buying again.”

Staff writer Kelli Pryor can be reached at

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