Dr. Freecloud’s Record Shoppe, A Victim of Fountain Valley Gentrification, Won’t Go Quietly

Although he’s being forced to move his record store, the music isn’t being silenced for Ron Dedmon.
Dr. Freecloud’s Record Shoppe, in Fountain Valley and owned by Dedmon, will have to find new digs following the recently announced rehabilitation of the Fountain Valley Square Shopping Center, which was built in the 1970s.

The renovation has forced several shop owners, who have been under month-to-month leases, to either move or close down for good, says Dedmon, whose shop has been at that location, at 18960 Brookhurst Street, for 13 years. Dedmon says they got the notice to vacate in October.

The plaza owners have given tenants 30-day (or longer) notices to move in preparation for the remodel.
Dedmon said he had originally wanted to re-sign his lease — even agreeing to pay double his current rent — but couldn’t comply with the plaza’s demand that he close up shop during the 11 months of renovation. He says the owners also told him he must pay four months of rent upfront in order to stay.

“That just sounded ridiculous,” Dedmon says. “We just thought they were trying to throw us a high number so we would leave. Technically, we could have come up with the money, but we didn’t think it was fair for us to pay when we couldn’t do business for the 11 months while the center was undergoing its renovations. No right-minded person is going to do that.”

Joshua Binkley, a representative of Sweetzer Building, which owns the plaza, says security deposits can be based on a number of factors, including credit of the tenant and history with payment.

Prior to the notice to vacate, Dedmon says he never had any issues with the owners, who he communicated with solely through emails and phone calls. He says he and the owners had an agreement for lowered rent if Dedmon helped keep the center clean and safe by informing the owners of homeless people who would camp in the center overnight and leave trash.

After eliminating the possibility of staying, Dedmon thought of moving to the center next door, Fountain Valley Plaza, which houses businesses like Prehistoric Pets and is run by the same owners. However, Dedmon says he was told the owners were only allowing three-year leases in that plaza. He says he believes that means that center will be rebranded after Fountain Valley Square Shopping Center’s rehabilitation is complete.
Binkley confirmed tenants have been offered space in the adjacent center and says several existing tenants have taken advantage of the offer.

Dedmon considers the rebranding to be gentrification. In a shopping center once filled with mom-and-pop ramen restaurants, novelty gift shops and Asian markets, corporate stores, like Grocery Outlet, are slated to move in to Fountain Valley Square Shopping Center. One of the restaurants in the complex, the beloved Samurai Burrito, suffered a fire last year and has been closed since March along with a market and ramen restaurant next door to it. The McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. currently in the center will remain there, Binkley says.

Dedmon says he has also heard rumors that his wing of the center would be turned into a medical suite.
“That has be the worst idea,” he says “They’re kind of sucking the soul out of the center. It’s becoming, once again, uninteresting for me to be here, even though I fell in love with this center initially. Almost the whole Asian theme of the center has been chased out one-by-one over the years.”

Binkley says the center must undergo the rehabilitation to address significant repairs and upgrades to site lighting, landscaping, storm drainage and electric.

He added current tenants cannot stay in the center during the renovations because the parking lot and drive areas will also be reconstructed.

“Ownership desires to reinvest in the property so that the shopping center will be an asset to both the community and the patrons who shop there,” he says “Accordingly, ownership has begun the task of a complete and comprehensive remodel of the buildings and site. … In light of the foregoing facts, safety considerations and liability considerations, landlord determined that it would not be prudent to allow tenants to operate during the remodel.”

Binkley anticipated 180 days of construction following receipt of all permits.
Patrons of the center have rallied together, Dedmon says. For example, he says customers started a GoFundMe account for relocation for the long-running Two Brothers Pizza, which was among one of the first tenants asked to leave.

“The owners of Two Brothers are the nicest people,” Dedmon says. “A lot of good customers came in to help them, and I think one person actually inquired about buying the restaurant and bringing in the old owners to help them run it.”

But others haven’t been so lucky. California Shabu Shabu, a 20-year hot pot restaurant in the center, will not relocate. Instead, the owner has says he will now be more present at the restaurant’s Costa Mesa location, owned by Orange County restaurant entrepreneur Leonard Chan.

Dedmon says he is determined to move his shop to another location in Fountain Valley. He says he’s currently negotiating a nearby space that is the same size as his current shop.

“There’s one space we found that we really love, and it’s been a lot of hard work to get it,” he says. “It looks like it’s coming around. We’re crossing our fingers.”

He added he has enjoyed serving customers in Fountain Valley.

“We want to continue to serve our local community,” the Huntington Beach man says. “We get people who ride their bikes here or walk here, so we still want to make sure we’re here for those types of people. That’s the kind of crowd we love and love being open for.”

Since opening in Fountain Valley 13 years ago — having moved from Costa Mesa, where the store first opened in 1994 — the shop has been frequented by audiophiles looking for records in genres like dance, hip-hop and rock. Dedmon has also become known for his DJing as Ron D Core and for his equipment in the shop.
Dr. Freecloud’s has also thrown an annual party every year for its anniversary. The shop celebrated its 23rd birthday Dec. 10 with sets from local and well-known DJs, as well as food from businesses like Naugles and Glee Donuts & Burgers.

Now, in a new location, he’s hoping that reputation will continue and record sales will continue to soar industry-wide. When he first opened the Fountain Valley shop, the record industry was facing turmoil, and he witnessed many of his competitors closing up shop. Now, in the last four years especially, he has seen the vinyl record sales soar industry-wide. Dedmon says his shop has been, for the last decade, nicknamed “the last record store standing” because of its unique support for electronic dance music and its subgenres.

“That has set us apart as an indie store with extras,” he says. “Obviously, now that [the industry] has been coming up for the last three or four years, we’re sort of seeing some of these newer stores popping up and the resurgence of some shops. I think we’ve played a very good role in that. … Moving makes it kind of bittersweet, but the more we tell customers what’s going on, they understand our story. No matter where we go, they’ll follow us. That’s reassuring to know that they’re still going to be very supportive.”

By day, Brittany covers hard-hitting city news in San Diego. By night, she’s prowling the Orange County music scene, and is usually a regular attendee of local ska and punk shows. Reporting and music have always been Brittany’s passions. She wrote for her middle school and high school newspapers and studied journalism at Cal State Long Beach, where she graduated in 2012. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her French Bulldog, watching probably too many Disney movies for someone her age and napping.