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Blast from the past: Record stores, vinyl thriving again

Thanksgiving Sharing Material:

CHARLESTON, W.Va — Once upon a time, music lovers shopped in local stores, where walls were lined with long-playing vinyl discs, wrapped in beautifully crafted cardboard sleeves that, more often than not, were works of art themselves.

Budget Tapes and Records has been a Charleston institution since 1972.
Budget Tapes and Records has been a Charleston institution since 1972.

Placing that vinyl disc on a turntable was a magical experience. As it spun around at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, the needle was dropped carefully onto track one — no skipping songs allowed — and the journey began.

There was cracking and popping, sure. But those were merely beauty marks on a starlet, only adding to the attractiveness of the format.

Those times have been a-changin’ but it’s not merely a blast from the past anymore. It’s still every bit a day in the life for some music aficionados.

Let’s Hang On

Budget Tapes and Records has been a Charleston institution since 1972. Having once spread out with additional stores, co-owners David Pope and Priscilla Pope held on to their original, flagship store in Kanawha City — an iconic landmark where music lovers have purchased vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs along with concert tickets, rock T-shirts, posters and various gift items across five very distinct decades.

Budget Tapes and Records co-owners David Pope and Priscilla Pope held on to their original, flagship store in Kanawha City — an iconic landmark where music lovers have purchased vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs along with concert tickets, rock T-shirts, posters and various gift items across five very distinct decades.
Budget Tapes and Records co-owners David Pope and Priscilla Pope held on to their original, flagship store in Kanawha City — an iconic landmark where music lovers have purchased vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs along with concert tickets, rock T-shirts, posters and various gift items across five very distinct decades.

The store will celebrate its 43rd anniversary in January.

When the original sign on top of the building had to be serviced this year, the city designated it as a historical sign during a zoning review.

“They said that it not only represents our original logo, but it represents an era,” Priscilla Pope recalled. “That was cool. Rock‘n’roll is still going strong.”

Seeing her vinyl section expand once again has brought a smile to her face, Priscilla Pope admits.

“We’ve always carried vinyl,” she said. “We never stopped. But I’m happy to see it back (in popularity). It’s been refreshing. Vinyl, for a lot of people, sounds better. It’s good to be able to give them something they want.

“It’s hip and cool for a lot of kids now. It’s a new market.”

A visit to Budget Tapes and Records offers a nostalgic trip back to the ’70s. But it’s a place that still gives off a modern, hip vibe as well.

“There aren’t many record stores left in America, and we feel fortunate to have one,” said Priscilla Pope. “A combination of several things have helped us survive — especially, our customer service. We like our customers and truly enjoy waiting on them. Our personnel are kind to people and are helpful and knowledgeable. They’re laid back. Budget is a cool place that people love to come to and enjoy.”

You can hear brand new music in the store, coming from its original stereo system.

“We still have in-store play,” Priscilla Pope said. “People still come in to hear the new releases, because you can’t hear it on the radio anymore.

“It’s a fun place to come. We call ourselves ‘West Virginia’s hippest record store and lifestyle emporium.’”

Two other Mountain State record store brands are closing in on 20 years in the business.

Southern West Virginia has two Cheap Thrills Records locations — one in Beckley and one in Princeton. Cheap Thrills opened in 1995.

“We always try to keep our customers happy, giving them a good product at a good price,” said Wyatt Lilly, owner of Cheap Thrills. “We want it to be a place that people want to come.”

In Huntington, Vince Hebert opened up his Now Hear This record store on 4th Avenue 19 years ago.

“We’ve been in the same location for 19 years and given great customer service,” said Herbert. “If I don’t have something a customer is looking for, I can order it and have it in stock within two or three days. Big box stores wouldn’t do that for you.

“I see familiar faces and know a lot of my customer’s names. I let them know what we have new this week, let them know what not to miss.

“That’s a good relationship,” Herbert added. “You want to spend your money at a place like that, where they know you and can make recommendations for you.”

Dream On

Vinyl lovers in the Eastern Panhandle have been flocking to Admiral Analog’s Audio Assortment and Oddities in Shepherdstown lately. Andrew Barton, 35, had dreamed of opening his own record store since he was 14 years old. On May 3, he “took the plunge,” he said.

He’s the new kid on the block.

“Business has been very good; people have been very supportive,” said Burton. “We’ve been spreading the word, so we have seen a lot of traffic.”

As far as vinyl goes, don’t call it a comeback, Burton warned.

“It’s already here, it’s back,” he said, emphatically. “Some of it is due to a reaction against what I call ‘invisible music’ — downloads.

“Music is art, and people want to hold it and collect it. With streaming (music), that all got lost. Now, people are re-discovering music. That’s very important.”

There’s also a nostalgia factor, Burton acknowledged.

“Vinyl is a very physical format,” he said. “There’s something about listening to music on a stereo, instead of your phone.”

Shoppers range from younger kids purchasing new releases on vinyl to the older crowd, people who remember vinyl from their younger days, looking for artists from the ’60s and ’70s.

“The classic stuff like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles … that always sells, to all generations,” Burton added.

Most of the floor space at Admiral Analog’s is dedicated to vinyl discs, which Burton estimates at about 5,000. But customers also can find a small amount of inventory of cassettes and CDs, as well as t-shirts, buttons, patches and DVDs.

“I’m doing something I love,” Burton said. “It’s new and exciting. Every day, I wake up looking forward to coming to work.”

(You Better) Shop Around

Several record stores in the Mountain State participate in “Record Store Day,” a national event that occurs in April each year. But the movement has also added a Black Friday element, when record stores receive exclusive, limited edition vinyl releases on the traditional day that kicks off Christmas shopping season — the day following Thanksgiving.

It has been a popular event since Record Store Day began in 2007. A list of this year’s Black Friday releases and participating stores can be found online at recordstoreday.com.

“There are a lot of really interesting releases coming out (Nov. 28),” said Burton. “There’s a Miles Davis boxed set, a Beatles EP and a Metallica disc.

“I’ll be stocking some of the special releases and also putting some of our other inventory on sale. It should be a big day.”

Hebert, of Now Hear This, said the Record Store Day movement has been incredible.

“Back in April, it was insanity,” he said. “There are exclusives, limited edition stuff — very collectable. For the Black Friday Record Store Day coming up, I’ve had people wanting to preorder certain discs.

“It’s great when you see people lining up outside your door as you open up.”

To get an idea of the hysteria surrounding Record Store Day, think Beatlemania — on a smaller scale, of course, but with some music fans just as passionate.

“On Record Store Day, we had a line of over 50 people waiting outside of our doors,” said Sam Lowe, of Sullivan’s Records on the East End of Charleston. He quickly acknowledged it is the biggest day of the year for his nearly 2-year-old store. His second biggest day: Record Store Day, the Black Friday edition.

“It’s a crazy day,” Lowe said. “It’s first-come, first served. You can’t hold orders for people. It was pandemonium. We weren’t ready for that level of response.

“There aren’t as many exclusive releases on Black Friday, but it is a big day.”

Sullivan said nearly all of his customers who visit throughout the year come in on Record Store Day.

“People get worked up, because if you want a certain release, this is the only moment you can get it,” he said. “We will sell items that day for $20 or $25 that you can see on eBay that afternoon for a couple of hundred bucks.”

Planning ahead is recommended. Getting your spot on the sidewalk in front of the store is a must.“We don’t sell (the rare releases) online,” Lowe warned. “We sell to people in my store. It’s because it’s not just about the money for us. It’s about people excited about the experience of going to a record store.”

Good Times, Bad Times

Now Hear This has weathered the storms of change in formats and genres of music.

“It wasn’t easy, let me tell you,” said Hebert, its owner, a South Florida native. “Back when the Napster thing hit, and people found out that there was music on the Internet to be had, it affected the rock’n’roll part of my business, especially CD sales.”

Herbert began to look elsewhere to generate revenue, with a vinyl section, and an “urban” section.

“I just had to adjust my way of thinking,” he said. “There were some rough years, for sure.

“It affected everyone. I’m sure that’s why there aren’t many record stores anymore, especially mom and pops. A lot of customers tell me that they shop here because their money stays local.”

Hebert is pleased to see the vinyl revival.

“Vinyl LPs have rejuvenated the record industry and saved mom and pops,” he said. “There’s a market for them again. It’s turned itself around. Now I’m the last dinosaur around that sells vinyl.

“There’s a quality sound to that music. When you do put that needle down on the vinyl, you recognize the difference from the music on an iPad. The sound is amazingly, incredibly different. We have people that go into our vinyl room and spend hours going through the albums.”

And it’s not just the older, nostalgic generation.

“I’ve had parents drop their 13- and 14-year old kids off in the vinyl room and come back in a couple of hours,” Herbert said. “The kids will come out with a stack of vinyl.

“One mom told me that her son discovered classic rock on one of his video games. His mom then showed him her albums. He was introduced to a whole new genre and format of music.”

You Don’t Have to Be a Star, Baby

You never know who may wander in to a record store.

“Rob Zombie came in a few months ago when he played a concert in Huntington,” Herbert recalled. “He went back into the vinyl room and was looking for some Motley Crue albums that he had loaned out over the course of his life and never got back from his friends. We get some artists that come in when they’re in town.”

Lowe recalled members of Old Crow Medicine Show and other popular artists dropping by his establishment to peruse the vinyl collection, and taking a few discs with them while their tours passed through Charleston.

Other artists walking through the door at Sullivan’s have included Greg Martin from the Kentucky Headhunters, members of Drive-By Truckers, and Wesley Stace, who has also gone by the stage name of John Wesley Harding.

“Stace’s visit was particularly cool,” Lowe said. “He arrived in town on a Saturday evening to play a Mountain Stage (National Public Radio show) on Sunday.  As soon as his escort from Mountain Stage picked him up at the airport, he had him bring him to the store since we’re closed on Sunday and he wouldn’t have another opportunity to come by.”

Then, there’s the time that Bob Dylan popped in at Budget Tapes and Records’ former location in downtown Charleston.

“We had a downtown location at the time, in the Daniel Boone Hotel, where (Bob Dylan) was staying,” explained Priscilla Pope of Budget. “He came in as a customer, shopping for records.”

West Virginia’s own Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. has done a few in-store CD signings at Budget Tapes and Records since his win on America’s Got Talent.

Takin’ Care of Business

Lowe has been in the record business for about seven years, having worked at Now Hear This before going on his own and opening Sullivan’s Records, named after his dog.

“A lot of people say, ‘I can’t believe that they’re making vinyl again,’ but the truth is, they never stopped,” said Lowe. “It practically stopped and it was as good as dead for a while, but there are plenty of people that never stopped collecting vinyl.”

Lowe said that some friends gave him a concerned look when he shared his idea of opening a record store in the 21 century.

“I am aware of the risk,” Lowe said. “I learned everything about the business from Vince, so I didn’t want to compete head-to-head with him. He taught me everything I know.”

Lowe said he came to Charleston, thinking it was a big enough market that he could make it work.

“To some degree, it’s a niche market,” he said. “But it’s also much broader than people realize. It’s gone far past the fad point. What drives me is getting people to discover (vinyl).

“When I opened this place, I was really out on a limb. But I love the East End (of Charleston). The East End Main Street Project also supports local businesses, and the area seems to really support artsy things. The area embraces community.”

With a Little Help From My Friends

Meeting up with friends, or making new ones, at the record store is becoming a phenomenon again.

“It’s very much like in the past — you go to a record store and you make friends,” Lowe shared. “Bands have started here. Right after I opened a couple met here, and now they’re engaged to be married.

“Coming here, it’s not just about shopping,” he added. “People that never got turned on to music like this, they’re really missing it. It’s a lifestyle experience. You meet people that are passionate about the same things. We’re all friends.”

Lowe said Sullivan’s is looking to expand its live, “in-store performances” after hours. The store just hosted its second live event, a standing room only party.

And the store often buys entire vinyl collections.

“We certainly will,” Lowe said. “Some people are incredulous that we would pay money for something that has been in their closet for many years.

“But we have people come in (looking to sell their vinyl) every day. I’ll look at anything.”

Cutline for photos:

No. 1 – Budget Popes photo
Budget Tapes and Records has been a Charleston institution since 1972. Having once spread out with additional stores, co-owners David Pope and Priscilla Pope held on to their original, flagship store in Kanawha City — an iconic landmark where music lovers have purchased vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes and CDs along with concert tickets, rock T-shirts, posters and various gift items across five very distinct decades.  State Journal photo by Jim Workman.
No. 2 – Vinyl photo
Visitors to Budget Tapes and Records in Charleston are treated to a walk down memory lane as the store serves as tribute to the age of album covers and vinyl records.  State Journal photo by Jim Workman.

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