A closer look at… Vintage Vinyl

Jeremy Gordon and Jeremy Gordon

Vintage Vinyl owner Steve Kay looks like a record collector. He wears average glasses (no square frames a la alt-bro music store clerks), wears his hair long like a character in Dazed and Confused but with a lot more gray, and looks serious enough to be in record collecting for the long haul. You know the type – crate after crate of LPs in the living room, a partially scratched off list of sought-after treasures stashed away somewhere and more obscure knowledge than a thousand Internet fan pages. Or maybe you don’t know the type. Only recently has vinyl has re-emerged as a popular medium, meaning you may not know any record collectors at all. In 2008, vinyl sales doubled from the previous year as 1.9 million wax records got pushed in music shops around the country, according to Nielsen Soundscan. If you’re interested in why anyone cares about a once-dead and cumbersome format, there are few better places to dive into the vinyl arena than Vintage Vinyl, which is located close to campus on 925 Davis St.

Kay’s made a living out of his record collecting for a long time; the store’s been open for 29 years, and with its massive inventory doesn’t even include any of Kay’s personal records for sale. “None of them were from my collection,” he says. “They were all things I bought with the idea of opening a shop.”

He’s bought a lot, on buying trips to Europe and being contacted by other dealers looking to sell. Vintage Vinyl stands out from a lot of record stores, and this is no descriptive hyperbole: The store traffics in more rarities than a typical record shop, a one-stop for Holy Grail finds and out-of-print relics from a long-gone era. There’s a $200 promo copy of a reissued David Bowie record, a limited-edition recording of a Joy Division concert, bootleg CDs of never-published Neil Young concerts, walls lined with antique posters and, of course, a lot more. Vintage Vinyl is a treasure trove of cool things – it’s easy to flip through a random box and marvel at the selection.

When asked how often he sees a Holy Grail record, he smiles a knowing look and says, “Every day, ” citing a recently purchased copy of the first Beatles record, released on little-known label Vee Jay. “At this point, personally, I have all the things I’ve always looked for. Those have come my way at various points in time. But for the shop, people ask for specific things we don’t have. They know we’ve been around a long time.”

The store’s attracted its amount of fame in pop culture as well – it was used as the inspiration and namesake for John Cusack’s record shop in High Fidelity, and is extensively featured as a location in the novel The Time Traveler’s Wife as the source of new music for the characters. Kay attributes the rise in business more to the surge in interest in the vinyl more than these pop culture references. He also sees it as a natural direction of the music market.

“I think it’s the way record labels are trying to stay in business,” he says. “I also think it’s a great idea because it’s the best of both worlds. It allows people to explore the idea of owning a record and also have the electronic medium.”

To record labels, the vinyl resurgence might be a business and a grasp to remain relevant, but it remains Kay’s life as it has been for almost 30 years. “I still actually don’t realize that,” he says when asked about the moment he realized his record collecting wasn’t just a hobby. “This is a day and night job.” The introduction of the Internet has added an entire new element to record-collecting; now, buyers can purchase a record without having ever seen it in person. “For a large percentage of people, they don’t have the access, so the Internet makes everything accessible. It brings it to your door. For us, it opened up a whole world of people who are like-minded and were never able to reach them.”

While the stuff that Vintage Vinyl pushes is a little higher end and takes more consideration to buy than a ratty used Van Halen LP, the store is an excellent resource for vinyl aficionados, would-be aficionados and those with a lot of money to drop. You can also peruse the store’s catalogue on their Web site at www.vvmo.com to see if they have anything that tickles your fancy.