By now, I shouldn’t have to argue the virtues inherent in consuming music pressed on wax. The enhanced sound quality, the liner notes, the combined physical and ethereal experience; even the imperfections are counted among the authentic joys of vinyl records, helping to bring the once antiquated sonic delivery system back from the grave. In 2016, sales of vinyl records outperformed digital downloads and sales of CDs (remember those?) for the first time.
But dropping the needle on the turntable is just one aspect of the vinyl experience. Talk to vinyl-fiends and you’ll learn that the acquisition of the music is perhaps equally important.
“Collecting is definitely part of the experience, but I really enjoy sharing music with friends and a community,” says Jeff Driscoll, who hosts a vinyl night at Murray Hill bar, the Flamingo, offering up a turntable for folks to bring and share wax from their personal collections. “I enjoy creating spaces where I feel comfortable and communicating that feeling with others. Music is incredibly central to creating that feeling. It allows you to share a part of yourself and your history. It’s one of those fascinating things where people may share a common song or band but it’s not necessarily the bond they expected or even knew existed.”
“I love the art, the big presence, the way you can manipulate it and choose how you want to listen,”adds Lauren Hamilton, cofounder of Eraser Records. Her modern/minimalist storefront specializing in contemporary indie releases recently opened its doors in Murray Hill. “When they age and warp, the records take on their own personality.”
Though the record shops that formerly dotted Five Points disappeared long ago (even the much-loved Deep Search Records failed to gain a footing in the area’s hippest retail corridor), it’s arguable that there’s never been a better time to be a record collector in Northeast Florida. There are at least a half-dozen retail stores in Jax, and another handful in St. Augustine, specializing in vinyl; some new ventures, some ludditical holdouts who now get to say “I told you so.” And while many mourn the loss of our local Sam Goody, Turtle’s, CD Connection, et al., in Northeast Florida, the music is still out there; if you know where to look.
With Driscoll, Hamilton, and Hamilton’s Eraser Records collaborator Matt Anderson in tow, we embarked on a citywide record hunt, scavenging through crates from east to west. Here’s a sampling of where we went and what we found.
Young, Loud, and Snotty
After closing down it’s retail location off Sailfish in Atlantic Beach, YLS has somehow become more punk, filling a roughly 200-square-foot room in a Mayport warehouse with rare vinyl gems and skateboard decks. The punk section, of course, is the most well-furnished, but YLS also has a good deal of brand new repressings and vintage rock n’ roll. I grabbed a late-70s Elvis Costello album, based solely on the title-track serving as the theme to the HBO period-drama, The Deuce.
Wolfson Equipment and Records
What this sprawling warehouse lacks in central air conditioning, it certainly makes up for in inventory. The amount of records on offer here may be unquantifiable, but a good guess would land somewhere in the tens of thousands. Driscoll scooped an eclectic duo of albums, including Dream Maker by Conway Twitty and Peter Gabriel’s So. I found a Fat Boys and Beach Boys collaboration that, until visiting Wolfson, I thought only existed as a meme. Hamilton, who found The Go-Go’s Vacation, described the compound as “a charming, sweaty treasure trove of vinyl and other curiosities.”
Yesterday and Today Records
When I visit new cities, my first instinct is to Google coffee shops and record stores, as finding those establishments tends to drop you into the heart and soul of any urban area. The addition of Yesterday and Today Records just a stone’s throw from Bold Bean Coffee Roasters’ third location, certainly helps make the case that San Marco is Duval’s life blood. Formerly a weekend pop-up at the Beach Blvd. Flea Market, Yesterday and Today has a good selection of used rock, pop, soul and jazz records. They get new inventory pretty consistently and they are the region’s best bet on Record Store Day, the one day a year where record collectors resemble the Black Friday mobs outside Walmart.
DJ’s Record Shop
What to say about DJ’s? It’s dense. It’s dusty. It’s difficult to navigate. It’s truly a digger’s dream! Jerry “DJ” West has been running the shop for more than a half-century, and over the course of those five decades he’s managed to pack just about every square inch of the place with LPs, 45s, VHSs, cassettes, posters, and other musical ephemera; including a young and handsome Bobby Brown cardboard cutout that lovingly watches “Every Little Step” you take through DJ’s. “Make sure you have an afternoon off when you go here,” advises Hamilton. Perhaps inspired by the nostalgia DJ’s induces, I just had to pull the self-titled Madonna album I found tucked behind roughly the entirety of Curtis Mayfield’s discography.
As much as DJ’s overwhelms, Eraser will offer room to breathe, with a cozy lounge and a listening station to preview selections from Hamilton and Anderson’s curated selection of Indie titles. “We’re focused on new and smaller label releases,” says Hamilton. “We want to provide a safe space for people to make and experience art of various forms; a place that celebrates expression from all walks of life.” A throwback to the interpersonal experience of the music store’s of yore, Hamilton and Anderson hope to use their expertise to offer suggestions to customers, as they did with Driscoll, who was moved to purchase Yo La Tengo’s 2013 album, <Fade.>
Coast to Coast Pop-Up at Hoptinger
Coast to Coast Records founder “Uncle Buck” has been operating his pop-up vinyl shopping experience for less than a year. But business is booming. You can find Coast to Coast nearly every day of the week, from Atlantic Beach’s Hotel Palms on Sundays to Hoptinger on Thursdays to Surfer the Bar on Fridays, Buck keeps things fresh with an ever-changing selection.