Another Time, Another Place: Clearwater’s “Ye Olde Record Shoppe”

records1Ye Olde Record Shoppe was owned by a 60-something year old woman named Irene. She was the sole owner as well as the sole employee. Perhaps not too flatteringly, but with no ill intentions, my friend Steve used to refer to the place as “Ye Old Lady’s Record Shop”. The small store was a unique outpost in a world of chain stores in malls and hip independent shops with big selections (like the aforementioned Vinyl Museum). Located in a small strip mall between a pawn shop and liquor store, the selection was mostly used vinyl, with a small selection of used CD’s added eventually (and grudgingly) due to demand.

Irene would order any new release for you that she was able to get, but as a rule she didn’t order much new unless it was specifically requested. This was before the Internet (and even if it was nowadays, I doubt she would have had a computer) and I remember her leafing through thick paper catalogs to find any special request one might make.

She would sit at her counter – an old desk pushed up against a table, which formed one side of the little square area where the CD’s were shelved. They were kept at the front because they were easier to steal, based on their small size. She could better keep an eye on them there. Weirdly, she occasionally had delinquent kids grab handfuls of CD’s and run out of the store so they could try and sell them somewhere else (probably at Vinyl Museum). Anyway, Irene would sit there drinking coffee and chain smoking all day, listening to records on the old turntable. Though there was usually nobody else in the store when I visited, she had a solid, core clientele of collectors and a revolving stock of quality titles and artists. Her records were fairly priced and usually in top notch condition.

If you came in at the right time, you never knew what you’d find. Once somebody had just dropped off a box full of guitar records issued on the old Takoma label by Leo Kottke, John Fahey, and Robbie Basho. Some of these things were really rare and all were in great condition. She knew what she had, and she could have marked them up and got a lot of money for them from any number of the regular collectors who visited, but she priced them all under $10.00. Intrigued by the cover art of the Basho records (who I hadn’t heard of at that point), she handed me the headphones and cued up The Grail and the Lotus on the record player. I immediately purchased all three of the Basho albums. It was just another of the many musical discoveries I made there over the years.

She had definite musical tastes and was generous in sharing them. A discussion of the solo works of Fleetwood Mac members resulted in her making me a cassette copy of Jeremy Spencer’s first album from her own vinyl copy. That album is still a treasured part of my collection and still criminally out of print. She was not one to let her musical opinions be overshadowed by business concerns either. One day, I brought a CD of Phil Collins’ fist solo album, Face Value, up to the counter to buy. She tried her best to convince me not to buy it because she said I would be wasting my money and I’d never listen to it more than once. I still think Face Value is a good piece of work, but I’d probably agree with her about most of Phil’s other solo albums.

With this off-the-grid, non standard business philosophy she managed to stay in business for at least 10 or 15 years (and maybe longer – I’m not sure when she first opened). Her devoted customers kept Ye Olde Record Shoppe afloat, though it must not have been easy for her financially. A good chunk of my records were bought there over the years, however, and I’m happy to say I contributed to such a unique and special music oasis. As with Vinyl Museum, she closed up shop in the early 2000’s. Last I heard (over 10 years ago now), she was running a mail order record business out of her home but had health issues.

(photo copyright Marc Wathieu, Carnaby Records, from Flickr, used under Creative Commons license; cropped)