I’m Being Followed By a Vinyl Museum

vinyl-museumI read a quote recently from a record collector where he mentions that when he visits record stores, for him it’s like going to an art gallery. I can easily identify with that sentiment, as record stores have always been more than just a “store” for me. They’re a repository of mystery, an archive of archaeological discoveries just waiting to be unearthed.

In the Clearwater, Florida of the 1990’s one of the record stores I visited often was called Vinyl Museum (or, more precisely, Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum). I’d usually go to Ye Olde Record Shoppe on Drew St. first (about which more in a future post), then drive a few blocks up and over through a neighborhood of low-slung 50’s houses on quiet palm-lined streets and pull into the tiny parking lot behind Vinyl Museum. A generously-sized establishment, it had an enviable location on busy Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., right across the street from Clearwater High School.

Vinyl Museum had an interesting background. Two brothers – Peter and Jim Dunn – had moved down to Florida from Syracuse, NY in the mid-70’s. By 1978, Peter had moved up north to Toronto and soon opened the first Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum. [Watch this cheesy, yet charming 1980 TV commercial for Vinyl Museum from Retro Ontario]. It was such a success that he opened another location in Toronto as well as one in Florida, at first managed by and eventually owned by his brother Jim. A relocation from Largo to the larger Gulf-to-Bay location in 1989 occurred as the store gained notoriety.

Things were going well for both brothers during the CD boom, and they dealt in used and new titles. The two Toronto stores are well remembered for the giant and eclectic LP selection, as well as the rock bottom prices. The Florida location focused heavily on CD’s and tapes as time went on but they always had a big selection of used vinyl as well. In fact, the walls were covered with album covers floor to ceiling. Though, in a not-too-prescient moment, Jim Dunn is noted as a “firm believer in the future of cassettes” in a 1997 Billboard magazine store profile.

Somewhere along the line, Peter Dunn became a born again Christian and started putting religious slogans below the store’s logo on the custom printed plastic sleeves that went on each record. As Dave Bidini notes in his book On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock: “Besides its reputation as a goldmine of unwanted vinyl, the store’s main attraction is its owner, Peter Dunn, who pastes Bible quotations on record sleeves. The cover of say, Yanni Live at the Acropolis, would proclaim “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers!” even though Yanni fans are the least likely people to freak out and axe murder their parents.”

Many of these sleeves found their way down to the Clearwater location as well, and I suspect some intermingling of stock happened from time to time also. Yet, the stores only had a few more years left. Reportedly, Peter Dunn started concentrating on carrying Christian artists instead of rock and the more popular music genres he’d been selling. He lost his main customer base and the Toronto store (down to one location by this point) eventually went out of business. At least that’s the story I’ve heard – more likely, he was just another victim of the drop-off in consumer taste for vinyl.

News story on the closing of Vinyl Museum in Toronto:

Down in the sunshine state, Jim Dunn made the wise decision to change the store’s name from the dusty sounding, antiquated “Vinyl Museum” to something more in tune with the compact disc times. “Planet Grooves” was the new moniker, with a slogan as well – “As the world turns, the planet grooves”. The slogan was included as part of the large mural painted on an outside wall, announcing to the world that here was a fresh new presence on the retail music scene.

Unfortunately, the name change wasn’t enough to save the store, and it fell victim to the early 2000’s epidemic of independent music stores closing. An attempted resurrection under a new owner and new name (Park Ave. CD’s) only lasted about 2 years. I think there’s a furniture store in the space now.

Which all brings things to the present. The other day I was browsing in a custom t-shirt store on the small main street in the town north of Toronto where I live. They had recently added a used record selection to one side of the store. Talking to the manager, it turned out that the collection I was perusing was the 30,000 album stock of the long-since closed (15 years ago) last outlet of the Toronto Vinyl Museum! It had been stored in two garages since the store folded, until the manager of this t-shirt shop stumbled into the opportunity to buy it all in one lump purchase (with the caveat that he had to have it out of the garages in one week).

25 years and 2000 miles away from when I first stepped into Vinyl Museum, it was like I had entered a time warp. It was entirely conceivable that some of these records (or at least their plastic sleeves) were the exact same ones I had flipped through in my youth on any given sunny Sunday afternoon, beach-going traffic zipping by outside, maybe an Allman Brothers record playing on the store stereo system, the sun slanting through the plate glass windows, slowly bleaching the album covers stapled to the wall.

If this were a science fiction story, I’d say the records had in some way been frozen in time, only to follow me through a portal to reappear in this unlikely location.