By Loretta Fulton
Photography by Jennifer Nichols
Patrons of The Record Guys can list a lot of reasons for liking the shop so much, but maybe Libby Cooper put her finger on it best.
“This is the only place you’re going to get that old smell,” she said.
In this case, “that old smell” is a compliment. Everything in the store, located at 701 S. Leggett St., is old – except for some of the people. Owner Jon Howell is only 25 and some of his customers are teens.
But more than likely, the customers will be “vintage,” just like the contents of the store.
Vic and Libby Cooper are regulars at The Record Guys. They drop in about once a week to buy vinyl LPs. He likes jazz and classic rock. She prefers old country music, like that performed by Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. They both love The Record Guys.
“It’s great there’s a place you can go to,” said Vic, 64, “and this kind of thing still exists.”
The kind of thing Cooper was referring to is a 1,200 square-foot former gas station packed to the ceiling with vintage, and newer, vinyl albums, vintage electric and acoustic guitars, vintage record players—just about anything vintage that Howell and his father, Kevin, can get their hands on.
Vintage prop guns and cameras are on display in a glass case. A vintage camper sits out front.
But vintage records are the main draw of The Record Guys. Looking for an old Dionne Warwick? How about Roy Orbison or The Platters? Want to go back even farther? How about a 1940 copy of a Pinocchio storybook and record? They all can be found on the shelves of The Record Guys or in a 2,000 square-foot warehouse.
What’s even more amazing is that owner Jon Howell knows where everything is and where to find it. And that’s without a computerized inventory tracking system.
“It’s not catalogued,” he said, “but organized.”
The inventory moves too fast to keep track of in a catalogued way, Howell said, and besides he has a photographic memory.
The crowded shop is a dream come true for the Howell family. It all started as a venture at the Buffalo Gap Flea Market back when Jon and his brother, Justin, were teens. Jon remembers an oft-repeated comment made by the boys’ dad when they were growing up. Whenever they wanted something, like most kids, they asked their parents for it.
“Save your money,” their dad would say, “and pay for it.”
The boys got paid for odd jobs around the house but one day stumbled upon a more lucrative way to make money. The family was shopping a garage sale when the boys found 12 milk crates filled with vinyl records. Their dad got the owner to sell the whole lot for $12.
Then he had a question for his boys.
“Why don’t you try to sell those?” he asked.
The boys liked the idea and their dad fixed an old record player for them to play the records. They set up shop at the Buffalo Gap Flea Market and made over $500 the first weekend. They were hooked.
That venture evolved into a store in the 2400 block of South Seventh Street, across from the old Betty Rose’s location, then a building at the trade days in Fredericksburg, and then a permanent return to Abilene.
For several years, the store was more of a sideline, with Jon and Justin giving college a try before realizing that wasn’t the path for them.
“It was always something to get us to where we were going,” Jon said of the store.
But then Jon realized the store was where he wanted to spend all his time. Today, Jon is the sole owner of The Record Guys and Justin is pursuing an acting career. Their dad, Kevin, teaches American history at the Holland Medical High School on the campus of Hardin-Simmons University and fixes vintage music systems at the store.
A few years ago, Bob Phillips filmed a segment of his Texas Country Reporter in the store and came away with a descriptive name for Kevin’s workshop in a section of the store. “The mad scientist’s lair,” is the way Phillips described it. He also was so impressed with the store’s collection that he bought a $750 music system on the way out. The system had been restored by the mad scientist himself.
So, what’s the future for a store that sells vintage items and most of its customers are “vintage”? The future is quite bright. According to The Nielsen Company, which tracks consumer trends, sales of vinyl records set a record in 2015—nearly 12 million units. And, according to Nielsen, the big winners were independent record stores, just like The Record Guys.
As for “vintage” customers, the store attracts a good number of younger buyers, too. A “bevy of 16-year-old girls” came in recently to shop, Kevin said. A regular is Sam O’Shields, 21, who works at a local deli. Kevin Howell was one of his former teachers.
O’Shields is hooked on vinyl and only listens to music in digital format when he’s on the road. He grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix, a favorite of his dad. Now, he routinely shops at The Record Guys for artists like Styx, Kansas and Billy Joel.
Whether by coincidence or good marketing technique, one of those happened to start playing in the store as O’Shields strolled the aisles.
“They’re playing Billy Joel,” he said. “I think they’re trying to suck me in.”
THE RECORD GUYS
Location: 701 S. Leggett St.
Contact: 370-2306; www.recordguys.com
Hours: 12-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday
Owner: Jon Howell
What’s in the store: Vinyl LPs and 45s, vintage music systems and guitars
VINYL IS VITAL
According to The Nielsen Company, sales of vinyl records set a record in 2015—nearly 12 million units. This marks the 10th straight year of vinyl sales growth. The big winners in this realm were independent record stores, which drove 45 percent of all vinyl sales. The biggest genre for vinyl? Rock, with 68 percent of LP sales.
Source: The Nielsen Company, www.nielsen.com