Lenoir record stores keep the music spinning

Apr. 22, 2013 @ 10:15 AM

You’d think vinyl would have made its exit by now.

With most music today digitally transferred onto phones and laptops and iPods, it’s hard to imagine old-school records would do much business.

But they do. 4,551,000 vinyl records were sold in the U.S. last year – still a small percentage of overall album sales, but it’s a 3 million-record increase compared to 2007.  

People attribute vinyl’s resurgence to a handful of factors: Maybe it’s the records’ niche status among 20-something hipsters, or a surge in nostalgia among middle-aged workers who grew up with records.

Whatever it is, it’s helping Lenoir sustain three separate independent record stores.

First there’s the one you might have noticed – Repo Depot, a tiny shop on Morganton Boulevard covered, all along the outside walls, in old records.

Brothers Joe and Jeff Young run the store – but when they opened it, they didn’t think records would be their main business. It was a music store that happened to display a box of records from their personal collection.

But that’s the part of the business that took out.

The Youngs love records for the same reason most vinyl aficionados cite: The warmer, clearer, more authentic sound.

But they also love vinyl because it’s a repository for music you can’t find anywhere else, at least not physically. You can’t find the good stuff at Wal-Mart, they said.

“You might find their greatest hits,” Jeff Young said, grabbing for a sleeved album on a shelf. “But you’re not gonna find Fleetwood Mac, ‘Rumors.’”

The Youngs get a good amount of highway traffic. They see people leaning out of their cars to look at the records on the outside of the store, pointing, taking pictures – and usually, they’ll stop in.

They’ve also seen their clientele get younger as kids discover vinyl – and discover, in turn, all the old bands.

Not far from Repo Depot, there’s a much younger store peddling vinyl and memories: Dead Wax Records, located in the Lenoir Thrift Shopping Center.

Chris Crookston opened Dead Wax on December 21, 2012 – the day the world was supposed to end – but it was a long time coming.

Crookston got his first record player in 1972. There are pictures of him listening to records in his baby book. He’d always wanted to own a record store – it just took him a while to make the jump.

The people milling around the store on a given day are an eclectic mix – “from old-timers to college kids,” Crookston said. Some are regulars who stop by every week to see what’s new, and others are stumbling in for the first time.

So what does the man behind a counter say about the reality of owning a record store?

“Heaven,” Crookston said. “One word: Heaven. It’s not like work.”  

But both Crookston’s operation and the Young brothers’ have a predecessor: Marvin’s One-Stop Records, owned and operated by Marvin Gilreath since 1970.

At 73, Gilreath is unphased by shifts in the record business.

“They always stayed popular with me,” he said. “Because I never gave mine up.”

Gilreath gets walk-ins just like Repo Depot and Dead Wax. But almost always, at least a few of the people walking around the store are his friends.

There are dozens of people who come into Marvin’s One-Stop every day, maybe find a seat on an old crate of records, and settle in to talk.

Got a problem? Marvin will listen. Need to borrow a buck? He’s good for that, too. And he passes on his love for music to the friends who orbit around him.

“There are an influx of people who love music,” said Javarius Corpening, one of those friends. “And there are an influx of people who like music. Marvin loves music.”

Gilreath passed some music on to the Young brothers, too. Bring him up in their presence, and you’ll see the wide-eyed respect of someone who’s just heard the name of their childhood hero.

The two brothers visited his record store as kids, and he still counts them as friends today.

“Marvin,” Jeff Young said, “is just the coolest dude.”

The vinyl record business, which some might have written off with the advent of the eight-track, is alive and well. Younger and younger kids are discovering vinyl every day.

So the business at Repo Depot, Dead Wax Records and Marvin’s One-Stop Records seems secure – at least for now.

“You know, they’re made of petroleum,” said Crookston, the Dead Wax owner. “So when the oil runs out, the records might run out, too.”

Until then, they’ll keep the music playing.