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By James B. Eldred
A staple of Pittsburgh for more than 30 years, Jerry’s Records is one of the largest vinyl-only record stores in the country. With more than 2 million used records for sale in his store, Jerry Weber happily boasts that his store has something for everyone. Jerry took a break from preparing for his massive Vinyl-palooza record convention (June 15-17, 2012; details available at www.jerrysrecords.com), to share the story of how he got selling records, where he sees the future of record stores and what he views as the secrets of his success.
Q: What was your first job?
A: Sweeping up Forbes Field after the Pirates’ games. My very first “real” job was surveyor for PennDOT.
Q: What was the first record you ever bought?
A: I can’t remember. I probably stole it from my older brother, though!
Q: When did you first get the idea to open a record store?
A: A guy opened a used record store in Pittsburgh called The Do Da Shop in the mid-’70s. It was the first time I ever saw anything like it. He had used records and used books. Pittsburgh didn’t really have used records stores [before then]. I saw it and I thought, ‘That’s something I’d like to do.’
Q: What is the history of your store?
A: I opened up above my buddy’s bar in 1976. He had a room for $75 a month that he wasn’t using. Me and my then-partner opened The Record Graveyard in ’76. We put out a sign that said, ‘We Buy Records.’ Once we put that sign out there, there was no problem getting records. There are five colleges in that area, and when college kids go home, they sell records — or if they need beer!
Q: What do you specialize in?
A: I stock everything. Every genre, music that other people wouldn’t even think of having in their store. I have classical,ethnic, easy listening. Every possible variation of rock and stuff, religious. I have more of more things than anybody in the world.
Q: How has the music retail market changed over the years?
A: When CDs came out, everybody was thinking that was the end of it; people were dumping their record collections. Later on, they started buying them back from me after they realized CDs weren’t the end-all, be-all of everything.
Q: Have you noticed a resurgence in vinyl-record sales?
A: No, because I deal strictly in used vinyl. For my customers, new vinyl is not an option. They come here to find records for $3, $4 or $5. All I sell is used records that we buy off other people. I’ve noticed a resurgence in young girls buying vinyl, though!
Q: What does your store offer that others don’t?
A: Clean, affordable, organized vinyl. I always get compliments that my store is the best organized store of its size. And people are always saying how big this place is.
Q: What changes has the store gone through?
A: Actually it hasn’t changed much, just the location. I moved here in 1993, and it was three times the space. Now it’s full to overflowing. I could use three times more space, because I just keep on buying and buying and buying records.
Q: Who are some of your favorite customers from over the years, and why?
A: Any of the guys who come in, and if they have $10 they spend it on records. If they have $20, they spend it on records, and they come in every week or every other week. That’s my core customer, not anybody who is looking for collector’s items. My core guy is a music lover, not necessarily a record collector. It’s a music lover’s store.
Q: What was the biggest day the store ever had?
A: When some guy from Japan came over and spent $5,000 on classical music.
Q: Ever had anybody famous come in and shop at your store?
A: Ben Folds is a regular. He buys a lot of 78s, and all kinds of various music. He’s a true music lover. Robert Plant was in here, and he bought an old-fashioned record player off me, a suitcase record player. He was very personable and funny, actually. And then I have the bands that tour Pittsburgh, not necessarily the real big ones; there’s been people in here that I found out later that were famous. I know they’re bands, but I don’t know them. But I can tell they’re bands, because they buy stuff that only bands would buy.
Q: What is the future of a store like yours?
A: As long as the young people keep buying records, it’s good. Now is the greatest time for a young person to build a record collection because of a big changeover; the older people are getting rid of their collections.
Q: What’s the rarest record you’ve ever had in your store?
A: The most I ever got for an album was many years ago. It was for an Elvis Presley Christmas album with the wrapper intact. That was, like, $500 for that 15 years ago. Recently, I sold a Beatles album for over $1,000, a stereo copy for the first one.
Q: What’s the strangest request you’ve gotten from a customer?
A: A guy came in and asked if we had any scuba-diving records. He wanted album covers with scuba divers on them. There are probably four albums in the whole world with scuba divers on the covers!
Q: What are the best and worst things about running a record store?
A: The best thing about it is redistributing the music. I always say that what I do is rescue, reclaim, rejuvenate and redistribute music, all the time. I would rather sell 100 records for $4 each than one record for $400, because it’s more fun for me to see the people walk out of here with a smile on their face. The worst thing about it is telling people who have hundreds of records that they basically have no value.
Q: What advice do you have for people who want to own a record store?
A: Have another job, because you really can’t make it work. The only reason I make it work is because of the sheer enormity of what I have. So many people who have been in it for 30 years aren’t making one-third of the money they made 10 years ago. I would also say, if you’re opening a record store, have 30 to 40 percent of your stuff used, CDs and records, because that will bring the people in to buy new records.