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Birdland Records revels in its history

You’ve gotta love a record store that loves music as much as Birdland Records does!

Birdland Records, Tapes and Compact Discs
951 Providence Square Shopping Center
Virginia Beach, VA 23464

FROM THE BEATLES TO THE BLUES, Birdland Records offers customers a feast of music. Photo courtesy Birdland Records

FROM THE BEATLES TO THE BLUES, Birdland Records offers customers a feast of music. Photo courtesy Birdland Records

You’ve gotta love a record store that loves music as much as Birdland Records does. The shop was named for Charlie “The Bird” Parker, and it helped to spread the “Norfolk Sound” throughout the nation. If that didn’t win you over already, the store’s philosophy should do the trick.

What was your first job?
Barry Friedman:
Starting in 1968 when I was 14, on weekends, I used to help my father with the record store.

What was the first record you ever bought?
The first 45 I ever bought was The Beach Boys doing “Don’t Worry Baby.” It was from a local drugstore because my dad hadn’t as yet bought the store. If you ask me what was the first album that I ever purchased? It would have to be Three Dog Night’s “Suitable for Framing.” This time I bought it from our store. I think that I paid for it! Either way, the statute of limitations has long gone by the wayside.

When did the idea of owning your own record store first occur to you?
From the first time that I was exposed to the different genres of music, my desire to experience them first-hand, to discover the influences of geography and environment, led me to the realization that my dad had opened a door into an area that was not only interesting, but was exciting and evolving right in front of me.

What is the history of your store?
The store was actually opened by the previous owners in 1953. Birdland was well known as the purveyor of the “Norfolk Sound,” which eventually made its way onto the national charts during the early ’60s. My father bought the store in 1968, and within a short time we moved to our current location due to redevelopment. The store was named for Charlie “The Bird” Parker and gained a reputation for searching out the hard-to-find jazz albums. Over the years, we have expanded our focus to include all types of music.

What do you specialize in?
The philosophy of our store is to know your customer and to work very hard to always provide what they need. We provide music of all types (in different formats), used books concerning the music business, guitar lessons, music oriented DVDs, and our most important asset — a knowledgeable staff.

How has the music retail market changed over the years?
With the advent of all of these competing technologies, such as iTunes and music sharing sites, we have seen a decrease in the retail side of the store. Our customers’ average age has increased drastically over the years. To combat these problems, we have had to learn how to use technology to our advantage. It requires going back to school to improve upon of our skills and knowledge. But we are starting to see a change in the operation of our store on many different levels.

Have you noticed a resurgence in vinyl-record sales?
This has become one of the more interesting facets concerning our success. We have become the brick-and-mortar store for a local Internet-only used vinyl e-store. The cooperation between the two of us has improved both of our retail stances. With the large influx of used vinyl, coupled with the specialty 180- and 200-gram albums, we can now say that the average age of our customers is dropping fast. The influx of teens and people in their 20s has given us a new spirit in the everyday operation of the store. Some buy the albums for the music, some for the artwork, and some for the collectibility.

What does your store offer that few, if any, others do?
What has always made our store stand out compared to the others was the personalized service. At times, it feels like you’re at Floyd’s Barber Shop in Mayberry. We have always had a meeting area to just listen to music, talk (and sometimes debate) about the merits of a particular artist, and exchange ideas. Even when we plan on what to order, we ask the regulars what they think. Our employees have been here a long time, using the knowledge that they’ve accumulated over the years. My brother and I have been here going on 44 years. Our other full-time employee has been here 30 years. Our part-timers average close to a decade and a half.

What changes has the store gone through over the years?
Besides the obvious improvements over the years with formats and technology, we continue to grow by carrying a large selection of local music. We work with the local radio stations, especially when they specialize in alternative, blues and beach music. Keeping the store current, cooperative and relevant has always kept us striving to provide the customer with what they want. Most of all, we have dealt with the artist on a one-on-one basis. People are still making excellent music, but the availability of some of it has left the consumer coming to us. They want us to expand their musical tastes and be able to get exactly what they are looking for. We have dealt with individual artists in order to get their hard-to-find product to the consumer. Over the years, we have been fortunate to work with the Strokeland Band Family Tree (Tower of Power), Jesse Colin Young, A. Ray Fuller, the Band of Oz, the Nighthawks, Robin Trower and many more.

Who are some of your favorite customers from over the years, and why?
Over the years, we have had many interesting visitors. We used to have a teenager who visited us for a few years who was a expert on big band music. One of our customers (Justin Kauflin) now is on a few jazz albums and has a bright future ahead of him. We have a group of regulars who keep us on our toes when we are searching for their music.

What’s the biggest day the store ever had?
Actually, every year we hold a customers appreciation holiday party in December. Our little store is literally bursting at the seams. We play all types of music, provide the food and beverages, and the customers pay us back by picking up presents for their loved ones. These seem to be the biggest and best days that we have. For four hours on a Sunday night, in the midst of the holiday season, we extend our friendship to our customers, and they repay us in kind.

Ever had anybody famous come in and shop at your store?
Over the years we have been lucky enough to have artists stop by to enjoy the store. The Smithereens stopped by unannounced while we were playing their new CD over the speakers. What a coincidence! Local artist Bruce Hornsby was here early in his career. But one of my personal favorites was an in-store we did with the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz — intelligent, funny and very entertaining. Keely Smith shopped with us and was surprised that we had her CDs. We just had the Nighthawks play for an hour in the store. We’ve had Terry Anderson put on a great hour. Local blues youngster Grant Austin Taylor is always welcomed. Mercy Creek, Duke Robillard, Robbin Thompson, and the list goes on and on ...

What is the future of record stores like yours?
The future of stores like ours is currently up in the air. We are constantly searching for that next big thing that will keep the customers coming in the doors. Since we are known for finding hard-to-get music, we have to couple that with the different mindset of today’s music buyer. We’ve got to use technology, our successful one-on-one relationship with various artists and our knowledge to provide a service that keeps them coming in the door or visiting our Web site.

What’s the rarest record you’ve ever had in your store?
Just recently during the Record Store Day, we had a Rolling Stones cover signed by the four main members.

What’s the strangest request you’ve ever gotten from a customer?
We had a customer who wanted us to edit the song “Pomp and Circumstance” into 3 minutes containing the most well-known 10 seconds of the song edited together over and over again.

What advice would you have for people who want to own a record store?
The degree of passion that you need to successfully retail music is not enough anymore. You need connections with your distributors, individual customers and artists and groups. You need a dedicated and knowledgeable staff. And finally, you must understand that the speed of technology, the short attention span of the customers and the profit margins are all working against you.

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