By Peter Lindblad
Founded in 1981, Joe Schwab’s record store specializes in jazz but buys and sells vinyl of all kinds.
What was your first job?
Joe Schwab: Peaches Records.
What was the first record you ever bought?
JS: Janis Joplin’s Pearl. I was hooked after that.
When did the idea of owning your own record store first occur to you?
JS: I worked at a used store that bought out another store. I took that over and bought it a year or so later.
What is the history of your store?
JS: We started on Euclid Avenue in St. Louis’ Central West End. In 1988 we moved to the more spacious (we thought at the time) space around the corner. Shortly after that move we began doing mail order and started our first Web site. We opened “The Vinyl Shack” in the Webster Groves neighborhood in 1996. Seven years ago we consolidated both stores into the beautiful DeStoto Building in Webster.
Has the neighborhood where your store is located changed?
JS: Not really. We’re in a beautiful suburb of St. Louis across from Webster University and close to great restaurants and shopping. This is not a strip-mall or fast-food neighborhood, just a great place to live and work.
How has the music retail market changed over the years?
JS: Man, since 1981 we’ve seen LPs, cassettes, 8-Tracks, CDs, VHS, Beta and DVD come in and out of vogue. Now it’s MP3s and downloads. We try and offer alternatives to the download by offering a great supply of cool records, hard-to-find CDs, silk-screen concert posters, turntables and our own releases.
Have you noticed a resurgence in vinyl record sales?
JS: Sure. The vinyl business has always been a rollercoaster ride. Vinyl goes in and out of favor. The difference between now and other surges in vinyl mania is that people are buying turntables. Every time we sell a turntable, we know we’re getting a new customer.
What does your store offer that few, if any, others do?
JS: To help promote our live in-store music, we started recording all the performances. We started a 45 series earlier this year, putting out singles recorded in the store by such established artists as Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate and The Baseball Project), Terry Adams (NRBQ) and Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey (The dB’s). We’ve also released recordings by up-and-coming artists. Upcoming releases include The Bottle Rockets, Bill Kirchen and the debut CD of Troubadour Dali.
These are very beautiful, with deluxe packaging including silk-screened covers signed and numbered by some of the nation’s best graphic artists. All the 45s are limited to 300 copies and one dollar for every record pressed is donated to The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund.
Who are some of your favorite customers from over the years and why?
JS: Got a couple hours? A collectors’ market brings out some of the best characters. Let’s see, we have Mr. 2-Tapes, Schleprock, Grandmaster Fence Post, Elvis’ Sister, Mr. Forgetful, Blind Larry and many others. We love ’em all!
What was the biggest day the store ever had?
JS: Easy — April 18, 2009 — Record Store Day. We had six bands playing live headlined by The Bottle Rockets, a large street sale and storewide sale. People around here are still buzzing about it.
Ever had anybody famous come in and shop at your store?
JS: After 27-some odd years we’ve had many, from The Allman Brothers to Radiohead. We’ve also had movie stars, directors, writers and athletes as well. Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes waxed poetic about us in Rolling Stone once and Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth wrote about their trip to Euclid in their published tour diary.
What is the future of stores like yours?
JS: Online, and has been for some time. Web site, 45 Series,eBay Store, blog, newsletter. As well as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. We’ve just started a “Twitter Card” program that offers daily tweets with specials, sales and giveaways.
What’s the best part about being the owner of a record store and what’s the worst?
JS: Best is being able to buy records even though I don’t collect them. The worst — are you crazy? This is the best job in the world!
What’s the rarest record you’ve ever had in your store?
JS: We’ve had a lot. The one I cherish most (and I kept it) is a copy of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” signed by all four. The signatures were obtained by Bill Graham throughout the ’60s. We’ve also had records signed by The Doors, The Who, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, etc.
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever gotten from a customer?
JS: Where’s your tire department? Where do you keep your pornography?
Do you collect anything else besides records?
JS: I don’t collect records anymore — I’d take all the good stuff home. I do acquire (notice I didn’t say collect) CDs of music that interests me. My house is overtaken by them!
What advice would you have for people who want to own a record store?
JS: Do it right from the start — you only have one chance at a first impression. I also tell people I want my store to feel like an old shoe, but not smell like one!
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