If you haven't heard already, you can take this as your notice: the classic record store has returned to Tulsa. Sure, we've still got Starship, but it hasn't been the same since it moved from 11th street around the corner to Lewis to make room for TU's expansion.
The opening of The Vinyl Countdown at 318 E. 11th St. marks the return of the classic record store to Tulsa, filling a void that we've had since the closing of Under the Mooch and possibly since the loss of Tulsa's iconic Mohawk Records.
Tucked away on 11th St. behind The Doghouse, the store is unassuming in its location and storefront, but a minor treasure when you walk in. Framed, screen-printed concert posters adorn the walls and the west wall sports a small assortment of t-shirts. In keeping with the theme, a handful of hand-made vinyl decorations, from mirrors to clocks to bowls are also on display throughout the store and available for purchase.
The store itself is rather small, but has an attached back room, complete with a stage, with an eye on holding all-ages shows and possible special band appearances. The true star of the show, however, is the music (as well it should be). A small assortment of CDs are available, displayed on the wall next to the cash register, but those are almost solely local releases.
Good Ol' Days.
Step out to the main racks and it's a treasure of vinyl: old school, 12-inch albums ranging from the newest releases to a selection of classics, with a focus on the more indie-oriented crowd. Most of the latest releases adorn the display racks on the walls, but there's a prize to be found at almost every turn.
A quick look around the room and through the bins turns up everything from a limited pressing of Flaming Lips' Heady Nugs collection to The Smiths to the latest releases by M83, Mates of State, fun. Bright Eyes and more. In keeping with the experience, there's always something spinning in the background, with the artwork proudly displayed at the counter. It's a profoundly "High Fidelity" moment when the gentleman at the counter winks at you and says "watch this" before putting on a new disc, followed by at least two of the patrons asking what is currently playing.
The partners behind the shop are Dave Bynum and Chris Hyde, longtime friends who shared a vision for the space and decided to give it a go.
When discussing the store's appearance with Hyde, he shared that he and Bynum have been friends for 20 years, who were playing within the same circle of bands: Bynum with Epperly and Aqueduct, Hyde with Oklahoma.
"This was originally empty space and storage for Dave's other business (a t-shirt shop that is located next door), so we decided to do something with it," Hyde said. "There's Starship in town, but no big "indie" record shops, so we just saw a void. There's been nothing like this in Tulsa since Mohawk in my opinion, and that's what we aspire to be."
Of course, running a record store can be tricky proposition, especially with the current economy and state of the music industry. When asked how they planned to succeed with an independent record store, Hyde responded that "I think the trick is maybe staying current and keeping up with new bands. In five weeks I've probably heard of a hundred new bands that I like -- and 500 I don't," he added with a laugh.
In glancing backward, Hyde shared he and Bynum came up with the idea on October 26 of last year and by November 5, they had begun working on cleaning up and converting the space. Everything was done by hand, from cleaning to taking out walls to painting, building the record racks and even pouring the concrete countertop at the check stand. It's that personal touch that shines through in everything about the store, from the look and feel of the store to the service and conversation when you visit.
Ultimately, I had to ask "What were you thinking by opening a records store?"
"Obviously, we weren't," Hyde laughed, "This is totally for fun."
"It's really kind of an experiment in survival," Bynum added.
On a more serious note, Hyde commented that "This is purely altruistic on our part. We all worked for two months and built this place from the ground up, but we felt like we were filling a void with something we haven't seen here for a long time."
Part of that is a sense of community, a place where music lovers can gather and have something in common. Reflecting on the glory days of Mohawk Records, Hyde shared that "I remember people rushing out to get the latest 'zine, called Substance, and people getting excited about music. Back then there was a sense of community with bands helping other bands out and all-ages venues. We've been missing that too since The Pinkeye closed -- and The Monolith."
That's part of the reason for the stage in the back room at Vinyl Countdown. Eventually, Hyde and Bynum would like to bring in a permanent sound system and host all-ages shows. Right now, they've got their eyes set on introducing live music to the room with a high school battle of the bands on April 13. Any bands interested in participating can call for information at 918-592-5477 or send an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"That's really our target audience," Hyde shared, "kids with disposable income. The college age kids have already started to latch onto us, but we're also looking to catch on with the younger audience."
"We really just want to facilitate as much creativity and sense of community as possible," Hyde said. "And hopefully we can sell some records and share our passion at the same time."
"We never stopped buying records," he continued, "but there was a definite dip for a while. It's hard to fight mp3s, but there's something special about vinyl."
Ultimately, The Vinyl Countdown is a niche shop looking to fill a void. The store isn't trying to be everything to everyone or trying to stock everything under the sun. Instead, it's stocking a strong, but limited selection of vinyl with a focus on the indie market, although the store can and will order anything upon request. Regardless of your taste, however, it's hard to not make even a cursory spin through the store and find at least one or two treasures to take home with you.
"We don't have a ton of records, but what we have is good," Hyde shared accurately.
At one point, Bynum laughed that "our biggest goal is just to stay open and if we don't, that's Tulsa's fault, not ours."
If you miss the days of the classic record store or have just started to collect vinyl again, you can't afford to not check out The Vinyl Countdown. This is what visiting a record store and picking up the latest releases was always about and you can experience it without the sterility of running in and out of someplace like Best Buy. There's a great selection, good music on in the background, and you'll be hard pressed to get out without a healthy music conversation with a friendly and knowledgeable staff. The store is open from 11am-8pm Tuesday thru Sunday, so don't hesitate to make the trip downtown to check it out.
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