Why would anyone in his right mind open a record store in 2009? The economy is in shambles, and free (or cheap) music is only a mouse-click away. The impact of these factors has resonated strongly in Atlanta over the last year as the city lost two of its long-standing independent record stores. First, Earwax Records closed in January '08. Now Ella Guru Records will follow suit when owner Don Radcliffe shutters its doors for good on Feb. 28.
But Paul Tilghmon, aka DJ Sars – or Parking Lot Paul, as most of Atlanta knows him – could seemingly care less about the dire state of the industry.
On the same day Ella Guru shuts down, Tilghmon will open Reactionary Records, along with business partners Brian Colontuno and Chuck Petrakopoulos. Situated in the East Atlanta Village across the street from the Earl, the new shop at 465-A Flat Shoals Ave. will cater to discerning vinyl shoppers.
Despite the lingering retail doom and gloom, Tilghmon seems unfazed. "I can't really worry about those things," he says with a dismissive shrug. "It's a risk I have to take, but I don't think it will really affect me that much. People who want their music on vinyl are dedicated to it, and they'll never be satisfied by looking things up on their computer. They love to hunt for it. But until now, there hasn't been anywhere to hunt for it on this side of town."
The numbers don't lie. According to Criminal Records owner Eric Levin, January '09 sales for new and used vinyl at the Little Five Points indie-music hub surpassed CD sales for the first time ever, with vinyl accounting for 60 percent of Criminal's music sales last month. Stats from the Recording Industry Association of America reflect the trend's national upswing. In 2007, revenue from vinyl sales increased by nearly 50 percent across the country, while CD sales revenue dropped more than 20 percent. Even those numbers fail to account for the popular used vinyl market.
It won't be Tilghmon's first run with Reactionary Records. In the summer of '99, he rented a space inside Paris on Ponce slightly larger than a jail cell, along with Coluntno and Gary Yoxen. There, they put together the first makeshift version of the shop. But the location failed to garner much traffic. Yoxen soon split and the shop folded about six months later.
For the relaunch, Tilghmon has logged in plenty of hours painting, cleaning records to sell, and doing the footwork to make sure the word is out for what ostensibly adds up to a labor of love for him. The boutique storefront's militant green and red decor gives the appearance of a punk-rock hang-out, but Tilghmon says he'll carry everything from punk to dub, soul, jazz, reggae and some classic hip-hop titles. "There will be a little something for everyone who likes good music," he offers.
Inside the store, rows of album covers decorate the walls. A Tribe Called Quest's Anthology hangs next to Tom Waits' Bone Machine, Nick Cave's Murder Ballads, and dozens of other titles by the Pogues, the Clash, Neon Christ and the Ramones. "The goal is to not have a bunch of filler in the record bins," he says. "I want it to be the kind of store where someone will walk in and see something that they need."
Filling that vinyl niche has kept another local newcomer to Atlanta's record store scene, Beatlab Records, afloat amid troubled times. "You can't be a coffee shop and sell filet mignon," laughs the store's owner, Scott Weatherwax, former co-owner of the defunct hip-hop music shop More Dusty Than Digital. Weatherwax opened Beatlab in August and bases his business on serving his customers' interests. "Everybody that owns or works in a record store has a certain amount of knowledge that you can take or leave," Weatherwax says. "Let's say there's a young producer or someone who's into collecting rare records and looking to spin something that hip-hop artists sampled. Who's going to direct them to who produced what or who played on what? Our motto is: For DJs and producers, by DJs and producers."
Another factor that should help foster business for Reactionary Records is Tilghmon's reputation. A large chunk of the local music scene knows Parking Lot Paul; he's the gatekeeper of the Little Five Points parking lot. And as a DJ he's tuned people in to good punk, soul and power-pop records for years. That role will serve him well in establishing the store's presence.
To connect with its invaluable customer base, Reactionary Records will host an opening party at the Star Bar on Friday, Feb. 27. Dark Meat, American Cheeseburger, GG King and several other bands are scheduled to perform. In the meantime, Tilghmon will continue running the parking lot in L5P, which will support his endeavors with the record store.
"Hopefully, once I get the store up and running and can spend more time there, people won't be calling me Parking Lot Paul anymore. It will be Reactionary Paul," he says. "That sounds so much cooler."
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