Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Florida record shop holding its own - for now"

from - photo & story by Steve Liner

Collectors, purists aid in vinyl's comeback

Tucked away far west on Tharpe Street in an industrial section characterized more by mechanics' shops than retail stores is LP's Music and More.

Owner and manager Leo Percy presides over the shop he and his wife, Delbra, have owned jointly since 2002. Inside is an assortment of more than 13,000 vinyl record albums and 7-inch "45s" (a reference to the speed at which a turntable rotates to recreate the music), cassette tapes, compact disks, 8-track tapes, an assortment of turntables, amplifiers, speakers and even 8-track playback units. Percy even has a couple of vintage stereo consoles — remnants of an original supply of "about 40" he had when the shop opened.

As tough as small business is, said Leo Percy, this may be among the toughest to keep going. Last month, he said, he informed his landlord that December might be the last month for the store.

"We're barely hanging on," Percy said of the past few months when income did not meet the business's financial needs. "This month we've made enough to pay the bills."

So, the shop and its collection will survive at least through January "and hopefully beyond, if we get enough support."

Even if the storefront is lost, he said, he will maintain the collections. In fact, that is where LP's Music and More found its beginning: Leo Percy's passion for rock and roll and the collection it spawned.

It all started in the late 1960s when Percy's father returned from Vietnam and gave his son the gift of "The Ballad of the Green Beret" by Barry Sadler. A copy of that same album is in the store today, used to test equipment.

"I know each song by heart," Percy said. "I can listen to it and tell if a turntable is turning too fast or slow. I know how it is supposed to sound."

Technically, LP's Music and More buys and sells recordings. In its time the shop has handled records that spin at 16 revolutions per minute (rpm), 33 1/3, 45 and 78 rpm. In the shop now there are no 16s ("I've only seen this speed used by the military," he explained.) or fragile 78s ("If you drop them, they will break."). The majority of titles are on LPs, long-play albums.

Vinyl records are making somewhat of a comeback lately among collectors and music purists, who believe the analog recordings sound better due to a richer tone not evident with digital versions. And LPs are prized for the artwork on their covers.

The price for record albums is set based on the condition of the record and its cover, combined with the rarity and demand for it. The oldest recordings in his shop are from the Diamonds from the late 1950s, and Dion and the Belmonts from the late '50s and early '60s, Percy said.

Never much of a financial success, the shop has survived on word-of-mouth referrals and support from regulars. Now it faces a real peril of closing.

"Every time the cost of gas goes up, business goes down," Percy said.

To add to the trouble, the college students who were once both good customers and good at telling friends about the store are now grown and no longer in town.

Customers range in age from 8 well into their 60s, but Percy refers to the 18- to 55-year-olds as the "core."

Will his passion for the music overcome the growing technical differences in this world of digital music? There is a glimmer of hope. Mentioned as one of the fastest growing electronics trends today is a computer interface that will allow consumers to digitize their own record collections at home. That should increase the call for albums at the shop in 2008, Percy said.

If so, LP's Music and More might make it to see another Christmas.

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