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A Deliberate Combination

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What do two international university students — one from Uganda, the other from Singapore — have in common with Jay Reeves, the founder and owner of Vinyl Perk in Carrboro?

All three love Simon and Garfunkel.

“They came in and wanted to hear the Simon and Garfunkel song, “I Am a Rock,” which we have,” Reeves said. “It made them feel good to hear it, and it was good to share that.

“Otherwise we had nothing in common. They were a third my age, from different parts of the world, but we had something really strong in common — we both loved that music at a level beyond words.”

Where the Music Meets the Bean

Opened just a few weeks ago on Rosemary Street, adjacent to the Midway Barber Shop, Vinyl Perk serves up an interesting mixture of offerings — vintage records and gourmet coffee. When you walk through the doors, it feels almost as if you’re walking back in time. It smells a bit musty in the front of the shop, probably from the nearly 4,000 vintage albums and their respective album jackets. It doesn’t smell musty in a bad way, it simply smells like a classic book as you turn the pages, with just a little less of that “paper” smell.

The scent reeks of history, memories and emotion. People’s lives have played out to the songs on the records in this very shop for over 50 years in some cases. These were in people’s homes, in their apartments; they’ve adorned loving fans’ shelves and were mounted on their walls. Countless memories were made while listening to these albums; the records on these shelves were soundtracks to someone’s life 20 or 30 years ago. You can feel that sense of history every step you take farther into the shop.

As you step onto the floor, you’re greeted by the sounds of crackles and pops from the album spinning on the turntable in the corner, amplified by the wall-mounted loudspeakers on each side of the shop.

The left wall is covered by album covers and concert posters from famous live shows by world-famous rock acts. Under the albums and posters sit shelves upon shelves of vintage albums organized alphabetically and into genres like, “Rock”, “Soul”, “Folk” and “Mixed Bag.” All told, Reeves estimates there are nearly 40,000 albums in his inventory, even though there are only 3,500 to 4,000 in the store.

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There’s a montage on the left wall in the front of the store — albums from bands like Cream, the Beach Boys, Supertramp, and Foghat surround a framed yellow piece of construction paper with the simple phrase, “vinyl for the people,” typed on the page.

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On the opposite side hangs a tribute to Carolina’s own — James Taylor — containing almost every album he ever released, mounted on the wall into three rows of five albums. The rest of that wall, though, is dominated by vintage coffee pots sitting atop wooden shelves, an homage to the throwback method Reeves uses to brew his gourmet coffee.

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The decorations are kitsch-y, in a way, but they fit the shop perfectly. They’re neither over the top nor overpowering. Around the shop there are vintage books and posters, collectible mugs and glasses, historical knickknacks and oddments — everything you’d want to see inside a shop that contains so many memories. There’s a blend of nostalgia and novelty, and all of it fits the ethos of the shop.

Under the coffee pots are two-person tables and a stadium-style bench allowing for people to sit and enjoy their coffee or listen to tunes as they work. Reeves wants the shop to be a place where people feel comfortable bringing in their albums or requesting their favorites from the shop’s inventory to listen to while they enjoy their coffee or work on their laptops.

The shop is deep and narrow, allowing Vinyl Perk to house a sizable inventory while still feeling intimate. Coffee is brewed in the back corner, where Reeves sits behind the counter until you walk through the door, at which point in time he’s quick to come out onto the floor to greet you personally and offer any help you might need. There’s rarely a moment he’s not on the floor while patrons are in his shop, save for the times he has to flip the album or when’s brewing a fresh cup of coffee.

A Deliberate Combination

A precarious duality has emerged in music listenership over the last half-decade — fans flock to digital streaming services like Spotify and SoundCloud in record numbers, driven by the unparalleled convenience of being able to listen to whomever, whenever, wherever. Fans can find new artists through recommendation algorithms and check out that music with a few clicks of the mouse.

At the same time, though, LPs are the only physical media format for which sales have grown over the last few years. As SoundCoud grows at 200 and 300 percent rates year over year, vinyl sales have similarly grown by 511 percent from 2006 to 2012. And while that only comprises two percent of overall music sales, it’s still an interesting trend worth noting. Furthermore, those sales numbers do not take into account vintage resellers like Vinyl Perk.

Much the same way convenience drives the digital music revolution, so too does convenience affect “gourmet” coffee — urban caffeine-dependents walk or drive through one of the five nearby Starbucks on their way to whatever they’re doing next. Reeves feels like that’s not how certain things should be enjoyed.

“[Vinyl and coffee] go well together. And people get it; intuitively, they get it. We live in a rush, rush world, and everything is instant and digital and invisible. Music is now invisible, and I think people like seeing something tangible, they like seeing the album cover, holding the record, like seeing it spin. There’s something grounding, I think, about holding the music in your hand and seeing it playing.

“The same with coffee, there’s something to be said about watching your cup being made instead of driving through a drive-thru, and they slosh it out of a machine and hand it to you, and you’re off to your next appointment. Sit down and watch it being made right there — can’t get any fresher than that.

“Speciality coffee and vinyl records, to me, are really similar because they’re both best enjoyed in a deliberate, slow manner.”

Vinyl for the People

Don’t think of Reeves as a luddite — he lists some of his more valuable individual albums on eBay, Amazon, and Discogs. “Online sales are great, and they really augment a brick-and-mortar store. I’m not a total neanderthal, because I see the advantage of being able to post something online and sell it to someone in Germany.”

And while this is his full-time career, which online sales can certainly augment, it’s the connection between music lovers that he values most.

“Music has been a great thing in my life. I can testify how much it’s brought goodness to me. It’s easy for me to promote this because I believe in it. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen what it can do.

“Music is a unifying force. When those international university students came in looking for ‘I Am a Rock,’ it just brought it home. I may have had nothing to talk to those folks about, but you put the music on, and you don’t have to say anything.”