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For one day at least, records rule the East End

LAWRENCE PIERCE | Gazette-Mail Even with music available almost instantaneously online, records still hold appeal for people looking for something you can hold in your hands.
Sam Lowe (center) owns Sullivan’s Records on the East End of Charleston. He enlisted Chris Vance (right) to help out on Record Store Day, his store’s busiest day of the year.
Emmett Pepper listens to records before deciding to buy at Sullivan’s Records on Saturday.
Sullivan’s Records has been on the East End of Charleston for about a year.
LAWRENCE PIERCE | Gazette-Mail The line outside Sullivan's on Saturday morning was about 50 people long, most of them looking for special releases available only on Record Store Day.

By David Gutman

Staff writer

If, on Saturday, you wanted a vinyl copy of the never before released Nirvana album “Pennyroyal Tea,” you had a couple options. You could wait in line at Sullivan’s Records, in Charleston, and hope to get your hands on the one $8 copy the store was alloted, or you could look on eBay later in the day, where copies were going for as much as $75.

If you wanted a glow-in-the-dark 10-inch vinyl of the Ghostbusters theme, same deal: Hope to get one of the East End record shop’s two copies for $18, or find one on eBay hours later for exponentially more. Only 2,000 copies of the record are available anywhere in the country.

Such musical esoterica is released in limited quantities once a year, on Record Store Day. Record stores like Sullivan’s tell their distributors how many copies they’d like of each specially released record, and the suppliers (sort of) comply, giving out copies depending on the size of the store.

“I ordered 10 copies of the Nirvana record and they were like, ‘That’s cute,’” Sam Lowe, the owner of Sullivan’s said. His shop was given one of the 6,000 copies available across the country.

Record Store Day began in 2007 as a way to promote and celebrate independent record stores.

There were about 50 people waiting in line at Sullivan’s at 9 a.m. Saturday, looking for records that are only available in stores one day a year.

The line snaked by neighboring Tray’s Barber Shop, in front of two empty store fronts and around a corner into an empty lot on Washington Street East.

Normally Sullivan’s is a one man operation, but Record Store Day is probably the busiest day of the year, so Lowe enlisted some help.

Chris Vance, a musician and regular customer who described himself as a “record store rat,” showed up at 9 to unlock the store.

“I went straight to the door and I thought people were going to kill me,” Vance said. “‘You can’t skip the line’” he was told.

Once the confusion cleared, customers streamed into the small shop.

Doug Wayne, a music teacher at Clay County Middle School, bought a rare live album of Sonny Rollins. He’d driven to the Kennedy Center in Washington last year with his daughter to see the sax legend.

In a digital age, with virtually any music you want available instantly through iTunes and Spotify, Wayne said he still likes records because they’re a physical thing, something beautiful you can hold in your hands.

He tells his students that he has a record player, but not a television.

“My students say, ‘how is that possible?’” Wayne said. “I actually have students who cannot comprehend that. It’s like, ‘How can you not breathe air?’”

Donnie Smith is the lead singer in the band “Elephant in the Room.” His girlfriend bought him a record player in December and he’s bought about 80 records since.

“CDs are so small and they’re so replaceable. There’s something about having the physical [record] cover in your hands,” Smith said. “Records are fun for the hunt, it’s like ‘Oh my god, look what I found, nobody else has this.’”

Vance, who plays guitar and sings in the band “Farnsworth” and owns about 1,000 records, likes not only the higher sound quality, but also that they make him slow down.

“It’s more of a journey to listen to the full album, when you can’t skip songs,” he said. “It’s an experience. If you’re listening to music it’s usually on-the-go. But with a record, you’re sitting down.”

Reach David Gutman at or 304-348-5119.

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