Venture capitalists have a golden rule. Invest in a business if its product or service makes consumers’ lives easier. The logic is simple. People go for anything geared toward convenience. Take the music industry. Cassettes replaced records, because of size. Cassettes made way for compact discs, which were easier to play and more durable. And now, the MP3 player has numbered the CD’s days.
But gazing from his Clarkston shop window toward the railway tracks, Mike Bell is unfazed by change. Since 1981, Records Galore, which he started on a friend’s advice, has remained one of the few constants in a chameleon-like city.
His shop neighbors, for example, have gone from restaurants to bike shops back to restaurants. The city’s population went from suburban conservative to exotically international.
Records, though, have always stacked the store’s no-frills interior. “People just seem to like the art covers and the sound is more genuine than CDs,” said Bell, explaining why there’s still demand for a product now considered an antique.
According to Bell, there remains a consistent culture of record collectors who—either as musical pedants or stubborn resistors to change—has made Records Galore one of Clarkston’s longest-lasting ventures.
On the flip side, most customers aren’t locals, but those willing to travel long distances. And they find a trove of originals – everything from Elvis to Led Zeppelin.
“People always seem to like Pink Floyd, the ‘60s rock, blues and soul – that kind of thing,” said Bell, who started selling records at a flea market in the ‘70s.
Records run from 25 cents to hundreds of dollars, depending on several variables.
“It’s hard to predict what a record’s worth; you really have to go by what people pay,” said Bell. “There’s a book, but a lot of the information is worthless. Prices can fluctuate; some things are not worth anything and others are valuable. It’s hard to say.”
Bell’s highest-priced record, an album by the Four Exceptions, is a perfect example of this unpredictability.
“I had a friend put it on eBay for $100 and somebody asked, ‘Can I buy it now for $500?’ It eventually went for $1,500.”
Finds like this are rare but big-spending aficionados have helped maintain Records Galore’s quaint spot on Ponce De Leon.
“I’ve had a lot of foreign business,” he said. “The Japanese and English can come in on a slow day and spend $300, which helps clear inventory to put new stuff in.”
A good thing about having record collectors as customers, reasoned Bell, a fan of ‘60s music, is their loyalty and word-of-mouth dependability.
“Even back in 1981 most of my business was from outside of Clarkston–Decatur, Marietta, Atlanta–places like that,” he said. “It would help if the economy was better but it’s has been about the same in the last few years, up and down.”
Records Galore is located at 4148 East Ponce De Leon in Clarkston (404) 294-5271.