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Vinyl on a roll - again

Vintage record dealers say business is a rockin'


Andrew Wedgbury

Nevada City Advocate

Forty years ago, when Bob Seger sang, “Just take those old records off the shelf,” the CD format was poised to take a huge chunk out of record sales. It looked like the downfall of the turntable-driven vinyl format with the big cover art and warm sound. 

And yet today, those old records, along with new pressings, are showing increased appeal to collectors and music fans of all ages.

For vinyl collectors in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area, two longtime proponents of the vinyl record format are Curt Smith of Clocktower Records and Ron Quintana, who oversees Ron’s Real Records and a large record section in Booktown Books. Both have seen a steady rise in vinyl sales over the past few years, reflecting a continuing national trend.

In 2017, vinyl comprised 29 percent of retail recordings – the highest share since the mid-1980s, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Retail locations are also increasing and a wide array of artists – from Taylor Swift to Social Unrest – are releasing new and archival material. Looking to complete your Monkees collection? They have released a five-LP box set of studio albums and rare tracks.

“I have always been passionate about vinyl,” said Smith at his shop on Main Street in Grass Valley, which he opened in 2011. “Believe it or not, I started collecting records when I was 12 and have not stopped.”

The way the whole idea of the vinyl record has now blown up is a great thing,” he added. “And it has surprised a lot of folks.” 

Smith noted that according to statistics released by Record Store Day, an event and organization promoting independent record stores, last year records outsold music downloads for the first time. Record Store Day is April 21 this year.

“Some people see it as a fad or a phase, but I don’t see it that way,” he said. “There’s a new generation of kids and young adults getting back into this medium. As far as the record pressing plants go, they are so far behind (in orders) it is not even funny.” 

Rainbo Records, a California manufacturer that just celebrated its 75th anniversary, runs presses seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to keep up with demand for re-pressings and new releases. 

Smith said his customers range from pre-teens to much older serious collectors.

“Younger customers, say between 9 and 15, will come in with their own money and say ‘What have you got on the Doors?’ and it’s surprising and good, that they know about the Doors. But they just want the music, and it’s not a collectability thing. Then you have another group of people, say between 20 and 40, who are looking for original pressings, but they don’t want to spend a lot of money. Then you have collectors who do not buy new, they only buy used, and they are looking for original premium copies.” 

Clocktower also has a website, clocktowerrecordstore.com, that has about 6,000 items, ranging in cost from $20 up to $1,000.

When looking at most popular vinyl genres, rock is still number one, but at Smith’s store jazz is a strong second. 

“It’s something I’m passionate about, so I really push that. I think I have 7,000 to 10,000 jazz records, and in a lot of stores that is what their total vinyl is.” Rounding out the store’s inventory is a large selection of reggae, R&B, soul, funk and metal. Memorabilia, posters, videos, shirts and stereo equipment are also a big part of Clocktower’s appeal, including autographed pictures and rare record company promotional items.

An easy walk down Mill Street will bring you to Ron’s Real Records, owned by veteran vinyl enthusiast Quintana. He also has a record and memorabilia section in Booktown Books, a large cooperative of 14 booksellers on Bank Street in Grass Valley. 

Quintana first opened a record store in 1998 on Main Street and was also a partner for several years at Herb Shop Records in Nevada City. He has been with Booktown Books for 10 years and opened the Mill Street store last year. His love for collecting vinyl goes back many years and includes a stint as DJ for KUSF, the FM station of the University of San Francisco.

“I’ve generally had two stores at a time for 19 years. In fact, I’d like to get another one going in Nevada City,” he said. “But right now, it’s here that I’m concentrating on,” he said of Ron’s Real Records, “and at Booktown. And Booktown is amazing,” he added. “I’ve learned so much.” 

Quintana has about 10,000 records at his Booktown location, as well as various CDs and collectibles. The Mill Street location, however, not only offers thousands of records in every genre, but also houses a large collection of memorabilia, toys, VHS tapes, pictures, shirts and rare music collectibles. 

“DJ’ing, I’ve collected punk and metal my whole life, but selling for 19 years, I’ve come to realize I’ve got to know more about every genre,” he said. 

“Americana is huge, as well as is progressive, blues, jazz. And I’m really into ’60s psychedelic music. I’ve got about 6,000 records here, and I’m looking to double that. I love traveling around and getting records. In fact, I’m going to a record show this weekend in the Bay Area.” 

The building that houses the record shop also has the Hair Razors salon, his apartment, and a basement that has “100,000 records, literally.”

As far as the type of customer who comes in, he agrees with Curt Smith, who he knows well. 

“I’m surprised at the number of kids that come in here who are into records of old bands. It amazes me,” he said. “The Beatles, my favorite band, always sell, along with the Stones, but younger kids are buying the classics; they’re buying Led Zeppelin records, Queen records, Thin Lizzie. I’m amazed by it.” 

He also noted it’s hard to find more copies of those popular discs.” I go down to Sacramento, Marysville, San Jose, Monterey, L.A., wherever I can. I really can’t get enough.”

Another surprising trend? The cassette is making a small comeback. “They’ve been taking off the fastest lately,” he said. “Kids are putting out demos, their music, on cassette only. I got a metal band this week – cassette! There’s guys with cassette labels putting out tapes. I buy and sell them all the time, and I also use them to record stuff.”

Quintana also sees that the small number of record-pressing facilities nationwide are not only backlogged with new releases, but with revising back catalogs of older artists. 

Plants are working 24 hours a day just to get through orders for not only artists like the Beatles and Zeppelin, but also for a multitude of titles from the ’50s through the ’90s. 

Vintage memorabilia are a natural fit for his record store, and many customers who are looking for a record will leave with an LP and perhaps a Pee Wee Herman doll.

“Yesterday, I had a 12-year-old girl come in on her birthday with her mom, and she was looking for 20-year-old South Park stuff,” Quintana said. “She bought a promotional Chinese Kenny doll, a Beatles action figure from Yellow Submarine, and an Ultra-Man action figure. She’s 12! She was telling me about this stuff.”

As if on cue, at the end of this interview a customer named Rhapsody came in the store to pick up her recent purchase for her kids’ birthday – two action figures from the movie “Strange Brew,” brothers Doug and Bob McKenzie. 

Quintana and Smith are ardent collectors who are always ready to rummage through that “mystery box” of LPs, looking for a rare gem. But both are more than happy to see a new generation of music fans walking through the door, looking for great songs on great albums. Albums with the big cover art, warm sound, played on a turntable. You got any Doors?  

Quintana’s Grass Valley Stores are Ron’s Real Records, 233A Mill St., (530-272-5028), and Booktown Books, 107 Bank St., (530-272-4655). Clocktower Records is at 130 W. Main St., Grass Valley (530-477-1400).

About the photo: 


Ron Quintana owns two record stores in Grass Valley. “I’ve generally had two stores at a time for 19 years. In fact, I’d like to get another one going in Nevada City,” he said.