Couple Taps Into Passion For Vinyl At New Anchorage Store

On a dark January evening, The Black Keys’ album Brother spun on a turntable inside the newly established Obsession Records shop off Tudor Road in Anchorage. A steady flow of customers thumbed their way through the stacks, arranged in plywood bins against a backdrop of vibrant orange walls.

Shop owner Steve Haynes visited with customers, offering to carry their armloads of vinyl to the front counter as they continued to shop. His wife, Verna, eventually joined him and took a seat behind the till.

The Anchorage couple’s new business is part of an industry hit hard by the digital age in the late 1990s. But in the last two years, the music industry reportedly began to recover, with vinyl sales included. In 2012 sales were up for first time since 1999, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which analyzes the global market.

Steve and Verna said they’ve both seen music shops in Anchorage struggle. When asked about the outlook of their business they were not overly optimistic.

“So vinyl sales are up? And they are, but in the big scheme of things, when you’re looking at the music industry as a whole record sales are a very small fraction,” Steve said.

But the couple said their business, which opened its doors in early December, is doing better than either of them imagined. And so far, they’ve done it without any paid advertising, counting solely on word of mouth and Facebook.

“We make ends meet and we get rent paid, but so far there hasn’t been a ton of money in this,” Steve said.

Customers of all ages visit the shop, “young-adult and up,” they said.

A middle-aged couple with grown children of their own, they said it’s too early to call their new business a “retirement plan” or even to predict how long they’ll be able to keep the doors open. They didn’t get into it “to become millionaires,” Verna said, and right now they just want to be able to keep the store open.

For them, Verna said, the store is more of a labor of love.

“Music is fun,” Verna said, as she sat behind the till. “We are not record snobs. We don’t care who comes in, they could be new to collecting vinyls or have complete records collections. We just want to share the music.”

The shop sells the classics — The Beatles, The Doors, The Police, Johnny Cash — but they also sell an occasional Alaska vinyl, more recent artists like Blink-182 and Daft Punk, and movie soundtracks.

Steve said he has several different avenues for finding records, but he didn’t want to reveal his secrets. His personal collection includes about 17,000 records, many of which have ended up in the store’s inventory. Opening the shop is part of his record purge to make space for new vinyl at home.

Steve also orders a smaller variety of new music.

“Him and I collect records very differently,” Verna said. “I have this small little stack, and those are what I like and I can listen to them over and over again. He actually has record collections, though. I don’t chase records. And I don’t need to collect things just to have them. I have done that before.”

A majority of the records Steve sells are in good condition. A few might be a little dusty, but Steve and Verna offer to clean them before bands, such as The Who, walk out the door in the arms of a new owner.

“The condition is the No. 1 thing I look at,” Steve said. “The next thing I look at is rarity. If the record is dinged up, but there was only a couple hundred copies, it’s worth more and I might buy it.”

Steve got back into the record-collecting business for the same reason many have in the last few years. It’s the classic tale of going digital, only to lose all your music because of a computer crash, which happened to Steve about six years ago, he said.

“When that happened I pulled out my old CDs and a lot of them were trashed from being in the car or whatever, so I started thinking about vinyl again,” Steve said.

Steve received a phone call from a family member, which resulted in the start of his collection, thanks to some garage sale vinyl.

Steve has a sense of connection with his records, making “Obsession Records” all the more fitting as a business name. Verna chuckled at the thought of some of his reactions when it came time to say goodbye to his records.

There is still work to be done on the shop. They’d like to add posters to the walls and make a space for local musicians to play, but it’s still a work in progress, they said.

Right now, shops hours are limited. They have day jobs and only operate the store from 5 to 8 p.m. during the week, with longer hours on the weekends.

By the end of the interview, the Haynes had listened to both sides of the Brothers album and a St. Paul and the Broken Bones record – which Steve told a customer he’d recently discovered. It has a Motown sound to it and is the kind of music that makes people move.

“Music just feels good,” Verna said. “It feels really good and it’s fun. And I don’t want to just leave these piled up at home. We really want to share it because its music and you should share music.”