HOT WAX; Ephrata record-store owner devotes half of his store to a huge collection of classic rock of the '60s -- 100,000 vinyl records, in all. He also has customers from around the world.
Patricia Poist-Reilly. Lancaster New Era. Lancaster, Pa.: Sep 9, 2002. pg. 1(Copyright 2002 Lancaster Newspapers)
Andy Kamm was 8 years old in 1968 when he came across one of the first Beatles albums that his parents had purchased a couple of years before.
It was in 1968 when he found the "Meet the Beatles" album and he remembers the thrill of listening to "I Want to Hold your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There."
"It was very upbeat, very energetic, just something I played over and over and enjoyed," said Kamm, 41, of Ephrata. "That was probably my first real introduction to rock 'n' roll."
Later, as a teen-ager growing up in East Lampeter Township, Kamm would haunt garage sales where he would buy up boxes of albums, in which he discovered records by the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and others rock greats. That's how he came to love the classic rock of the 1960s.
That passion for music would lead Kamm to become a record collector and to later open the Record Connection, a record store in Ephrata that draws customers from around the world.
His store sells all genres of music, from progressive rock to country, on the typical compact discs and tapes. But the unusual thing about his store is that half of it, about 1,100 square feet of space, is devoted entirely to vinyl records, 45s, 33s, even 78s, extended-play, rare and imported records.
"It's more of a nostalgia thing," said Kamm, standing amid a collection of more than 100,000 vinyl records in his store at 550 N. Reading Road.
Kamm opened his store in 1985 after years of trading and selling his albums at flea markets and antique shows.
Three years ago, he decided to rent more space, doubling the size of his store to 2,500 square feet. His business has grown to bring in an annual revenue of $250,000, a number that has held steady in recent years.
"We've hit a plateau," he said. Competition in the popular CD sector from the big-box retailers and Internet shopping has been fierce. The rise in people downloading music from the Internet "hurts the entire industry."
"The number of independent record stores has been dwindling because there are so many things working against them," he said. "It's been a challenge over the past couple of years for us."
Kamm plans to remain at the Ephrata location, since it's accessible from the turnpike and other major thoroughfares. It is also close to Adamstown, which is an antique center.
Kamm said he will continue to focus on his vinyl- and rare- record niche, a strategy that business experts say is a good way to fight the fierce chain-store competition.
Record Connection is also in the process of upgrading its Web site (www.recordconnectionpa.com
) to boost its online sales. The store already has customers from all parts of the globe.
Most recently, a man from Korea spent a day at his store and ended up buying 800 albums. He's also had customers from France, Greece and several other countries. He said some of his customers even plan their vacations around at trip to his store.
Those international contacts have also enabled Kamm to scour the world for rare albums requested by his customers.
To be sure, you are not going to find the Beatles extremely rare "Butcher" album, with its controversial cover of red meat and heads and torsos of toy dolls, at Wal-Mart.
Produced in the mid-60s, the albums were recalled after a storm of public criticism and re-released with a pasted cover of the Beatles surrounding a steamer trunk. Today, an album with the"Butcher" cover retails for up to $1,000, said Kamm, who has one in his private collection.
Record Connection's staff, which includes two full-time employees besides Kamm, is made up of audiophiles who know the industry inside and out, he said. Often, customers will come in and sing a song to the staff, but do not know the artist or album's name.
"We will try to figure it out from there," Kamm said. "It is particularly challenging when they describe a music video and don't know the name of the artist or song.
"We have a very knowledgeable staff and we are very service- oriented, said Kamm. "We work very hard trying to find what people are looking for."
And then there is the atmosphere of the place.
"It is kind of a trip through time when you come through these doors," Kamm said.
Walk in the store and you will hear the vinyl version of such greats as the Moody Blues on the turntable. Incense, lava lamps, rock memorabilia and psychedelic posters and even a male sales clerk with long 70-era hair harkens back to the counterculture of the '60s and '70s.
And then there are the rows and rows of inventory to sift through.
"You can spend hours there just browsing," said Lancaster dentist Fred Levin, 55. Levin said he has purchased several 45s from the Record Connection, which he said takes him back in time, even to the 1940s and 1950s.
"I like to get the records from when I was growing up," said Levin, who has been frequenting the store since last fall. "What happens, if I hear a particular song, is I go back to where I was as a dental student, freshman year of college or my high school years, it usually brings back a picture in my mind."
Longtime customer Tony Iezzi of Reading, who previously owned a record store in his hometown, said he also spends hours at the Record Connection and said there are no other stores like it in the area.
"I can spend the whole day there and dig and dig and dig, there is so much to look at," said Iezzi, who has his own private collection of 20,000 vinyl albums and 15,000 CDs (as well as up to 30 turntables.)
He said that if the Record Connection cannot find a rare piece of music, than it is unlikely anybody else can.
"If he doesn't have something you want, you might as well forget it," said Iezzi.
Levin said he is not only pleased with the variety, but with the condition of the inventory at Record Connection.
"They mark them by condition and they are pretty accurate," he said. "They don't have any junk there," he said.
Levin plays his records on a modern turntable, but is now in the process of trying to upgrade a vintage portable record player he recently purchased at an antiques flea market. Though he is drawn to vinyl, he said he doesn't really notice much of a difference in sound when compared to digital.
Still, Kamm and other audiophiles insist that vinyl sounds better than digital."Without a doubt, there is a certain warmth that vinyl carries that the digital in CDs can't quite equal," Kamm said.
Kamm also said he believes sales of turntables, which his store sells, have surged in recent years. Indeed, upscale catalogs, such as Hammacher Schlemmer, have been selling reproductions of the old portable record players.
But, according to the Virginia-based Consumer Electronics Association, the renewed popularity hasn't yet shown up in the numbers. The trade association provided numbers compiled by eBrain Market Research that showed that more than 2.1 million turntables were sold in 1980 and steadily declining year after year to the 177,000 sold in 2001.
Still, association spokeswoman Anne-Taylor Griffith, said sales of professional grade turntables, which aren't factored in the statistics, seem to be increasing.
"That throws the curve off," Griffith said."Anecdotally, based on my own personal life, the turntables that people are buying are professional grade that usually have two mixers, or a fader, and those are not included in our sales, so it's not a complete picture."
[Illustration] COLOR PHOTOS; Caption: Marty Heisey; (1)Andy Kamm, owner of Record Connection in Ephrata. (2)Owner Andy Kamm pores over vinyl albums at his Ephrata music store.