Jay and Deep Groove Records
Vinyl, as it seems, is still very much alive with enough audiophiles to keep its legacy alive and sort of thriving. So if you explore there are a few places in Richmond to go for the vinyl aficionados to call home – just a few.
You have Vinyl Conflict, Plan 9, Turnstyle and, my favorite, Deep Groove Records. Deep Groove is located just inside the Fan about a block from the Boulevard, between Hanover and Grove Avenues. It is owned and operated by a very kind man named Jay, who welcomed me and my friend Kristen into the store on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon.
Kristen is a fellow audiophile with a swell accumulation of vinyl that serves her well – I’ve seen it, “It’s so BIG!” So I asked her to help drive the conversation.
-This is the second installment of the U2RVA project and you’re probably curious…
Why a record store? Why Deep Groove?
I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a very analogue person; I still only shoot with film, I’m learning to be a HAM (amateur radio) operator, and I appreciate the organic, tangible nature of crafted goods with a little bit of history to them- I thrift.
In my parents’ basement I discovered my first record, Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, that was followed by an unearthing of more underground blues and jazz vinyl. Some were recoverable after removing mold and other delightful fungi that blossomed in the cool, darkness. Un-phased by my ecological experience, but compelled by discovery, though, I was without a turntable at the time, the good fortune of friendship and a desperate hunt found me making a transaction of $25 for a small SOUNDESIGN console. Two Simon and Garfunkle 33’s, and an ELO tape cassette that is still in the deck were a premium from my bohemian friend, Joe. This was all of five years ago.
Earlier this summer is when I first happened into Deep Groove with my younger cousin, Tuamie, and my father. That’s when I first met Jay. Tuamie and I both went through the abundance of sleeves to find us each a small stack while my father and Jay recalled old times and good music. I later joined the conversation when I brought my selection to show Jay. Well, he took care of us and made quite the impression that day; as I’m sure he does the same to most of his visitors.
-Very few people understand the mechanics of music retail; much less, record stores. I just so happen to belong in this category of so many who are captivated but don’t completely understand how these businesses are still around. To satisfy a little bit of my wonder I head to Deep Groove.
About a week before our interview I dropped by as a bona fide customer. I wanted to establish some rapport and that I am a patron of this business. Also, I wanted Jay to be able to recognize someone when we shell out our questions.
It was more of a conversation; exactly what I hoped for. After introducing Kristen and reintroducing myself, we started right away.
Jay in RVA
Jay is not native to the River City – that doesn’t make him any less of a Richmonder. He’s an Alabama boy at heart and what brought him to Richmond was a job advertising for a furniture company that did well, but grew too big, too fast for its own good. Anyway he has called the RVA his home for almost 30 years now. After some time, he came under the employment of one of his current neighboring music stores, Plan 9; where his path in running a music retail store began. And Jay is grateful to them.
He started out as a part-time employee there at Plan 9; which at the time was a growing business itself. At one time multiple stores were open in Richmond and Williamsburg. Jay was invited to join them full-time as a general manager in two of the stores for a while. Eventually, many of the stores closed. Jay, with prior experience, anticipated that business at Plan 9 was going south and was inspired by his girlfriend to try something new.
A music store of his own would result.
He still worked at Plan 9 when he started working in the new store. But, all the while this was kept under wraps – he still needed a paycheck.
Now, I want to get a little sense of how Jay functions and runs a store like his, in times like these, in a flummoxed industry like music, but selling archaic records.
Deep Groove has been up and running now for about three years with an interesting history – opening up shop in the next neighborhood. I asked him if he considered any of the other stores his competition. After working with and knowing the people at some of the other shops it’s not something he thinks about.
Occasionally he Jay will pass through to say hello – not to look at their selection, or their setup, or anything else.
We talked for a bit about the task of running a record store. Jay feels that vinyl will always exist to the end of the earth. He tells me the market in Richmond is a good place for selling vinyl. He agrees, there is a big trend right now with people and vinyl; but the exception is the niche, some of his regulars people devoted to this small but dispersed community.
Pretty much the function of the store is to buy and sell records. RVA magazine notes the selection at Deep Groove as a, “carefully curated offering”.
Jay acquires some of the merchandise through house calls he makes and some buying from sites and individuals. Jay is careful not to buy just anything. He already has a vast inventory so the basics are already covered. He turns down about 70 percent of everything that comes in from sellers. At this point, unless they have a really compelling batch or some rare punk or jazz it’s likely it won’t be bought.
You sometimes see people complain about the price of a record or try to negotiate a deal when they find something they like. This kind of arbitration makes it hard for any retailer like Jay. See the markup for the records are so low. The prices of most records are based on how rare each piece can be found – which sucks for us who own oh so many Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums. Other criteria factor in: condition of the disc and sleeve, and local demand.
I was hoping Jay would be able to recommend anything from the selection.
When I asked, he refused. The reason is from prior experience to disappointing a customer a long time ago with a Fleetwood Mac album. Jay is careful about this now; however, he was able to make a suggestion from this private recording company, Numero, from Chicago where he is the one retailer in the U.S. that sells the most records. So they keep sending them here.
To learn a little more about Jay I was curious about his first album(s). Among them were the Monkeys, Cream, and Jim Morrison and the Doors. He is a fan of some local artists who have been around long enough to produce some real original records on vinyl; they are Tommy Flannigan and Lonnie Liston Smith. It also turns out he’s pretty tight with The Drive by Truckers – you can see all the DBT tour passes (along with a lot of Springsteen ticket stubs) set under the glass on the countertop where you would check out.
Well, we already know a little about the shop owner, Jay, who is a very personable guy, but he’s a great neighbor too. During the interview a man Jay knew from upstairs popped in asking to barrow a roll of toilet paper. Jay obliged and went down stairs to fetch a roll. Apparently the man was from the landlord’s office.
Every year Jay participates in the Semi-Annual Sidewalk Sale which contributes to the Harvey Family Fund along with many other businesses in the Fan and Carytown. I was curious and so he educated me about the fund and the tragedy for which the sidewalk sale benefits.
I was anxious to interview Jay when I was planning out this project hoping to learn a little more about records and the business of selling them. Through this installment of U2RVA I have discovered a little more history of Richmond and how Jay and Deep Groove have contributed to the culture and brand of RVA. If you are ever in the Fan I encourage you to pay Jay a visit, regardless of the fact that you do not have a turntable.
I’m planning my next trip to another nearby business so look forward to seeing what I have coming next.