After 40 years, Randy’s Record Shop is thriving in the vinyl revival

Retirement • The store will remain open as founder and owner Randy Stinson retires after four decades.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Randy Stinson among his stock of LPs in the back of his Salt Lake City record store on Thurs. Oct. 4, 2018. Randy's Records has been in business for 40 years this month.

Walking through the doors at Randy’s Record Shop is like stepping into the past — back to a time when vinyl was king and CDs, let alone Spotify, didn’t exist.

The modest-looking store at 157 E. Harvey Milk Blvd. (900 South) in Salt Lake City is stuffed with tens of thousands of records — albums, 45s, even some 78s. It’s staffed by people who are, if possible, even more enthusiastic about music than the customers, led by founder/owner Randy Stinson, who opened for business in October 1978.

He credits the store with giving him focus after his service in Vietnam, where his brother had sent him the latest releases and homesick soldiers crowded around to hear them. He worried about closing in the 1980s: CDs were suddenly being sold everywhere, from new music shops to grocery stores, and Rhino Records stopped reissuing classic albums on records.

But in the early 2000s, he saw vinyl start a comeback that has the store thriving today. Last year, the Travel Channel put Randy’s on its list of “8 Must-Visit American Record Stores” — alongside Amoeba Music in Los Angeles and the Dusty Groove in Chicago — writing that Randy’s is "how a vintage used-record store used to look in the 20th century, and what’s not to like about that?”

Now, Stinson is retiring — and his son Sam will become the new owner. But Stinson, 76, hasn’t lost any of his love for music.

At home, he has 10,000 records in his garage and a jukebox filled with rock ’n’ roll 45s — “the stuff I grew up with” in the format he grew up with.

He enjoys asking visitors what they listen to and gets excited about everything from Led Zeppelin to the entire genre of Northern Soul music. With jazz his current favorite, he’s often playing records from Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and Thelonious Monk.

“The people who hate vinyl don’t understand it at all,” Stinson said. “First, you get to own something. If you have whatever it is you put on your phone, you don’t really own anything.

“But the No. 1 reason is how they sound. If you have half-decent equipment, records sound so much more real it's unbelievable.”

From spinning to selling

Stinson worked as a typesetter for Salt Lake City’s newspapers before he was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where his brother shipped him records. “I was probably the first guy in Vietnam to have the Beatles White Album. I had stuff like Cream, Jimi Hendrix,” he said.

He’d play music for his friends and later learned that many more people were lined up in the hallway, listening outside the room.

“A lot of them were officers,” Stinson said. “They came because it sounded so good, and it reminded us of being home.”

When he got back to Utah, he was drinking “2½ six-packs” of beer “and smoking 2½ packs of cigarettes every day. That’s how bad I was. I could just tell that I was going to end up dying and end up losing whatever I had at that time.

“Luckily, I kept all my records,” he said with a laugh. “I’d go, 'Well, I’ll just only drink one six-pack. I’m not going to sell my records to buy the booze.’”

He quit alcohol and tobacco by 1975, wanting to “be fair” to his new wife (they later divorced) and hoping to eventually open a store. He was spinning records at the Bongo Lounge at 30th South and Highland Drive, taking hundreds of requests.

“I’d have about 95 percent of them,” he said. “But it bummed me out not to have those other ones. So that’s one reason I wanted to have my own store, was to be able to get those records.”

By the time he opened the store in 1978, he had “at least 60,000 records” in his personal collection — which became his store inventory.

“I only had $3,000 at the start, and I spent most of it to get cabinets to put the records on and in,” Stinson said. “I had hardly any money left over. I sold a lot of my records to keep the business going. … I sold real rare stuff back in the early ’80s to be able to pay the bills and stay out of debt.”

‘I never stopped’

Stinson estimates that over the past 40 years, he’s bought at least a half-million LPs and another half-million 45s, most of which he turned around and sold. He does, however, still have the first record he ever bought — Santo & Johnny’s 1959 recording of “Sleepwalk,” and it’s in “perfect condition.”

“I started buying 45s way back then,” he said, “and I never stopped.”

He recalls being impressed with the sound on a Buddy Holly CD when it was reissued in the mid-1980s.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is so clean. I have never heard these little details and stuff,’" he said. “I played it a few times, and then I thought, ‘It sounds a little bright. The bass doesn’t sound good.’”

So he got out his original 1959 record of the same Buddy Holly album.

“And that started to convince me totally that records had better sound. I played that record a few times, played the CD and I never played that CD again. Only in my car.”

He tested his theory on his then-wife and their five children. He played vinyl and CD versions of songs for them while they listened, out of sight, in an adjacent room.

“They said the one that sounds the best was the record,” he said. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just me.”

Convinced as he was, the rise of the CD era in the 1980s had him worried. “There were tons of [new music] stores. They just kept opening up. And different places — grocery stores — were selling CDs.”

It was a blow when, in 1989, as his store was selling “tons” of greatest hits albums from Rhino Records on vinyl, the label stopped issuing them.

“They discontinued them all,” Stinson said. “That’s when I was nervous — ’89 was when they kind of killed vinyl.”

‘Stick with one thing’

But as new vinyl went away, used vinyl was easy to get from “people who were dumping their records” after replacing them with CDs.

“We just kept buying and buying them, even though sales had gone down,” he said. “And some people just gave us their records to get rid of them.”

He sold CDs and eight-track tapes and cassettes — even tried posters at one point. “I tried different things and thought, ‘You know what? They’re not going over. So let’s just stick with one thing,’” Stinson said. “So we just stuck with records.”

He was also paying off a tax bill; he said was unaware taxes had been going unpaid. He skipped vacations, worked 80 hours a week, and by the early 2000s, was out of debt. At the same time, record sales started to pick up again.

After about 2010, “vinyl started selling like crazy,” Stinson said.

Today, the store is a great place to hang out and browse, to find treasures and talk music with the staff. Along with the records, it sells CDs and cassettes and even a few eight-track tapes — which, Stinson will tell you, “sound good if they’re good quality.”

His enthusiasm is “pretty infectious,” said Kristopher Rounds, who has worked at the shop for a decade.

Sean and Joan Dahl make regular trips to Randy’s, where Sean Dahl said he has shopped since he was a teenager. “Their used vinyl rotates so much that every time we come in, it’s a fresh experience,” he said.

The employees “know their stuff,” Joan Dahl added. “… Almost everything we run across is priced competitively. We find all sorts of obscure stuff as well as new stuff.”

That’s exactly the experience Stinson wants his customers to have.

“I’m just hoping they’ll come in and find something,” he said, “and think the price is good on it. That was always so important to me. … And we’re still going up. We’re getting new buyers all the time.”

Stinson still likes working in the shop; “what makes me happy is making other people happy,” he said.

But he hasn’t been able to see out of his right eye for several months, and the vision is going in his left eye. He and his wife, Janice, want to travel — they’re hoping to visit Europe and Walt Disney World and take an Alaska cruise.

“I want to do that before I go too blind,” he said. “As long as I can still see enough, then I want to go on these trips.

“I never left the United States except to go to Vietnam. And that was not a vacation!”