All vinyl, all the time
Since the spring of 2004, when the husband-wife team of Harold Gold and Max I. Million opened Gold Million Records, a shop selling vintage vinyl and collectibles at 851 Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, people have stopped by just to see what is going on.
"They want to know what we are all about," said Million, adding that the colorful displays in their front window, as well as the life-size Nipper dogs — symbols of the RCA Victor record company — guarding the entrance, create a lot of interest.
"Then," she said, "when they come in and see our thousands of vinyl records and our completely renovated shop with its maple floors, tin ceiling and 1930s stenciled walls, they are amazed — just blown away. I guess they can't believe that we are right here on the Main Line when all the other record stores seem to have vanished from the planet."
If customers look closely, however, they will discover that this business was formerly known as Plastic Fantastic, a record emporium that has had a following of devoted discophiles since 1976, when Gold opened his first Bryn Mawr store, with his own record collection as the inventory.
Gold moved the shop to Ardmore in the mid-'80s, following the hordes of music lovers who were giving up their 45's and 33's to acquire CDs and DVDs. "After a while, the shop became a supermarket," Gold said. "It just wasn't fun anymore."
So when the couple heard that the former Richard Stockton gift shop in the heart of Bryn Mawr was available, they purchased it sight unseen, even knowing that the entire store would have to be gutted and refitted, and that they would have to put in a source of heat (the store had none!) and a code-friendly bathroom for the public.
"That was the least of it," said Gold. "We knocked down the back wall, which Stockton had used as a storeroom, in order to create a showroom for our collectors' records and our autographed merchandise. We also uncovered the ceiling, discovered the original door to the basement and refinished these beautiful floors, which had been hidden for generations."
Once her husband had created their store, Million, who has a background in fashion and interior design, went to work on the decor. The result is an eye-popping mix of record-related antiques and her own handcrafted and jewel-encrusted fashion and home accessories. She has a secret technique, for example, for making bowls out of discarded vinyl records, as well as boxes, notebooks, clocks and handbags from original album covers. Recently, she created a collection of jewelry made with the plastic spindles from 45 records, which she embellished with sparkling stones and wears herself as she waits on customers.
Their customers are all ages and come from all over the region, drawn by an inventory of hard-to-find or out-of-print records that range from classical music to blues and country to rock 'n' roll, which is their specialty. Their collection of rock and popular music from the '50s, '60s and '70s is especially strong, but they carry all genres of recorded music, beginning with the '50s — although there are some of earlier date — and going to the present day.
"Our number one seller is still the Beatles' `Yellow Submarine,'" said Gold, pulling a vinyl reissue out of its sleeve. "We also get calls for records by The Beach Boys, The Who, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Paul Simon and many others. We have an inventory of a half-million records." He added that some of their records are made of colored vinyl or shaped vinyl, which have their own special collectors, and others are signed by the artists, as Plastic Fantastic sponsored many signings over the years.
When asked why they changed the name of the business, he explained they wanted a fresh start. In order to do that, they discarded all their CDs, DVDs, cassettes and other forms of digital technology, and created the all-vinyl store of their dreams. This focus on vinyl also allows them the time to share their knowledge of record lore with their customers.
"We especially enjoy teaching our younger customers about records," said Million, who added, "It's wonderful when iPod-obsessed young people discover the world of vinyl."
"Many people think records are dead," Gold said. "But that couldn't be further from the truth. Some artists have always recorded on vinyl, along with CDs, even famous names like Madonna. About five years ago, there was this tremendous revival of vinyl. The new vinyl is thicker and of higher quality than in the past, and there is less warping with use and storage. Many original recordings have been reissued this way, and more are being made all the time. So, just about the time that CDs began to lose their attraction, vinyl really took off — to the point that today people buy more records than they do CDs."
He explained that a major reason for the revival is the fact that new turntables have been developed to play just 45s and 33-1/3 RPM records. Further, they are beautiful home accessories in themselves, with streamlined styling and designer colors. They showed a photograph of the living room of their Villanova home, featuring a red Pro-Ject turntable as the centerpiece of room, complementing a painting of singer/songwriter Elvis Costello. A display of these turntables, their primary colors accenting a long row of record bins, add dazzle to an already colorful store.
"There's a special level of nostalgia about records," said Million. "You can hold the album cover in your hands as you listen to the music. There are inserts, posters and even postcards in some albums, that allow you to look at the artists and read about their trials and tribulations while they were creating the music. It's a whole world, a very personal experience you can't get from a digital recording.
"People love our music because it brings them back to their prom night or other landmarks in their life," she added. "It reminds them of where they were when they first heard the music or who was with them. For us, it's a life of working with our passion. We love coming to work. Every day is a joy."