Vinyl collection, memories restored for Roanoke native
After much agonizing, the man who bought the records at a yard sale sold them back.
Photos by KYLE GREEN | The Roanoke Times
Audiophile Jesse Phillips bought a bunch of vinyl records at a yard sale recently. The woman who was the previous owner of the records said they were sold in error and wanted them back. Phillips was hesitant to sell them back, especially since he took the records out of the crate they were sold in and added them to his collection, which is categorized by genre.
A Roanoke native is about to be reunited with a vinyl record collection she feared she'd lost for good.
Erin Gengo's eclectic collection of at least 100 albums wound up in the hands of Jesse Phillips of Roanoke, who bought it in May for $50. The records were accidentally sold at her mother's yard sale.
On Friday, Phillips returned the records to Gengo's mother, Karen Thompson. And Thompson gave him $100, in 50 sequential $2 bills. Phillips had included $2 bills in sequential order in his payment, but those bills were gone by Friday, Phillips said.
Gengo let him keep two of the albums, including Ida's "Will You Find Me", which Phillips said he had never heard.
"I really like it," he said.
Phillips, an avid record collector, thought he was getting an amazing bargain on an interesting collection.
"She has good taste," he said of Gengo.
But it turned into an ethical dilemma. In a series of e-mails and phone calls with The Roanoke Times, he went back and forth over what he planned to do. At first, he planned to keep them. Then he decided to give back a few that didn't hold his interest.
Finally, Phillips decided it was a question of "pure ethics," he wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
"In the interest of setting a good example, after much prayer, self-exploration, discussion, joining an online ethics forum, and considering the case as objectively as someone can who is mired in it, I will return them for the original cost," Phillips wrote.
Gengo, who lives in Seattle, said she was thrilled at the news.
"I'm pleased that he came around and realized that this was the very definition of an ethical problem," she said.
Phillips bought the vinyl May 17. After reading a story about Gengo's lost records in the June 7 Roanoke Times, Phillips contacted the paper.
The resolution ends some family drama, too. Gengo had been mad at her mother for letting the records get away and with her brother for selling them. Thompson had originally offered $100 for the records' return. Her father, Bob Gengo, said he would pay Phillips' $300.
Phillips said he was not so interested in the family's money offers. But he was interested in Gengo's stories about the albums and what they meant to her.
Gengo, 26, started her collection 10 years ago after her father gave her a record player and some of his old albums. Later records came from friends and boyfriends, and her own trolling through "eBay, record stores, thrift shops and back alleys," she said.
The sale sprang from a series of misunderstandings and mistakes, Gengo's mother and brother said.
Karen Thompson said the records wound up in an area marked off for yard sale items, because a person hired to prepare the house for sale moved them there while trying to create space at her Southwest Roanoke house. Gengo's brother, Adam Thompson, 38, said he didn't know the records weren't for sale. Karen Thompson said she didn't know those were her daughter's records until it was too late.
The sale and resulting bitterness "created a monster in the family, and a lot of hard feelings," Karen Thompson said.
Phillips, 28, wrote that Adam Thompson knew the records belonged to Gengo.
"I asked whose records I was buying and he said they were his sister's," Phillips wrote in the e-mail. "I told him that she may be mad about him selling them, to which he replied that if she had wanted them, she wouldn't have left them in Roanoke."
Adam Thompson doesn't dispute making those remarks, but repeated that he was unaware that the records were not for sale.
One more twist: In an interview for the June 7 story, Gengo said the collection included Bob Dylan's "Blonde On Blonde," Johnny Cash's "At Folsom Prison," and Fugazi's "Steady Diet of Nothing." Phillips, though, said those records aren't among the ones he bought that day. Cash's "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash" is, though.
"Those must have gone the way of all the left socks in the world," Gengo wrote in an e-mail, "although they may still be in my mom's basement."