Old-fashioned LPs ride wave of nostalgia
Richmonder Mark Lipscombe has around 4,000 vinyl records (which he keeps alphabetized) and a machine that cleans them. He visits Plan 9 Music in Carytown at least once a week to sift through the bins of records there to find more to buy.
Lipscombe is one of many Plan 9 regulars who shun today’s high tech music platforms, preferring to listen to music from LPs played on a turntable.
What is it that made him a “late convert to vinyls”? “They sound better,” he said. “I was blown away by the difference in the sound.”
But that’s not the only thing he likes better. When he discovered vinyl records, “It was like I was 15 years old…I like the packaging and the nostalgia. There’s something about it.”
Jim Bland, owner and co-founder of Plan 9 Music, a West Cary Street fixture, opened his record store in 1981. At the time Carytown was not today’s bustling commercial strip, just “a cheap place with lots of storage buildings and little retail,” he recalled. People then were flocking to suburban shopping malls, and “West Cary Street was forgotten,” he lamented.
Today, Plan 9 is one of several hip outlets on the street, including the toy store World of Mirth, Dogma for pet supplies, and For the Love of Chocolate.
The store’s opaque name comes from a 1959 cult horror movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space, starring Bella Lugosi, best known for portraying Count Dracula in the 1931 classic Dracula. In the store’s namesake film, evil aliens attack Earth, resurrect the dead and put “plan 9” into action.
“It’s so bad, it’s good,” shop owner Bland said. The movie garnered a Golden Turkey award, which recognizes some of Hollywood’s worst achievements. “It’s offbeat. I wanted to do something different.”
A new generation of fans
He did — and he does. Bland has seen a surge in vinyl records’ popularity in recent years, especially among young people. His 12 employees stand ready to help a steady stream of fans each day.
“Records are popular now because it’s cool, especially if you grew up with streaming,” Bland said. He believes that many records sound better than the newer electronic systems. “Playing records gives people a sense of ownership.”
There’s nothing quite like gently removing a vinyl record from its cardboard cover, studying the label, putting it on the turntable, lowering the needle and turning up the volume.
LPs, or long-playing records, have a 33 1/3 rpm speed; each side can play for about 20 minutes. Introduced in 1948, they were the standard record industry product for several decades.
Since its origin, Plan 9 has survived 45s (seven-inch vinyl records); cassette tapes; compact discs; cable television; music television; bluetooth and streaming.
Sales and customers took a nosedive as digital downloading and streaming boomed. But Bland has seen manufacturers turning out more records in the last 10 to 15 years, and said that pressing plants worldwide struggle to keep up with the demand.
Plan 9 not only sells new and used records but also CDs, turntables, DVDs and cassette tapes. Customers can shop online and pre-order new records, too.
Dusty albums worth money
Bland hesitates to quantify the store’s inventory, clearly in the thousands, as he surveys the long wooden bins crammed with records, most in their original covers. They include blues, soul, country, pop, folk, jazz, hip-hop, “all kinds” of music, he said.
As people age, downsize, declutter or pass away, they and their heirs often unearth precious record collections simply collecting mold and dust — musical gold mines for Plan 9ers. Estate sales are prime record-hunting grounds.
Record prices depend on multiple factors, including quality, rarity and whether it’s a first edition. The better shape it’s in, and the more unique it is, the higher the value.
“If the cat chewed the corner of the cover or the record is scratchy, the price is lower,” Bland said.
A social scene, too
Bland believes that Plan 9 customers return again and again because they get personal service and can interact with other music lovers.
“Shopping online is impersonal,” said Bland, who also has a bricks-and-mortar Plan 9 store in Charlottesville.
People who like records really like records. Like Lipscombe, Gene Raney, 62, has shopped at Plan 9 for 30 years.
He has what he calls “a ridiculous number of records and CDs — thousands — a mix of genres, like Americana, rhythm and blues, country and folk.” Raney even has a spreadsheet that organizes his collection by artist. He returns to Plan 9 often because of its selection and “very helpful staff,” he said.
Bland grew up in Chesterfield County with a father who played bass and a mother who sang in the church choir and played music at home.
In high school, Bland played drums and bought records that he loved to share with others. He attended Emory and Henry College and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1973.
Bland’s Carytown shop used to host music performances by hometown and touring bands and guest artists, events that Bland plans to resume after the pandemic.
“I like to showcase the artists and give them a venue.”
Richmond has three or four other record shops, Bland said, but most have only used or specialty records, like Barky’s on Broad Street, which sells religious music. Some thrift shops and chain stores offer records, too.
The secret of Plan 9 Music’s success?
“The personal touch — and understanding the changing market,” Bland said, adding, “Records help people stay young.”
Plan 9 is located at 3017 West Cary Street, Richmond. For more information, visit plan9music.com or call (804) 353-9996.