Vinyl sales have been growing 27 percent year over year for the last decade, says Ben VanderHart, owner of Chattanooga’s Yellow Racket Records. And Chattanooga hasn’t missed a beat by way of growing its availability of both vintage and new vinyl. Here’s where to shop.
Yellow Racket Records*
The slogan at Yellow Racket Records is “music for passionate listeners.” This is a place for people who care so deeply about music that they just have to curate their own collection. “It’s easy for music to become background noise; [with vinyl], you put on a record and it’s the same intentionality as sitting down to watch a movie,” says VanderHart. “We’re physical creatures. We live in a physical time and space. The return to vinyl is a way for us to hang onto the tactility of our existence.” Yellow Racket Records began when VanderHart started a record label. He was tired of working in the corporate world and decided on a career in music, starting with producing an album for his own band. He opened the storefront on East Main Street last year in a building originally constructed in 1910. “In spite of the fact that we had to open in the middle of a pandemic, people were starving for records. People here are very passionate about arts and culture and growing the music scene.”
Yellow Racket Records stocks new, just-released albums every Friday. VanderHart’s relationship with wholesalers and distributors allows the shop to offer not just brand new music but new, sealed vinyl by artists like The Beates, The Rolling Stones, and Funkadelic. “Pre-loved” records are also available on site. The top selling artists at Yellow Racket Records include Sturgill Simpson, John Prine, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Sufjan Stevens, and Radiohead. VanderHart also sells a lot of Mac Miller, Kendrick Lamar, and Kacey Musgraves. VanderHart’s personal all time favorite album: “Kid A” by Radiohead. “I burned a copy on CD when I was in 8th grade, and it just blew my mind,” he says. His wife gave him the vinyl version as a gift years ago.
Chad Bledsoe says that when he was young, he assumed most used vinyl would be scratched up. “When I realized you could still find old records that were in good shape, that just did something for me,” he recalls. A regular customer of Courter Brothers Records on Brainerd Road as a college student, Bledsoe bought his original inventory for Chad’s Records when Bob Courter decided to go out of business. “I was still at UTC, and I was not feeling any direction to go through school. I always loved the arts and music, so it was just a way to try to start something without having to have a lot of money. Of course nobody thought it was a good idea,” Bledsoe says with a laugh. Bledsoe’s original location was on a corner on Vine Street, but a fire in the restaurant next door led him to move his inventory in with his cousin, David Smotherman, at Winder Binder.
Chad’s Records offers vinyls by the thousands and thrives because of the vintage collectibles vibe at the shop. He finds his inventory through word of mouth, as some Chattanooga residents seek him out when they have a collection they are ready to let go of, as well as estate sales, library sales, and thrift stores.
For the Record*
Mike Bell’s father stocked jukeboxes with records and brought the used ones home to him when he was a child. Gwen Bell says she’s been dedicated to music “since The Beatles appeared on the shores of New York.” The married couple owns For the Record at Northgate Mall, and their love of vinyl begins with the beauty of its mechanics. “Vinyl is just one little analog. You start at the beginning of the album and it goes all the way to the end of that side [with] just one groove on the whole album,” Gwen says. “Even with the breaks, there’s just one groove. If you’re listening to a CD or an MP3, it is digital and that means it’s broken up into chunks. You don’t get the pure straight listening experience.”
The clientele at For the Record spans all ages. Teenagers are buying vinyl being put out by Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Carrie Underwood. Men like to browse the collection while their wives walk over to Burlington Coat Factory or Colony 13. “One time, a little girl probably 6-7 years old was looking for an Elvis album. I helped her, and as she was leaving, she turned around and held it in her arms just like she was hugging it,” Gwen remembers. “She didn’t want it in a bag. She said, ‘This is my first record.’ That was just wonderful.” The Bells stock their inventory with brand new records from distributors and well as buy-and-trade offers from the public.
The host of the Monday night music show Monuments in Ruin at TrendKillRadio.com, Ben Rayfield curates the vinyl available at Inherent Records inside Collective Clothing on Frazier Avenue. “Most people get a nostalgic feeling from records anyways, so a vintage clothing shop goes hand in hand. You have the ability to walk in and see a variety of things that will appeal to you. If you’re partial to one, you’re probably going to be partial to the other as well.” Rayfield started Inherent Records as a music label in 2003. When he started in retail in 2010, he says it was more to benefit Chattanooga than for anything else.
The collection at Inherent Records is updated weekly. “I deal mostly in new vinyl pressings, and I try to keep on top of new releases as well, but if someone offers a collection of pre-owned, I will happily offer those and sell them in the shop as well.” Personally, he says, the most sentimental albums he owns are the vinyl passed down from family and from his parents’ record collection. If he had to pick a favorite, it would be “Surfs Up” by the Beach Boys.
The ultimate stop for “previously loved” records, CDs, books, video games, instruments, collectibles, and Legos, what’s impressive about McKay’s Chattanooga is the vast size of the space and the system for acquiring new items for the shelves. Here’s how it works: People stop by with media they’re ready to let go of, and McKay’s makes them an offer of cash or store credit. This means the inventory is changing by the day. Located 11 miles east of downtown on Old Lee Highway, McKay’s takes in thousands of records from the public every week, and the collection upstairs tops 70,000 albums in records and CDs combined.
One of five McKay’s locations in Tennessee and North Carolina, the store originated as a “free enterprise library” in North Carolina in 1974 under the concept that books should be obtained at a low cost, kept for as long as needed, then returned for a credit. McKays’ vinyl collection grew exponentially three years ago when the company bought nearly a million records from Lawrence Records in Nashville and distributed them among all locations. McKays Chattanooga employees say the most sought after genre in vinyl is classic rock.
*This summer, Yellow Racket Records, Inherent Records, For the Record, and McKays will participate in Record Store Day, when Limited Edition Collectible Vinyl is released, on June 12, 2021 and July 17, 2021. This years releases will include The Allman Brothers Band, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Bob Dylan, The Doors, Shaun Cassidy, Ariana Grande, Aretha Franklin, King’s X, The Monkees, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, The Police, Pearl Jam, Sublime, Pete Yorn, and more. Check with each shop for details on which albums will be available specifically at that location. For a complete list of Record Store Day releases, click here.