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Vinyl store gets its groove back

Story, Photography by Mark Williams

The crackling sound of a well-worn Johnny Cash record fills the air as collectors dig through classic vinyl albums, searching for old favorites and new discoveries. No, this isn’t a scene from a nostalgic Netflix show. This is Records on the Wall, Huntington, West Virginia’s newest destination for music lovers.

Founded five years ago as a corner booth in the Chesapeake Flea Market, owner Wilson Harrison Jr. made the move to a brick and mortar store this summer. Now located in the Seventh Avenue complex that once was Economy Foods, the new store is a spacious hunting ground for vintage music and antique enthusiasts.

“This is an opportunity that, in most cities, I would not have had,” Harrison explains. “I looked for quite a while to find the perfect spot for what we needed, and eventually ran across this place. This building in Chicago or a city like that would be way out of my price range.”

A long-time collector himself, Harrison saw a vacancy in the local business landscape.

“The community surrounding this area really had a need for a good music shop,” Harrison said. “I saw the record industry coming back, so I decided to move into Huntington to help bring back this community.”

Vinyl records and the city of Huntington itself are treading similar paths to redemption. Once viewed by the masses as dying relics of yesteryear, records are now poised to outsell CDs in 2019 for the first time in 30 years. The city, once making national headlines for its problems, is now in the midst of a rebirth. New restaurants, music venues, galleries and shops open almost monthly, and movements like Open to All and MyHuntington showcase a positive community on the rise.

By transforming a long-defunct wholesale grocery complex into an active commercial space, Records on the Wall is yet another local example of the surging “repurposing” movement. From The Depot in Ironton to the West Edge Factory in west Huntington, innovative business owners and artists alike continue to breathe new life into struggling areas and dilapidated buildings.

“As a whole, Huntington really has a great opportunity to prosper and succeed,” said Harrison. “I would love to see the city take one of the larger abandoned areas and turn it into an arts district. I think it would do really well and draw people from all over just to see and experience that.”

Being a successful business in a community also relies heavily on customer satisfaction. This is the number one priority at Records on the Wall, where Harrison keeps his small-business ethos front and center.

“I won’t stick anyone with anything they’re not happy with. That’s just bad business,” Harrison said, as he prepares to play an obscure new wave record for an interested customer. “It’s not about the money. If you get home and it skips, or you don’t like it, or you already have it, just bring it back! I want the customer to be happy with what they get.”

Something for every collector can be found at Records on the Wall. From vintage beer coasters to rare coins to antique glassware, the variety of inventory is almost overwhelming. However, the calling card of the business since its early days at the flea market has always been vinyl. Thousands of quality records fill the back room of the complex, organized by genres like jazz, classic rock, hip-hop, and soul. The extensive collection of classic country is sure to be a local hit, and fans of classical, new wave, electronic music, and vintage 70s funk will find plenty of gems to peruse. Like every music collector, Harrison is quick to defend his first true love.

“Vinyl has been tested and proven. It is a better sound. Hard stop,” said Harrison. “That little pop you hear on an old record? That adds to the artistry and character of the music. You can try to digitize it out, but then the song sounds flat. It has no depth to it.”

Perhaps no place is better suited for a vinyl revival than Huntington; A vintage city full of artistry and character, not without its flaws and scratches, but steadily making a comeback.

Records on the Wall is located at 335 Seventh Ave. in Huntington, West Virginia.  For more information, visit the store on Facebook at facebook.com/recordsonthewallwv .