It's just after 5:30 on a Sunday evening, and Greg Rollins sits on a stool behind the counter of his tiny shotgun music store, In the Groove Records. He's closed for the night, but he still beams at the sight of the vintage LPs he stocks on two purple shelves inside the small room. He's tired: Yesterday, he ventured to Burlington for a day of buying inventory at a record fair.
"If you're going for yourself, then I feel like you typically go with a budget that you're typically going to have to stick to," he explains excitedly despite his fatigue. The rim of stubble blurring the line between his face and robust mustache indicates either a late return from the expedition or a late rise after it. "If you're going for your customers, then you can approach it a little bit differently, and that gives you more buying power with a dealer because they're going to cut you more breaks. The more stuff you pile up, the bigger that percentage off the top."
Rollins discusses the ins and outs of running his shop with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran. He's instantly ready to haggle on his records, quoting prices for obscure items from his brain's invisible index. An easy salesman, he seems like he's been doing this for years.
In the Groove is Raleigh's newest record store. Opened in mid-January, it buys, sells and trades used vinyl from its unlikely home in the Carter Building, a multipurpose arts and office space on Glenwood South. Rollins has long been an avid collector, but he had no previous experience in the record store business.
"The past two years, I've really been giving it more thought," Rollins says of the idea for the outlet. He pestered friends and fellow collectors about what they would like to see in such a shop. "I just kind of coalesced it all into what I think is going to work now."
Rollins, 48, has been around record obsessives most of his life. From 1979 to 1983, his father operated Treasure Chest Records, a beach music shop on the corner of Raleigh's Peace and West streets. In high school, he'd frequently correct peers about the kind of music his father's shop sold. They thought "beach music" meant surf rock and The Beach Boys, natch, but it's actually a hyper-local style of pop born on the N.C. coast. The misunderstanding still grates Rollins.
It's puzzling that Rollins waited this long to open up his own shop, but he had obligations. From 1985 to 1993, he served in the Air Force as a radar technician, working his way through stints in California, Alaska, Texas and Japan. He subsequently spent time working with electronics and computers, including three years at IBM. But he burnt out quickly on the tedious work and moved on to residential construction, where he met his life partner Karen Latta Cain, an artist who paints murals and artificial landscapes in area houses and businesses. In 2006, they began sharing her work studio in the Carter Building.
The bigger question about timing, though, is why Rollins chose now for this risky venture. The music industry feels like a series of massive question marks (or are those reapers?), much like the economy itself. Cain knows about the perils of a small business. Her decorative work has plummeted, forcing her to close her studio and look for other employment. Rollins, however, saw another open space in the building as an invitation to try something new. He paired his own funds with a $2,000 loan from his father, purchasing two large record collections and readying the space when it became available near the end of 2011. His financial security rides on his lifelong dream.
"It was very scary for him to have to build something that he had to jump on right away," Cain says. "It doesn't worry me anymore because he's open, and I see how much he's accomplished."
Rollins also sees little reason to dwell on the risks, especially when he can so easily bask in the dreamland he has created. His self-made bins are already packed with records, while displays overhead highlight some of his more impressive finds—a Japanese KISS LP and a copy of the Misfits' coveted Earth A.D.
Most of his stock hews to the classic rock canon, a reality Rollins says is more about what's available than his own taste. Healthy Beatles and Stones sections invite novices and collectors alike. But behind the purple counter, Rollins keeps the kind of rare treasures that will require a little extra motivation to make him give up. On opening week, these included a first-pressing of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and a copy of Cry of Love's Brother, a particularly special piece for Rollins, as the Raleigh outfit rehearsed in the basement of the Carter Building.
For now, In the Groove carries no new records, but when and if he decides to add current releases, local bands will be his first priority, he says. He already carries Tobacco A-Go-Go, a rescued collection of '60s garage songs from North Carolina. The store's blog, which normally highlights interesting or unique record covers, recently featured Raleigh punk outfit Stripmines.
"To me, it's supporting the scene," Rollins explains. "If you've got a local scene happening, and you've got a local band where they've spent a grand or two on a 200-copy release of something they've had printed themselves, I think it's almost a responsibility to support these people. Get their stuff in your shop. Let people know it's here. It's for them, and it will come back to you eventually."
This local focus, he hopes, might one day expand beyond peddling records and into the role of archivist. He speaks highly of the label Paradise of Bachelors, whose Said I Had a Vision compiled tracks from N.C.-based songwriter and record producer David Lee, and Marshall Wyatt, whose Raleigh-based Old Hat Records has incorporated lost tunes into rousing collections like 2010's Gastonia Gallop. Eventually, he hopes to use his resources to construct similar collections. Namely, he'd like to investigate Rev. Moses Mason, a Louisiana blues man from the '20s who may have also been a street preacher, but maybe not. The mystery lures Rollins.
"If something's happening in a local area, and you have the access to it and you're able to expose a larger audience to it, I think everybody benefits," Rollins says. "Every region has their own unique sound. I see my role and other collectors' role as getting this stuff out to a larger audience."
Those goals keep Rollins motivated, but he has plenty on his plate now. He's constantly running through promotional ideas. Some are traditional (the possibility of Record Store Day) and some are not (constructing a sign made from copies of Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream & Other Delights to set outside the building). Any record store is a chancy endeavor, especially now, so he reckons it will take creative marketing and a well-curated stock to keep him in business.
"I will take certain risks," Rollins says, referencing "Who dares wins," a motto of the British Special Air Service. During his time in the Air Force, he and his buddies would mention that motto each time they were scared to approach a member of the opposite sex. It applies here, too.
"I try to keep that in the back of my mind, that you can't do it unless you do it," he says. "It's just that simple. I'm willing to take the risk, and if it doesn't work out, well, I did it. I can say I did it."