Located in Carrboro's historically black Midway district, Vinyl Perk is one of four businesses in a white-brick Rosemary Street building hand-built in 1952 by the founder of Midway Barber Shop, located next door. The record store's space used to be occupied by Glenn's Tattoo Service (now upstairs a few doors over). On the day I visited Vinyl Perk, all traces of tattoo ink were wiped from the space, replaced by the clinching odor of polyurethane and old vinyl as the store's owner, Jay Reeves, added finishing touches ahead of the opening.
Reeves, 57, realized the idea for a joint record and coffee shop in 2009 while he and his wife, Lori, lived in Pocatello, Idaho. After one of Pocatello's local coffee shops shut its doors, the Reeveses reopened it and gave it a record store remix. They called it Vinyl Perk. The place went on to win the city's "New Generation Award for Best New Business."
"I saw how much my record store concept could work," Reeves says. "People would come by the store and see a Marvin Gaye, Beatles or Rolling Stones record. They'd start smiling, and sit there and drink their coffee, and buy the record even if they didn't own a turntable."
Eventually, the Reeveses decided to return to Chapel Hill, where they had raised their four children. The couple had missed Chapel Hill just as much as they now missed their Idaho record store. After passing on the more expensive rental rates of Chapel Hill's Franklin Street, they settled on the quaint Carrboro space.
Reeves, a former attorney, points to his early days as a member of a Myrtle Beach cover band, Poor Richard, and his stint as a radio disc jockey as the foundation for his love of records. "I grew up in the golden ages of vinyl," he says. "I remember standing in line to get a copy of Black Sabbath's Paranoid. I'm on a mission to keep vinyl alive, but it doesn't need me to keep it alive because it's actually coming back."
According to a recent Billboard article, ever since the first Record Store Day in 2008, sales figures for vinyl have jumped from 990,000 units to 3.7 million units scanned. The old format has accounted for 2 percent of this year's total album sales. Those numbers, however, don't include vintage records that are bought and sold each day in shops such as Vinyl Perk.
For customers who prefer to spend extra time with Vinyl Perk's inventory of nearly 35,000 records, Reeves brought in a few lounge chairs and mounted a couple of birch wood tables to the store's wall, where vinyl and coffee enthusiasts can hang out. Shelves lined with a panoply of for-sale coffee pots meticulously arranged by Lori, a local art teacher, overlook the area. "Pour it like you mean it" reads a wall sign mixed in with the coffee pot display. With beans provided by Carrboro Coffee Roasters, one of Vinyl Perk's specialties will be serving coffee brewed with a Chemex coffeemaker. This brewing technique, as Reeves explains, involves "physically pouring the hot water over the coffee grounds in order to extract the most flavor from the coffee beans."
This seems to be a running theme for Reeves—getting the most out of each experience.
"People are looking for something real in their lives," he says. "I know I am. And it doesn't get any more real than vinyl. I've got 45-year-old records now that sound just as good as they did back then, or better, even with a few pops and crackles."