Keeping the records spinning
● By J. Chambless
Rob Perna, Jr., is the manager of Creep Records. (Photo by Natalie Smith)
There was a time when just purchasing a record was buying an entrée into the world of a singer or band. Everything about it – from the art on the 12-inch sleeve to the revealing liner notes on the inside to the music itself – invited the listener to interpret, discuss, imitate and enjoy.
Despite the many transformations that music production has gone through the past few decades, there is still a demand for LPs, by both collectors and newer listeners. Creep Records in West Chester is nourishing that continuing appetite. Although its stock spans a wide variety of music genres, including metal, punk, indie, hip-hop and jazz, “we try to keep everybody happy,” said store manager Rob Perna Jr. Most popular among patrons are rock albums that many fans might have purchased years ago.
“I’m finding that the classics fly off the shelves,” Perna said. “Your Pink Floyd, your Led Zeppelin, your Hendrix … stuff like that.”
Not unlike its inventory, Creep’s pedigree is a mix of old and new. What Arik Victor started more than 25 years ago as a punk-rock band led to a record label in Downingtown, and later included a studio and retail spaces. Victor was joined by Mark Tawney and they opened a Creep Records location in The Piazza, a residential and retail development community in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia.
When West Chester’s popular record and CD store The Mad Platter -- a place that many associated with Creep had often frequented – closed in July 2018 after more than 40 years, Creep partner Jamie Godfrey saw an opportunity. Last August, Creep Records opened on West Gay Street, coincidentally a few storefronts down from the former Platter.
Like its sister store in Philly, Creep sells new and used vinyl, glass smoking supplies and CBD products. Specialty apparel is available, as are turntables. Creep also sells CDs. Much of Creep’s initial music inventory included a mix of stock from the Philly store and items from The Platter.
“I'd say like it took us that first six months to really kind of get a grip on what kind of stuff would really flow in this store,” said Perna who, like Victor and the partners, grew up in the West Chester area. “It’s a little bit of a different clientele than the city shop.”
Perna noted that the popularity of classic rock albums hasn’t gone unnoticed by the record companies. “It’s interesting the amount of stuff they reissue year-round from back then,” he said. “So you might get a Jimi Hendrix reissue record that comes out now that would be around $19 to $25. If you find an original pressing of one of those same albums, it could be in that $50 to $100 range. If you have certain clientele that are definitely not going to buy $100 copy of ‘Are You Experienced,’ they could buy a $19 copy.
“But with vinyl, you still have a really large base of collectors that do want the original records. They don’t mind paying a little extra for that.”
If you’ve got a record collection that’s gathering dust in your attic, Perna might be willing to make a deal. “We buy collections from people, large and small, to help stock our used records,” he said. “Our used records do very well for us in here. And I keep that stock rotating pretty regularly. I see some of the same people many times throughout the week, coming in to see what's changed and what we have.”
But just because a record is old, don’t assume it’s rare or even particularly valuable, Perna said. Condition and demand do count.
“They can stop in the shop with a crate of records and I’ll go through them and work up a value and pay them fairly,” he said. While Perna doesn’t listen to them all, “I’ve gotten pretty good at looking just by eye as far as the quality of the record. And usually between that and the internet, I can find a value for that record. But if something is beat up, there’s really no way I’m going to be able to ever sell it for more than a dollar. So we just put it in the dollar bin.
“And if you bring in like a whole stack of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and it’s in crappy shape, I’m really not interested,” he said with a laugh.
What also drives up the value of an LP is the way it looks. “Definitely the presentation,” Perna said. “I have customers that buy records who don’t even have a turntable yet. The original artwork designed for 12-inch-by-12-inch album covers is really meant to be seen on that full-size LP, and a lot of times on the gatefold.”
Perna said current performers are releasing their works on vinyl. “I would say most of our clientele coming in here and buying those new releases on vinyl are between the ages of l6 and 25. There are bands that only release either vinyl or they’ll have it as a digital download card with the record.
“So when you buy the record, you get the vinyl and then if you don't want to listen to the vinyl or if you want to listen to it in your car or on the computer, you can download the music on there. People are ignoring CDs altogether, but only a very select group of people are even using CDs.”
Perna said he’s been only slightly surprised by vinyl’s popularity, but as a record collector himself who prefers the sound captured on LPs, it makes sense. Also a musician and private guitar teacher, Perna is leader of The New Kings of Rhythm, an 11-member “funk, reggae, rhythm and blues” band he founded in 1995.
“I'm currently a co-host of the local WCHE-AM radio station for their Sound Stage program, which highlights local music. So that airs every Thursday at 5 p.m.,” he said. “I like the idea of tying that in with my role here at the shop. After so many years of teaching music, I like helping younger musicians by showing them the ropes.”
He said he finds managing Creep Records in West Chester holds a particular kind of satisfaction.
“Seeing the joy on somebody's face when they find a certain record is priceless, whether it's something that they're replacing from a collection they used to have or they’re new at it,” he said. “Maybe it's something their parents turned them on to when they were young. I just love that.”
Natalie Smith may be contacted at natalie@DoubleSMedia.com.