Rick Rhodes laughed, shook his head, and placed the vinyl records he had been been shuffling through onto the counter.
"It's millennials, mostly," he said, referring to the traffic coming through his store, Rick's Record Shack & Wifey's Closet, which opened three weeks ago, 10 minutes south of the city at 3348 Lakeshore Road in Hamburg.
"I love that these younger people have so much passion for music, and deep knowledge about it, too. I mean, I had these kids in here freaking out about finding old Ella Fitzgerald vinyl in the store."
It should go without saying that the idea of opening a record store in 2017 would not seem to qualify as a genius business decision. Given the way retailers are imploding financially, it might not be a wise decision to open any kind of store, but music sales in particular have been especially hurt by the rise of the digital and social media culture.
Rhodes, who describes himself as "a music-lover and a musician" who writes original songs "in the mode of Buddy Holly," is giving it a shot anyway. He hatched the plan for the Record Shack with his wife, Janis Roszman, who handles the vintage clothing side of the business.
The pair ran a similar shop in Angola dubbed Second Time Around the Track for several years, but according to Rhodes, the location was too remote and thus, the traffic too light.
The foot traffic in the Route 5 storefront has already eclipsed what he got at the old location, however.
"This is the right place to be – everyone drives through this part of town at one time or another," he said.
The shop – which will be officially launched with a grand opening that will include live music and "tons of great rare vinyl" on Nov. 25 – specializes in used vinyl. But Rhodes also offers new records, reissues and box sets, in acknowledgement of the vinyl medium's continued commercial success, which flies in the face of the digital streaming age and the preponderance of "free" music.
He is "more than happy to go through any records that people want to bring in to sell," he says, his main motivation being a desire to "make sure these records end up going to a good home."
"I love records," he said while sifting through his latest haul, much of it gleaned from recent weekend trips to record shows in Rochester, Albany, and Toledo. "It's a passion for me. I go through every record that comes through here, test it out, clean it, play it, look up its history. I could do this all day, every day. Sometimes I'll still find myself here in the store going through records at midnight. The time just flies by while I'm doing this."
With the recent closing of the sole remaining Record Theatre store on Main St. in Buffalo, and the disappearance of independent record shops like Spiral Scratch, there has been a bit of a void in the regional vinyl market, one that new stores like Rick's Record Shack, Cool Beat Music & Books on William Street in Cheektowaga, and Bob the Record Guy, on Transit Road in Depew, are seeking to fill.
"It's funny, I was already involved in buying this building when I heard about Record Theatre closing," Rhodes said. "These record racks I've got actually came from the Main Street Record Theatre. I bought them when they closed."
He said he plans to expand the store to include a back room for "overflow vinyl shopping," as well as a renovated front room for what he says will be "tons of new and used vinyl, some used CDs, stereo equipment and music memorabilia."
Rhodes has already taken steps in this direction – on a recent weekday morning, rock T-shirts, posters, music-related books and biographies, and even a shelf full of vintage cassette tapes were visible. (”Those are making a comeback,” he said. “I’m serious.”)
Though he's not yet a member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores – and therefore, is not able to participate in the increasingly successful annual Record Store Day event, which takes place in April - Rhodes plans to be a participating member by 2019.
In the meantime, he has a clear sense of his mission.
"For me, the big pay-off, besides finding cool old records like this one" – he held up a copy of a near-mint late '60s vinyl record by a trippy psychedelic band known as July, which had been playing through the store's stereo system – "is seeing somebody's face light up when they find an old record they've been looking for.
"That's what it's all about."
INFO: Rick's Record Shack & Wifey's Closet. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday – Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.