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On the record: Clearwater businessman Casey Brown

Bill DeYoung

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Casey Brown. Photo: Bill DeYoung.

When Casey Brown moved to Clearwater from Raleigh, N.C. in 2011, he was already turning a profit buying used records, and re-selling them over the internet. The family garage was his office.

“The last real job I had, I did financing and sales at a car dealership,” says the 43-year-old entrepreneur. “And I was selling records online on the side. And when the recession hit, selling records started making more money than selling cars. So I started doing that full time.”

His wife Liz had accepted a new job in St. Petersburg, and it was reasonable to assume, Brown figured, he’d be able to transfer his record business, too. He was a picker. Everywhere, people are unloading their record collections, right?

Right. However, Brown says, “It just kept growing. I was making decent money, and then the garage got full. And the wife started complaining about not being able to park her car in the garage.”

That was seven years ago. Now, as the proprietor of the Clearwater Record Shop – 3,500 square feet of retail and warehouse space in an industrial park off Hercules Road – Brown is the proud owner or something like 100,000 vinyl records. As for the CDs he’s got, there’s no counting. He also sells music memorabilia, accessories, collectibles and other ephemera.

He didn’t bring a single piece down from North Carolina. Everything in the Clearwater store was acquired at estate sales, yard sales, flea markets and via private collections here in West Central Florida.

The original plan, he explains, was to use the warehouse space (just 1,750 square feet at first) to store his online inventory, and set up a table in the back to pack and ship the records. A couple days a week, he’d throw open the doors to the public and sell enough $1 and $5 albums to offset the rent.

But people started showing up regularly. Soon, he had regular customers. “DJs, high school kids, high school kids’ parents, middle-aged, 80 year old guys … no rhyme or reason.”

National and international collectors started showing up, loading up on hundreds of titles in a day.

Nothing, in those early days, was alphabetized. “The idea at first was, don’t organize,” says Brown. “Because then everybody has to go through it – this was my sales idea – and they’ll see something they never knew existed, or a different album from a group they liked, that they never heard. I used to sell more miscellaneous eyeball stuff before I was organized. That idea would work for the hardcore guys; they go through everything.

“What clued me in was this: People come in, ‘I only have 5, 10 minutes, where’s your Pink Floyd section?’ Most people are in a hurry. They’ve got stuff to do.

“Now, because it’s organized, people just pluck what they need. And they don’t even go through the miscellaneous A’s or B’s any more.”

The store also organized a monthly record show – a sort of swap meet-slash-convention where local hobbyists, collectors and music nerds could get together, share and sell. That produced a word-of-mouth tsunami.

Brown looks after his two daughters, ages 8 and 11, and has worked out an effective daily plan. “It’s always the dream to have a record shop,” he laughs.

“My main job is to shuffle the kids to school. My youngest didn’t go to public school until the third grade, so sometimes I would take her on picks with me. I’d make sure they were cool people; I never took her into a shady place.”

These days, “I have to plan my trips to Tampa or Spring Hill, drop them off, make a beeline and get back here by 2 o’clock to pick them up. So it’s a balance.”

It’s a balance he’s content with. The devoted family man does confess, however, that he regrets not being able to take as many of those Saturday-morning excursions to the flea markets or estate sales. “I still miss the thrill of the hunt,” he says. “But the beauty of this is that now, it comes to me.”

There are challenges, of course. Many people are under the impression that their old records and worth a lot of money. People like Casey Brown are often in the unenviable position of telling them that Grandma’s Lawrence Welk or Jim Nabors albums aren’t even worth the plastic and paper they’re made from.

Even records by the “holy triumvirate” – Beatles, Stones, Dylan – were pressed in the millions, so just because you have your original copy of A Hard Day’s Night, it’s not necessarily going to fetch a high price.

With records, it’s all about condition, condition, condition.

“To make money in this business, you need to know all genres,” Brown observes. “With eBay, you need to know which ones are valuable and which ones aren’t.

“I stay up till midnight, every night or later, pricing, cleaning. But I try not to buy records that need cleaning any more. I’m over that. Although it still happens.”

A good percentage of the records he buys are run-of-the-mill rock, jazz or R&B titles that might bring a couple of dollars at resale. The Clearwater Record Shop ships several thousand of these every month to the used-merchandise retail chain 2nd and Charles.

Records come in, records go out. Casey Brown is a music fanatic, a collector and a businessman, not always in that precise order, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I consider myself a good dealer,” he says. “Because if you rip them off, and they have a cold feeling, they’re not going to tell their friends. Treat others the way you want them to treat you. That’s just the way I do business.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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