The aroma of incense is in the air. Posters of rock and roll legends line the walls along with pieces of art created from old vinyl records, such as an image of The Doors’ Jim Morrison. Rows upon rows of bins are filled with vinyl records used and new. “I want this place to look like my bedroom when I was a kid, posters on the wall and all that,” store owner Victor Cantu said. “And lots of great music.”
Every year on a Saturday, music fans line up early in the morning waiting for Cantu’s Valley Vinyls to open its doors for Record Store Day, a time to celebrate music and hunt for bargains.
This year’s main attraction was a re-release of “Run for the Roses,” a 1982 solo album by Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead fame, pressed on a red-colored vinyl. “New vinyl isn’t cheap,” Cantu said. “The Garcia album can sell for up to $100 but it was priced at $35 for Record Store Day. Collectors ate them up.”
A resurgence of interest in vinyl recordings has given Cantu the opportunity to put his passion for music on vinyl albums to work developing a thriving business. He started Valley Vinyls in McAllen with a small shop in 2009 and a few years ago moved to a larger location on North 10th Street. On average, the store’s inventory runs between 10,000 and 15,000 used and new vinyl records, at times reaching as many as 20,000.
Cantu, a certified vinyl record appraiser, is constantly on the lookout for used vinyl to fill the record bins in his shop. He travels the state and beyond shopping at auctions, where he buys albums for his store inventory as well as for specific customers. “Vinyl has become highly collectible,” he said. “I buy a lot of records at auction just for collectors. When I find something I think might be of interest to a collector, I get them on the phone to find out how high they are willing to bid.”
Cantu grew up listening to the music of the 1960s and 1970s. He learned to play guitar and performed with local bands. He never really made the transition from vinyl records to cassette tapes and later CDs. His personal collection of vinyl numbers around 10,000 records. “I’ve been collecting since I was 16. I built a 20-by-20 room onto my house just to keep my records.”
Music lovers can find used records at Valley Vinyls starting around a dollar. “The Beatles are my biggest sellers,” Cantu said. “The White Album will sell for $40 to $50 retail. Elvis is still big, too. Elvis 78s are very rate.
But collectible vinyl can reach into the thousands of dollars. One of Cantu’s prized possessions hangs high on the wall of his shop, well out of reach of customers. It is a copy of The Beatles’ 1966 “Yesterday and Today” album, which was originally released with the famous “butcher cover,” where the band mugs for the camera in butcher coats surrounded by pieces of meat and body parts from plastic baby dolls.
Responding to public outrage over the photo, the albums were recalled. Many were destroyed but on others a replacement photo was pasted over the butcher cover and distributed for sale. Cantu said his copy of the album with the paste-over cover is valued at about $4,000. “The history behind the album makes it worth more.”
While vinyl records may seem a thing of the past to many, record companies are pressing new vinyl for what has become a growing demand. Some of the new vinyls are re-mastered classics and others are new artists, Cantu said.
The only non-vinyl music Cantu sells are used cassette tapes and CDs, although he does carry new CDs produced by local musicians as his way of giving back to the local music scene. He gives 100 percent of the proceeds to the bands. “We support local artists and bands,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be a local artist trying to find gigs and make a little money.”
Cantu dedicates his time to preserving the history of music on vinyl and sharing that passion through his business. He is even considering opening another store in New Braunfels. “Music today is starting to sound all the same to me. It’s not like the 60s and 70s when bands were looking for directions nobody else was doing. My record shop boils down to good music, and good music never dies.”