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Feast, famine, then resurgence: Salt Lake’s Randy’s Records hits the 40-year mark

The downtown institution celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend. How have they lasted so long?

SALT LAKE CITY — When you talk to Randy Stinson, the conversation quickly turns to numbers.

Some of those numbers are small: one to five (the number of dollars his music store, Randy’s Record Shop, used to charge for Led Zeppelin albums); 45 (the RPMs at which 7-inch vinyl singles are played); 60 (“I worked probably 60 hours a week for most of my life,” Stinson said); '67-'69 (the years he was in Vietnam). Those numbers quickly skyrocket: 1989 (the year major record labels stopped printing new vinyls); 10,000 (the number of dollars he borrowed to open Randy’s Records in 1978); and more than 100,000 (the number of records he once owned).

Randy Stinson, owner of Randy's Record Shop, at his store in 2016.
Randy Stinson, owner of Randy's Record Shop, at his store in 2016.
Provided by Sam Stinson

Another number sticks out: 40 — the years that Randy’s Record Shop has now been open.

The store celebrates its 40th anniversary on Saturday, Oct. 20. Live music and DJs will be on hand for the afternoon event, and the store will be offering discounted merchandise and some limited edition T-shirts.

The music business has changed considerably over the past four decades. Somehow, Randy’s Records has survived it all. Stinson said he opened the store out of necessity — before the store opened in 1978, Stinson had been a fixture in local radio for more than a decade, usually playing songs through a phone line from his own house. For his radio gigs, Stinson took a lot of song requests, but that was far more difficult when DJs needed a vinyl copy of every song.

“In the beginning I didn’t even have ‘Monster Mash’ by Bobby ‘Boris’ Picket,” he told the Deseret News during a recent interview. Running a record store helped connect him with record labels, who could send him more records.

Not the he had a small inventory. During the interview, Stinson pulled out a local newspaper article from 1973, which detailed his early record-collecting exploits. The article said he owned about 15,000 vinyls back then, but Stinson thinks it may have been closer to 30,000.

“This is a great area,” he said. “I mean, I would’ve never gone to Ogden or Provo. There were so many people moving here. And they bought a lot of records. We sold tons.”

During the store’s early years, Stinson said the biggest sellers were artists like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. “I mean, you could sell a little bit of Barbra Streisand, and that kind of stuff, but it was mostly rock ’n’ roll,” he added.

As the years went on, Stinson’s inventory grew. But CDs started becoming the dominant medium, and by the late 1980s, Stinson’s biggest distributors had stopped printing vinyl altogether.

“So at that point, I decided I had to buy every used record I can,” he recalled. “People were bringing records in like crazy. They’d say, ‘Yeah, I bought CDs, now I don’t want records anymore.’”

Oddly enough, Stinson thinks this influx of used records ultimately saved the store through the lean years that followed. If someone needed a specific vinyl, chances are Randy’s Records had it.

Randy's Records in Salt Lake City.
Randy's Records in Salt Lake City.
Provided by Randy's Record Shop

About that massive inventory: Stinson’s son, Sam Stinson, has never known a life without it. During his childhood, Sam said he simply listened to whatever his dad was playing — Elvis Presley, lots of rockabilly, etc. — but the store’s never-ending inventory of records became a curiosity for Sam during his teenage years.

“We had this warehouse of records, so I could just walk in back and find Devo records to listen to, or I could listen to the Clash or The Dead Milkmen,” Sam said. “I could go pull whatever I wanted. It never dawned on me as being anything out of the ordinary, having access to all that music.”

These days, Sam Stinson oversees most of the duties at the record shop. Randy no longer drives, and lives with his wife in Lindon, so he’s rarely at the shop. He still likes to price 45s though — “It takes me a long time since my eyesight’s bad; I’m kind of slow now,” he admitted. Through it all, Stinson said vinyl has remained the store's main source of income.

Worldwide, vinyl has made a sustained comeback over the past decade. More than 14 million new vinyls were sold in 2017, according to a Nielsen Music report. Sony even began printing records again last year — something the company hadn’t done in almost 30 years. It may not be the dominant medium it was when Randy’s Records first opened, but vinyl has showed sustained growth for long enough to be more than a last dying gasp. Somehow, records have maintained their relevance.

And, in turn, so has Randy’s Record Shop.

Vinyl record enthusiasts scan boxes of records for titles during at Randy's Record Shop in Salt Lake City on Oct. 17, 2008.
Vinyl record enthusiasts scan boxes of records for titles during at Randy's Record Shop in Salt Lake City on Oct. 17, 2008.
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

If you go …

What: Randy's Record Shop 40th anniversary party

When: Oct. 20, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Randy's Record Shop, 157 E. 900 South

How much: Free