Frank Lynn s record shop in North Toledo boasts an inventory of a half million vinyl albums, including the Duke Ellingtons on his dining room table and the Buddy Holly records near the kitchen sink.
His business has been open seven days a week for 12 years, but remains one of Toledo s secrets. For Lynn, owner and sole employee of AA Records Are Us, that obscurity is preserved by not advertising and eschewing anything that involves computers or the Internet.
He also doesn t take American Express, or for that matter, any credit card. There is not one iPod in sight.
And business keeps flowing the way he likes it.
I get maybe one customer every two to three days. Sometimes nobody, said Lynn, 70, a retired construction worker who says his pension and Social Security pay all his bills. I don t care if I do any business. I just want to relax.
Those who have visited Lynn s business over the years have either heard of his shop through word-of-mouth, or wander in off the street. Many take their records very seriously.
The ones who do come in say, I want this to remain secret. I don t want my friends to know, said Lynn, who believes his shop s North Toledo location, 3010 Lagrange St., keeps it hidden from more casual record buyers.
Records all over
Name a genre, most anything from 1930s jazz and blues to Hungarian polka and 1980s new wave, and Lynn can point to the section of the building where he keeps it.
Wooden homemade tables filled with records and sleeves, most organized by genre and artist name, are spread throughout the shop floor and hug the walls. Some sell for just $2 and others, such as a mint condition Hank Ballard and The Midnights album, go for several hundred dollars, depending on what the price guides say.
Lining the walls above the records are shelves containing old Jim Beam whiskey bottles that Lynn collected before getting into records in the late 1970s.
Visitors who wander up and down a pair of creaky wooden staircases discover that the bulk of his collection is not even on the store s floor, but are stacked away in boxes throughout the cellar and piled chest-high in his upstairs apartment. The only room in the building where Lynn has yet to store records is his own upstairs bathroom.
Along with the mountains of LPs, his collection includes tens of thousands of smaller 45s and brittle 78 rpm records. And it s not limited to vinyl Lynn stocks several thousand eight-track tapes from the 1970s, as well as cassette tapes, early 1980s laserdiscs, and a few hundred CDs on a rack at the front of the store.
A collection of vintage Elvis records, still wrapped in plastic, fills a wooden crate on a table near the front door. Ask Lynn to see some more, and he might take you upstairs to the oversized shoebox-like containers of Elvis 45s that he keeps beside his bed.
Those records sit next to a couple of boxes of Beatles 45s, and a small record case that s filled with old Beatles trading cards that were designed like mini-albums which still contain bubble gum from the 1960s.
Rock and roll, jazz, blues, soul, easy-listening anything, all mixed, Lynn said, describing the contents of boxes in his living room. I ve got so much I don t know what I ve got.
Jazz fans may have the most to discover. Thousands of albums are crammed into boxes piled waist-high against the walls upstairs. They include greats such as Charley Parker, Lars Gullin, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, and John Coltrane, along with records by lesser-known artists such as Esther Phillips, Jimmy Reed, Hal McKusick, and Howard McGhee.
That s just a small sampling of what s inside Lynn s nondescript shop, which, with its musty atmosphere and bell-bottom-clad figures painted on the windows, might pass for a 1970s time capsule. AA Records has been at its present location for about a dozen years; it previously was located for nearly 10 years in a smaller Lagrange Street storefront.
You can see I ve got records all over, said the bespectacled Lynn, who wears his polo shirts unbuttoned and with cigarettes in the breast pocket. You could put every record store in Toledo together, and you ll never come up to what I have.
His customers include Bill Schurk, a sound recording archivist at Bowling Green State University who does record shopping for the university s collection. Schurk said he knows of no other record store in northwest Ohio like Lynn s.
When I do go up there I walk out with quite a nice stack of LPs, said Schurk, who has been collecting records for more than 50 years. He s got a lot of stuff that nobody else carries.
The basement floor of Lynn s building is crowded with table after wooden table of records and eight-track tapes. Nestled in a corner is the laserdisc collection, which includes a 1981 disc of Stanley Kubrick s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I bought a collection up in Detroit, he said of the laserdiscs. Brand new, most of them are, they ve never been opened.
Lynn, who is widowed, has lived on Lagrange for most of his life and is a father to five grown children. He traces the start of his record-selling to a family garage sale in the late 1970s.
His children gave him a box of their old records, and to his surprise the records became the hottest sellers. Sensing a grander business opportunity, Lynn started buying records at garage sales and reselling them at flea markets. As his inventory grew, he opened his first shop in the early 1980s.
He has acquired his collection by purchasing records in bulk from radio stations, jukebox operators, at estate sales, and from private collectors and businesses across the country. The larger his collection grew, the more people started calling to ask if he would buy their record caches.
I still buy records almost every day. I buy more than I sell, said Lynn, who rents a truck and driver to accompany him and his van when picking up the larger orders of 50,000, 200,000 at a time.
He said he s willing to sell about anything in his collection, aside from a few of his favorite jazz records, such as some early Dexter Gordon and Billy Holiday albums.
All transactions are hand-to-hand, with no Internet sales involved. As much as Lynn enjoys talking with customers, he warns that he will abruptly cut off a conversation if he gets suspicious that the person may resell his records over the Internet through Web sites such as eBay. Once he learns that a customer has sold his records online, he refuses to sell to the person again.
Lynn says he s not so much against customers profiting from his merchandise as he is of certain records winding up in foreign countries and settling there permanently. Much of the collection is by American artists, and Lynn said he believes these records represent a cultural heritage that is best kept in its home country.
Despite his lack of advertising or an Internet presence, the shop manages to lure a small number of international record aficionados. Lynn said that, to name a few countries, he has had customers from Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Buried vinyl treasures
Jared Hale, 39, a soul and jazz enthusiast who also lives in North Toledo, recalled that he was in the shop this spring when a visitor from Japan dropped by. For hours the visitor picked around the boxes and record shelves, only to end up somewhat disappointed when he learned Lynn only accepts cash.
He spent at least $400 and he would have bought more, but [Lynn] doesn t have it set up for credit cards, Hale said.
Because his international visitors make such as effort to see him, Lynn said he usually will sell most of what they want from the store. But not everything.
As for the jazz records, there s a lot of them that I just won t sell to the foreigners, because then we d never see [the records] again, he said. Once it s left this country, do you think it s going to come back?
Since August, 2006, Hale has been helping Lynn organize, label, and price the portions of his collection still in boxes. Now, about a year later, he acknowledges there are still quite a few boxes left to go through. He and Lynn often speculate about what vinyl treasures could be waiting to be uncovered.
He has so much stuff in there you just don t know what you re going to find, Hale said. There s a lot of obscure record labels that I ve never heard of, and I don t know what category they re in. Some of the stuff is not even listed in books.
Contact JC Reindl at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.