As I mentioned in a previous post, record stores are my favorite places in the world. When I travel, mapping and visiting the local record stores generally takes precedence over researching the best restaurants, museums or anything else. On a recent visit to Muncie, Indiana I was hardly expecting to find any shops at all, much less one of the best little shops ever: Village Green Records.
Great record stores assume many forms in order to survive in the digital era… from my hometown (Cincinnati) Shake It Records with its friendly staff, reliable collection of left-of-the-dial genres and broad assortment of alt-culture accoutrements to California’s Amoeba chain which overwhelms with sheer volume, rarities and endless bins of disorganized $1 LPs and CDs under the counter, offering the hope of a gem or two to the patron with enough patience to pull up a stool and spend hours or days flipping through the stacks. But what I’d never encountered until walking into VGR was that the experience could be less focused on me spending time learning the nature of the store and more the other way around. Sure, most shops are willing to help you find a specific item within their stock (and within reason; the discount bins may be too chaotic for them to know the contents of) or order the item you’re after if they don’t have it in stock, but how many times have you walked into a shop where the staff was actively interested in taking the time to get to the heart of your musical bent in order to help turn you on to something you may not have discovered yet?
That’s the service I received from VGR’s proprietor Travis Harvey, a graduate of nearby Ball State University. I won’t attempt to offer a biography (there’s already a good article on him here), but he’s also been a filmmaker, graphic designer, band member, and he curates a film series for the locals. He obviously has a deep passion for art across many media, and for exposing others to that art in hopes of also sparking their passions.
Recorded music is VGR’s focus; you won’t find the extensive displays of books, magazines, comics, toys, t-shirts and collectibles found in larger emporium-style record stores. While those stores attempt to please everyone all the time through volume and range, Travis aims to please with completely personalized service. He doesn’t attempt to stock what’s merely popular, but nor is he an elitist. He’s knowledgable about a wide range of music, popular or obscure, and the store’s collection of new and used CDs and LPs (and even some used cassettes) is curated to offer the best of the best across all genres.
On my first extremely brief visit, Travis asked about my musical interests and I threw out two quite disparate names off the top of my head, since I can almost never come up with my favorite artists when put on the spot. After some mental calculation of the middle ground between the two, he mentioned a couple of artists I might like, neither of which I’d heard of. I came back the next day with more time on my hands and a better ability to toss off a more focused list of favorite artists and styles. Travis immediately seemed to get a sense of where I was coming from and sprang into action, pulling a dozen or more LPs from the stacks and queueing up samples on his laptop. Some of his recommendations were artists that had been on my radar but that I hadn’t gotten around to investigating yet and some were completely new to me. As we talked and listened to samples, with me approving some, rejecting others and requesting more, he honed closer in on my core likes and continued to name artists I love but had failed to mention, tapping into the boundless virtual family tree that music obsessives keep in their heads. By the end, we were both making those connections, tossing off names and nodding in agreement.
As a person who nowadays often listens to an album on Spotify or elsewhere before making a decision to purchase it, I was slightly surprised to find myself leaving with close to a dozen new items, the vast majority of which I hadn’t heard before at all. It was easy to buy a lot because VGR’s prices on sealed items are somehow lower than any other bricks & mortar shop I’ve been to, rivaling and even beating online outlets like Amazon. And since I was flying home, Travis was quick with a sturdy cardboard box that fit perfectly into my carry-on bag and held almost everything I’d bought. He said he also ships at a reasonable rate.
Next time I’m in Muncie I’ll definitely make another trip to VGR. If you stop by, say hi to Hampton (below).