Like a sensitive weathervane, Charley's 33s & CDs catches wind of the economy's tricks and turns with the slightest of breezes. When it dips, customers sell off their beautiful vintage goods and records. When it climbs, the huge selection of vinyl nearly walks itself out the door.
Colleen Corrie and Dave Chapman are hoping for more good days than bad—a string of them trailing long into the future. Corrie's betting the whole pot on the place, formerly Charley's Records & Tapes, a nearly 20-year-old store she purchased in December from Charley himself. "He was going to downsize and then shut it down," says Chapman, who's worked in the shop since 1989.
"I wasn't going to go out of this store without fighting—in a good way," Corrie says. An employee of 13 years, Corrie had developed considerable affection for the pack rat's dream shop plastered with posters and knickknacks and gear. "We loved the store. We put our hearts and souls into the store," she says. With her black bob, polyester pants and well-worn T-shirt, she belongs to this oddball collection of goodies as much as it belongs to her. "There aren't very many of these types of independent stores," she says. "Just two years ago, tons were eliminated. That's what our supplier was telling us; he saw his accounts just drop."
Though there is something fundamentally "settled in" about the place, Corrie and Chapman have tweaked the layout and changed the business some. They've done away with the malt shop in the back, a venture that never made much money but incurred lots of overhead. In its place are racks of vintage clothing, a shelf of vintage stuffed animals, even a case of old Nintendo and Sega Genesis games. "It's certainly ... us,” she says. “A lot of it is very personalized."
They've opened up the second room which used to be so full of tapes, floor to ceiling, it was hard to tell from outside whether Charley's was even open. Corrie has strung vintage colored-glass globe lights above the neatly restocked and reorganized records.
But why cling to old-school modes of music media when the whole world has gone digital? "When records are mastered over a CD, it's not the same. Better or worse is here nor there, it's just different," says Chapman. Plus, "there's a lot of stuff you can't get on CD that you can get on record."
Corrie and Chapman are the store's only employees aside from a couple of occasional part-timers. Corrie personally checks every CD that comes it, and Chapman cleans all the records by hand. Charley had let the record collection dwindle over the last few years. Scouting trips and bigger purchases from the supplier are building it back up. They also plan to make room for more new vinyl and give their dollar selection a home upstairs (by the way, there’s a second floor.) All of the albums are rated VG, that's Very Good, unless otherwise stated.
As other independent shops have died away, Charley's is one of the last reservoirs of eccentric items and people left in the city. "It's a great thing to carry on," says Chapman. It's the future that scares Corrie, the day of iPods, downloading, fast-changing trends and high gas prices. "It makes me a little nervous, because I have a lot on the line. But I'm very determined. It's like survival. I'm going to make it work."