Craig Brown, the man behind Heights Vinyl, Houston’s newest record store, has been putting sleep on the back burner as he and his crew work around the clock to prepare for the shop’s grand opening Saturday.
“I need a vacation,” says Brown, a red-haired 40-year-old with a day job at a software company. Assistant manager Jake Rynearson is busy cleaning each record going into the bins, just one of the many small things that will serve to distinguish Heights Vinyl (3122 White Oak). “We’re a little different,” Brown says. “We price, clean, re-sleeve inners and outers. We put them all in a bag — when you put them inside [the jackets] it causes ring wear. Plus when you put them in the back like this, people can actually see the record and how good it looks.”
The shop’s pricing model is also different. “We’re doing a big roll of the dice: There’s no fixed prices,” Brown says. The stock will all be color-coded, with each color representing a price range. “You get to come up, and it’s a negotiation,” he explains. “It’s a slight bartering system within a certain range. Obviously people are going to come in and say, ‘I want the lowest price on everything,’ and that’s not going to happen. Our goal is to make deals, though. At the end of the day, if we just sell records we’ll do alright.”
Shoppers hunting for a particular record shouldn’t be dismayed if they don’t find it on the shelves. The store holds about 12,000 records, but Brown’s places his stock around 35,000 pieces. Heights Vinyl will also take special orders. “Tell us how much you want to pay for it, and we’ll see if we can find it,” he says.
Just two doors west of Onion Creek, Heights Vinyl will be the latest in a cluster of new ventures on White Oak. Since the relaunch of the music club Fitzgerald’s, the block has seen an influx of business, including several that offer late-night dining.
“We haven’t begun real discussions with [Fitzgerald’s] yet, but hopefully there’s a lot of opportunities where we can help each other out,” Brown says. He’s also planning regular in-store performances on the High Noon Stage, which is tucked into the back corner of the 1,550-square-foot space and adorned with a tall pistol-toting pin-up girl.
On one wall just above a jukebox are shelves full of vintage turntables that have all been refurbished. In addition to selling record players, Heights Vinyl will offer repair services as well. Brown also has about 6,000 turntable cartridges and needles. He plans to refurbish customers’ records as well, offering a cleaning service and working on warped records.
For Brown, enhancing the customer experience at Heights Vinyl is critical. Whether it’s the décor of the shop — “There’s a lot of little things that aren’t in here yet, I call ’em delighters,” he says — or the unique services, or the specialty items like boutique headphone amplifiers, his intention is to be more than just another spot dealing in music. Even his gift certificates are unusual: old records that have been laser-etched with the amount in gold.
“I want that thing where your friend comes into town, and you say, ‘Oh you’ve gotta go check out this record store,’ ” he says. “I don’t want things to be transactional, where you come in, find what you want and leave. You should be able to hang if you want. Hang, talk music, sit, kick it.
“I have to earn it, but I want [Heights Vinyl] to be one of the pillars around town for music and supporting the arts and music around town. I’ll work with anybody to help do that, as well,” he says. He urges local bands to bring their music to the store to sell.
For now, there’s the grand opening on Saturday, featuring Ben Godfrey of listenlisten, Young Mammals, Brandon West & the Society, Reverberation DJ Psychedelic Sex Panther and the Fistful of Soul DJs. The shop opens at noon, with music beginning at one. Karbach Brewery will serve refreshments.
And as for that vacation: It’ll come soon enough. “I took all of next week off,” Brown says with a sigh of relief.
3122 White Oak, Suite D