The life and death of a record store
Holy Mountain Records closes as two new vinyl shops come to town
Holy Mountain Records in its original Pearl District location
Jay Hancock texted me as I pulled into the Tally’s Cafe parking lot.
“I’m in the antique store next door,” he said.
We had scheduled a meeting to chat over chicken tenders, but Hancock had an itch to scratch. I found him in the store flipping through records, and he told me about the gems he’d just found at the Next Generation market down the street. Even though Hancock had just lost his record store, his work as a crate digger wasn’t over.
Hancock’s Holy Mountain Records shut its doors for the last time February 28.
Hancock opened the shop with his wife, Violet Rush, in 2014. Exactly one year ago, the George Kaiser Family Foundation tapped Holy Mountain to be a retailer in their renovated Archer Building in the Brady Arts District. Holy Mountain’s grand reopening was originally set for last November but construction delays pushed the ribbon cutting to April 2017. Because of the delay, Holy Mountain temporarily relocated to a relatively hidden space on North Main, above Inner Circle Vodka Bar.
When Dallas-based Josey Records announced a new 2,500 square-foot store in Tulsa—across the street from Holy Mountain’s original space—Hancock knew it was curtains. Shortly after our interview, another Dallas-based store, Spinster Records, announced plans to open a new shop in the Brady Arts District. I broke the news to Hancock through text.
“Just another reason to be happy for walking away, ha!” he replied.
I asked Hancock how he felt about it all. His hostile honesty has earned him a few “Best Bullshit Caller” Best of Tulsa nominations from TTV readers (including this year), so I was surprised by his calm, reflective response.
“An immense weight has been lifted, and I feel like myself again,” he said. “I was going through the taxes the other day, and noticed that after March, sales just dropped.”
Hancock said business had been down for the better part of a year. “Everyday was more depressing than the last.” Some have speculated that Holy Mountain’s obscure location on North Main was behind the downturn, but Hancock said sales were dwindling before the move. However, the atmosphere at North Main was less than encouraging.
“There was a bail bondsman in my building who hated talking like a normal person and always used speaker phone ... so I had to hear him go after people for money every day,” Hancock said. “And Inner Circle Vodka Bar would constantly play fuckin’ 4 Non Blondes’ horrible 1992 hit, ‘What’s Up.’”
Hancock would hear these things as he anxiously watched the declining numbers in his interim space.
“I’d often go three days without someone in the shop,” he said.
Blabbering bondsmen and Non Blondes aside, Holy Mountain’s story is a familiar one. Piece after piece has been written about the “resurgence” of vinyl record sales as LPs crop up in chains like Best Buy and Target. Meanwhile, nationwide mom-and-pop record stores shutter.
“People talk about the resurgence of vinyl in percentage of physical sales, but they don’t realize overall physical music sales are down,” Hancock said.
According to Billboard, he’s correct. In addition to a decrease in physical music sales, people are relying more on Internet retailers than brick and mortar stores for their vinyl needs. Hancock, who also sells online, confirmed this.
“Towards the end, probably 65 to 75 percent of my sales were online orders,” he said.
Rent, labor and electric costs force record stores to add a retail markup to ensure a profit. Hancock added a smaller markup than most local stores, but the slight increase can send people to web distributors.
Hancock told me all of this over his basket of chicken. I raised my eyebrow when he ordered three extra dinner rolls.
“I like starch,” he said.
Even though he abuses bread, nicotine, and Coca-Cola like a teenager, the 38 year-old Hancock retains a youthful glow, reflected in his obsessions like professional wrestling, comic books, and punk rock, all of which he sought to support with his store.
When Holy Mountain first opened, he spoke to me about the independent record store’s role as a cultural nexus. During its brief tenure, Holy Mountain leaned into this role by hosting events like in-store concerts and open deck DJ tutorials. Hancock also carried a healthy selection of music most stores wouldn’t touch.
Longtime Starship Records employee Calvin Compton recognized Holy Mountain as the cultural nexus Hancock envisioned.
“Personally, the news of Holy Mountain closing affected me more than the news of Josey’s opening,” Compton said. “It’s just so sad to see a cool record store go, and I definitely wasn’t expecting it.”
Compton said he doesn’t see Josey or Spinster Records as a threat to Starship.
“Starship has been here since ‘72, in combination with the record store since 1980,” he said. “We have loyal customers who come see us for recommendations because we know their tastes.”
To call Tulsa’s incoming record stores “chains” is a bit disingenuous—they’re independent both operationally and in spirit. Josey has only two other stores, with one in Dallas, and the other in Kansas City, Mo. Spinster currently operates only one store in the Dallas suburb of Oak Cliff. The shops are more akin to Oklahoma-based Guestroom Records (which has three stores across two states) than former music giant Sam Goody.
Both stores said they were attracted to Tulsa by our current scene and deep musical roots, and both hope to move into the cultural void left by Holy Mountain.
In addition to a stage for local and national bands, Josey Records seeks to support Tulsa’s DJ culture. They have a DJ booth for live events, and carry a selection of hardware and records catered to vinyl-specific DJs. Luke Sardello, from Josey Records, told me they also own a record pressing plant.
“On Record Store Day events we curate local bands and press a vinyl EP that features bands playing in the store that day,” he said. “That will start with November’s Black Friday Record Store Day event, and will continue with the big April Record Store Day event next year.”
Spinster owner Dave Grover said he wants his Tulsa location to be, “a place where people [can] listen to music, geek out about their favorite new bands, and watch new ones come through and play.”
The store will feature a cozy layout to cultivate an atmosphere of conversation and community. One of Grover’s missions is to “obliterate the vibe of an elitist outlet.”
Hancock said one of the things he’ll miss most about Holy Mountain is the unexpected interactions with interesting customers.
“I had this regular who would come in and buy the most disgusting Satanic metal,” he said. “It turns out he was an Episcopalian minister.” Hancock recalled a time when the minister bought a Churchburn record, and said he’d “have to hide the LP when people from the congregation came over.”
For now, Hancock will hold on to those fond memories while he makes a decent chunk of change flipping wax on the net—specifically soul records.
“This weekend, I sold a 45 from a Muskogee soul artist to a dude in Denmark for 150 bucks,” Hancock said. “I paid a dollar for that ... This is why I dig so hard.”
Hancock will feature those coveted records along with the stock of his entire shop through an online store he’ll soon launch under the Holy Mountain banner. For now, you can personally hit him up and buy one of the many records stacked up to his home ceiling.
For more from Mitch, read his article on the plight of Tulsa teachers.