By Deborah Brown
The Saginaw News
When Bill Wegner was laid off from his audio/visual job in 1974, he and wife Judy took a leap of faith and $80 to open their own business.
“I loved music,” Bill Wegner said. “I suggested it would be fun to have a little store and make a little investment. If it didn’t work, we could just sell it off.”
Thirty-five years later, Records & Tapes Galore, 1303 Court in Saginaw, is going strong.
The Wegners have observed as technology has changed from vinyl records, eight-track and cassette tapes to digital discs and downloadable formats that have eaten into hard-copy sales.
“The industry has come full circle back to record albums,” Bill Wegner said.
Today, the rack behind the counter that Wegner designed to hold 45’s is filled with DVDs, and the old card file that customers used to track their purchases and Judy Wegner’s potted violets, evidence of her longtime hobby, are gone.
But much of the shop remains unchanged.
The Saginaw Township couple still sell used eight-track, cassette and vinyl albums displayed in homemade album racks. The Wegners’ growing inventory of used LPs is evidence of a resurgence. Bill Wegner also finds out-of-print albums and will special-order new ones.
“Music sales are down, but we’re selling vinyl along with CD’s,” he said. “Kids are getting back into records.”
A Nielson SoundScan report showed 2.1 million vinyl albums were purchased through late November, more than any other year since the company began tracking LP sales in 1991. Vinyl record sales rose 14 percent between 2006 and 2007, while CD sales fell 35 percent from 553 million in 2006 to 360 million in 2008.
Bill Wegner attributes the growth to two factors: First, the participatory act of placing the arm of the needle to the record after removing it from the sleeve; and second, the sound of a vinyl record as it differs from the digital forms. Some experts in the field have stated vinyl recordings are superior to the digital disc.
Over Christmas break, Judy Wegner said the shop was humming with customers.
“It was like the old days,” she said. “Kids were home from school or on vacation, and they looked through everything.”
Both Wegners are 67, an age when many people are retired or considering it.
“We have no plans to retire until we’re about 90,” Bill Wegner said. “We’ll stay here until they haul us out feet first.”
On a recent winter day, the bell rang on the shop door and a customer Bill Wegner calls “Vinyl Mikey” walked in.
“I like vinyl,” said Mike Dubay, 45, who drove in from Hemlock with his 17-year-old daughter, Jennifer Dubay, despite a 6-inch snowfall that closed schools. “You never know when you’ll hit it right and get first crack. I specifically go out of my way to find it.”
“He seems to have an instinct for new stuff,” Wegner laughed about Dubay’s habit of arriving when new stock is there.
Dubay approached the counter with a few classic finds.
“George Harrison, Cheap Trick’s ‘Lap of Luxury,’ Santana’s ‘Beyond Appearances’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ ” Dubay smiled. His total: $28.
To supplement music sales, the Wegners also sell equipment brought in by customers. They have receivers, turntables, cassette players and a reel-to-reel tape machine. Bill Wegner can offer mechanical advice and find turntable needles, and if he doesn’t have the answer, he knows someone who does.
“It all comes down to personal help,” he said. “We enjoy contact with the customers.”
The early days
The Wegners in 1974 looked for a spot on Hamilton where they say a hippie-like, Haight-Ashbury culture was thriving, but they couldn’t find the right match. On their way home, the couple saw a sign in a small white building on Court.
“We talked with the owner, and he offered the shop for $80 a month, without a bathroom,” Wegner said.
They moved twice among the white buildings on the block before settling into today’s home, a brick building that once housed a meat market.
Wegner made record racks to hold the popular vinyl albums, and 45 rpm singles lined the walls behind the cash register. Judy Wegner’s hobby raising African violets was displayed near the entrance.
The day the Wegners opened, they sold one album for $5 and were thrilled. Their big break came in 1975 when KISS released its “KISS Alive” album and a shipment error occurred.
A manufacturer rushed the records separately from the album jackets to distributors, who then forwarded the records to the stores without the jackets. The missing jackets were left in a storage container, Wegner said.
The Wegners used a different distributor and believe they were the only store in Saginaw that received the complete package. The album was recorded live at many venues on the KISS tour, but the cover art was shot at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Local kids in the photos were anxious to buy the album, Bill Wegner said.
“We couldn’t afford to advertise then,” Judy Wegner said. But through word of mouth, customers found the complete album at their store.
Now owners of the entire building, believe they are the last of the brick and mortar shops of the kind in Saginaw.
View a slide show of the store, HERE!