For three years, The Record Guys has been off of Leggett and South 7th. The music shop sits on the corner with a big red text banner and the words “Records, tapes, record players.” The shop is stocked with piles and stacks of organized vinyl records and cassette tapes, an ode to the history of music. Old fashioned bar lights hang from the ceiling and reflect off the red and tan checkered floors.
It’s a haven for local music lovers.
“The culture that they present in Abilene is so powerful,” said Josh Ramseur, junior English major from San Antonio. “Because what it says, by their opening up an independent record store, they allow for a spirit of independence, of sustainability, of friendliness, of hard work and what it can get you. They allow for that to exist in Abilene.”
Ramseur said he has a deep appreciation for the Howell family and the influence they have in Abilene, and he says that Record Guys is the core of what Abilene is in the arts and what it could be.
“It’s been amazing to see the transformation and go from when we started and people were questioning what we were doing,” said Jon Howell, owner. “Now, I’ve got kids that are 8 and 10 years old, I’ve got people that are 80 and 90 that are getting back into it. They just want to listen to the records that they’ve always had.”
The Record Guys, Justin and Jon Howell, brothers and Abilene High School graduates, began selling records as preteens at local flea markets. Now, years later the store is run by Jon and his father Kevin and they have one employee, Hannah Walker.
Now years later, The Record Guys is a four man operation, a local man with a card kiosk in the store, Hannah Walker, Jon Howell and Kevin Howell. Justin Howell has since left working with the store and moved to Chicago.
“He is on his personal mission, which we’re all okay with,” said Howell. “At one point he just said ‘I love the record store, this has been great but I have to let go.’ It happened a point where we were kind of small, we were still just doing flea markets once a month.”
Hannah Walker began coming to the store as a shopper three years ago and has now been working for the store for a year.
“I built up a good relationship with Jon and Kevin,” said Walker. “Then I just kind of took a chance one day and asked if I could get a job here and they actually said yes. I can practically run the store, most days.”
Most of the records at the store are sold for less than $5, and Howell says sometimes it’s a wrestle between selling for more or selling for less.
“People always say, ‘You can sell online’ and ‘You can sell this for more money’,” said Howell. “I don’t want to sell it for more money, I want people to be able to afford it, but I still want to be able to feed myself.”
With the store stocked to the brim, it is really only 20 percent of all the records that The Record Guys have. The other 80 percent sit in a warehouse in Abilene waiting for sales and interested buyers.
“We do brown bag sales about every couple of months,” said Howell. “We got the idea from a friend of ours that used to own a record store in California. He said it’s a great way to introduce people to it and let them explore new things.”
The store is a vessel for music and community in Abilene. Howell says he is currently working on building a kiosk where people can come and listen to local music and buy CDs from local bands. The Record Guys never charges anything for selling local music. All profits go back to the artist.
“We have so many ideas for the future,” said Howell. “It just takes time. We don’t want to overreach our bounds. I see a lot of other businesses do that sometimes. We want to make those moves as slow and deliberate as possible.”
Howell served as an adviser for a group of young musicians in Abilene that wanted to create a music venue fit for hardcore/metal music.
“It was kind of cool growing up and looking up to people that were doing things like that,” said Howell. “Now I have people coming and asking me what I think about it. I want to help as much as I can with pushing people in the right direction. Making sure that they’re making the right decisions not only for fun, but for business.”
Earlier in the month, The Record Guys hosted a brown bag sale. Anyone could fill their bag to the brim with records and leave only having spent $5. ACU alumni and founder of the The Appetizer Radio Show, D Grant Smith, provided the music.
“Growing up here in Abilene, seeing different places open and close, get supported and not get supported,” said Howell. “We see bands come and go. When I actually got to have a brick and mortar store like this, with a stage outside, I always wanted to do concerts and help bands.”
The Record Guys keeps the warehouse full of thousands of records and recently, Jon Howell purchased the collection of a record store in San Angelo that was open in the ’90s.
“Sometimes we get donations, I do get people that just come and say ‘I don’t need these anymore, here have them’,” said Howell. “But a lot of it is people walking in and selling collections. I bought a store out of San Angelo, two weeks ago now. We bought half of it; we should be getting the other half in the next couple months. That was 6,000 records.”
The store on the corner of South 7th and Leggett is open for hours contrary to traditional business because of the extent of work that has to be done outside of open store hours.
“When we’re here, we’re busy visiting with customers and getting records and sorting and stuff,” said Howell. “There’s a lot that has to happen when we’re closed, moving boxes and working in the warehouse.”
Expansion to a new building isn’t on the radar for Howell, but they are expanding business to sell music DVDs, music books and other used formats of anything from the past. The current store has been the most successful for the company; Jon attributes “blossoming” business to the new location.
“We’ve made our home here. People recognize us here on the corner.”