Sunshine Records

When Sunshine Records is open, you stick on the brakes and go in. The author is delighted. (Photo courtesy of Tom Cheavens)

Every time I go to Tyler, Texas to visit family, I make time to frequent Sunshine Records. I never leave empty-handed. Packed to the brim with crate upon crate of used records redolent of grandma’s cellar, I lose track of time when I’m digging there. If members of my family are in tow, my visits are curtailed. I intuit when their boredom sets in and make my way to the cash register.

Except there isn’t a cash register. It’s just the owner, Don, a cool dude, T-shirted and about my age, who disappears behind wobbling stacks of boxes and returns with my change.

Sunshine is not a perfect record shop. I love it because I’ve found some absolute gems there, but when I visit, all I can think about is the shop’s massive potential. The things I’d get to work on are numerous, starting with Don’s irregular hours. He’s closed, it seems, more than he’s open. In the world of retail that doesn’t fly, especially since he’s got competition from a newer shop — El Guapo — that’s run by energetic guys out of a shiny shop on the other side of town.

Even as retirement looms, I find myself returning time and again to the crazy idea of making an offer on the place. Let’s face it; retirement isn’t the time to hit the recliner. It’s the chapter of one’s life to do what you’ve always wanted to do. I figure if I’m going to continue laying out money to feed my vinyl addiction, I might as well be running a shop so I can mainline.

Here’s what my Sunshine daydreams look like. First, I’d make an offer on the business. Don has talked to me many times about retiring — he loves coming to Colorado, especially Durango — and I wonder what kind of scratch he would want to be able to do so.

Assuming I could come up with the money, the next thing I’d do is put all those records in storage and set to work on making the space bright, habitable, up to code and welcoming. The place is in need of some love and elbow grease. Ceiling tiles slump, the floor has not seen a mop in forever and natural light struggles to shine through the windows, what with the posters and grime covering them. I have no idea what color the walls are painted. Time-bleached posters that have seen better days, and 45s cover the walls. I’m thinking sunshiny yellows and oranges to liven up the room.

This last trip, my brother asked to use the bathroom. His assessment — and one that came as little surprise to me — was, “Nasty.” So. Modern plumbing will be in order with a private bathroom and one for the public.

No telling what the wiring is like. The building is old and though its charm is evident, it is careworn. I’ve been there on sweltering days with nary an air conditioner humming, just overworked box fans to stir the humidity. I’m no fan of air conditioning, but I’d at least get a swamp cooler in there — if the wiring could handle the load. Also on my fantasy to-do list is some hip lighting, listening stations and maybe a space to demo used turntables.

I loathe carpet but instead would freshen up the floors (are they concrete or linoleum? I can’t say I’ve looked any closer other than to determine they are filthy.). So new flooring and in between the rows of bins, mats like the ones used behind bars or in kitchens, cushy underfoot and easy to clean.

Of course, much would have to be determined before old Don scurries off to the bank.

Once the physical space lived up to its name, the real work would begin. Currently, nothing is alphabetized or categorized in any logical way. Don has some slight separation of rock, R&B, jazz, country and spoken word going on, but mostly it’s a free for all. Personally, I don’t mind that, but I’m not like most record shop customers. I relish the hunt, but more often than not, shoppers come in with a particular artist in mind. I imagine that kind of shopper taking one look around Sunshine Records and turning on their heel in search of a place more organized. Like El Guapo. You know, the competition — competition that has regular hours, a clean shop and solid use of the alphabet (even if they do it iTunes style, which I abhor).

I would also take the guesswork out of pricing. Don just figures things out on the fly. That’s hit or miss. Sometimes it’s on the money and sometimes I’ve taken home records that were essentially unplayable and should have been in the dollar bin. (I will say, his prices are decent, overall.) I’d play-grade as much as possible, assess jacket condition and value on the market — some people collect to resell, others to listen. I fall in the latter camp — and price accordingly. And, yes, dollar bins. Scads of ’em. And giveaway bins, too. Herb Alpert and Christopher Cross records are a dime a dozen and no one will pay good money for the kind of records that collect dust in Goodwill stores. And finally, on the subject of inventory, I’d include new releases, reissues and used CDs in the mix. Throw in posters, incense, stickers, patches and other accessories commonly found in record stores and the place will be perfect. Add some plants for warmth and a couple of comfy chairs and a water cooler and voila! Sunshine Records could really shine.

Don slings vinyl online, as many retailers do, but other than that, doesn’t seem to have a presence outside the shop, in Tyler’s community. I’d take part in pop-ups, events at the two breweries and other community happenings. I’d advertise, throw parties and take part in supporting local nonprofits. Visibility — like those clouded windows — is in much need of improvement.

Of course, the largest obstacle is that I don’t live in Tyler, nor does it seem likely I will anytime soon. For now, it’s fun to let the sunshine into my daydreams.