“Came in a stranger and left as a friend.” Maybe more of a motto than he realizes, Luke Dickens describes a recent road trip adventure to visit a couple in their late 60’s who wanted to sell their record collection.
“They were at my grand opening, and that’s kind of weird because you’re buying their prized possessions and now (the records) are for sale,” Dickens muses. “But I bought it on a Sunday and sold it the next Tuesday. The guy sends me an email and talks about how that album reminds him of his dad, and how it reminds him of being a kid.
“This is what it’s about. People say ‘the resurgence of vinyl’ and I’m like, ‘No. It’s not the resurgence of vinyl, it’s the story.’ The story is what keeps people so into vinyl right now.”
“Personable and personal” is the principle for Dickens’ record pursuits, buying collections from people. Garage sales and thrift store scavenging are not his thing. He relies on building a sense of trust with both buyers and sellers and making a connection that transcends the transaction. “I buy from stories, I buy from people,” he explains.
The cult-like passion for vinyl has always been a peak cultural pursuit. The curation and sense of self that is instilled in a record collection speaks to whims, feelings, phases, lifetimes, memories and people. As with any deeply sentimental collection, records offer a connection. Dickens understands that many feel the pull of music, and he is there to help connect the dots. He is in the community-building business.
As the owner of Vinyl Cup Records in Beaverdale, Iowa, and more recently, of Marv’s Music in Des Moines’ East Village, Dickens got into the business by accident and remains a passionate, albeit very chill, ambassador of record consumption and appreciation.
He started in September 2017 with a Facebook group of 40 or so members, simply sharing what they were listening to. By February 2018, Dickens knew he had something special. Later that summer he opened Vinyl Cup Records in a second-floor studio space in the heart of Beaverdale.
When you open the door to Vinyl Cup Records, you are welcomed by Earl. Earl is not your usual salesperson. He’s a dog. Earl guides you through the store as the sun beams in through east- and south-facing windows, welcoming in a cheerful panorama of downtown Beaverdale.
Warm white walls are lined with long shelves and boxes of records, beckoning casual treasure-hunting without the usual aesthetic of overwhelming retro diaspora. Featured local collectors’ curations also hint at narratives behind album titles and organization. The time capsule pieces are the records themselves, capturing the sound, the art and the essence of a time.
Vinyl Cup Records was created to welcome everyone. The space and the experience feel accessible. With no bell on the door and a readily available water, beer or soda, it’s not a sales pitch but a gesture of hospitality.
“When you go into someone’s home, they offer you a beverage. They invite you in, ‘Come on in here and let me take your jacket’ or something like that. That’s the kind of experience we want, to feel like you’re in our basement,” he says, explaining the process for opening the store to the public. “Crack open a beer, show them A-to-Z, backstock, specialty searches. ‘Check out our listening room. Have a seat, throw on a record and make yourself at home.’”
The listening room is designed after Dickens’ basement where his first collection was housed. The pixelated, framed photo on the wall reeks of low quality, early iPhone pictures, giving a glimpse of the first time customers came over to browse a small sale Dickens hosted in his basement. It’s a grainy reminder of where this dream came from and the birth of the runaway success that is the Vinyl Cup Records experience. The colors, art and atmosphere have now been replicated in the Hi-Fi listening room thanks to Dickens’ wife, Daphne.
“My wife keeps me true to our standards,” he says. “Remembering where we came from and staying on that level.”
“We created a brand. What is a brand? A brand is something like what you make it — it adapts to the times.”
Dickens shares that the industry tends to cater toward an existing customer base, but he is more interested in how to appeal to customers at every stage in the record collecting journey. This means thinking less about what everyone else is doing and relating his customers’ experiences to his own.
Dickens remembers his first record — “Bruised Orange” by John Prine — and the significance it had at a time when he needed it most. He also recalls the importance of records when he only had five with no record player to play them on. But he had a love for music.
“I didn’t know how to clean records. I didn’t know how to touch them. I didn’t know how to hold them. I remember how I felt. I was really nervous and intimidated.”
Vinyl Cup Records has become a place to explore at whatever level is most comfortable to each visitor, whether it is their first time stepping inside a record store or the customer is well-versed in the nuances of collecting.
“You don’t have record player? Great. Buy a record. And then you’ll get a record player,” Dickens says. “I’m trying to get the attention of the person who doesn’t have a record player because they are our future.”