Skip to main content

North Hills Monthly

Vinyl is Back in Style

May 31, 2016 12:32PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen

History often repeats itself, and the record industry is no exception. 

When Fred Bohn Sr. first opened up Attic Record Store Inc. in 1980 in Millvale, he sold records, baseball cards and beer cans. In 1981, he cut out the other items because they were being mass produced, and sold just records, and in the mid-‘80s, he started stocking CDs. According to his son, Fred Jr., now co-owner of the popular store, "By the early ‘90s, our customers were trading in their old records and buying up CDs, because records weren't being made anymore. Now the same people are trying to get their old records back and trade in their CDs."

Walking into a record store these days is akin to taking a trip back in time. "I got into vinyl when my dad passed away," said record collector David Fischer, 36, of Wexford, who inherited his father's collection and bought a turntable. "The sound quality is so much smoother, and just the fact that I own something that was passed down to me makes the music take on more importance. Also, buying the same records my dad would have bought keeps me connected to him."

Bohn explained the difference between analog and digital recordings. "An analog recording is a continuous line, while digital recording imitates that line with ones and zeroes, therefore losing purity of sound,” he said, adding that records hold value and may even increase in value, but a download is worthless. 

“Digital is clean and crisp, while analog is warm, full and rich, making it more emotionally engaging,” he added. “In fact, some artists I like were never recorded on CD." 

Located on the second floor of Bottlebrush Gallery & Center for the Arts in Harmony, Last Dog Records is fulfilling a lifelong goal. "Dennis has been a musician since he was 16 years old, loves music and has forgotten more about it than I will ever know," said MJ McCurdy, co-owner of Bottlebrush and wife of record store owner Dennis McCurdy. "He has a massive collection of vinyl—many albums are rare and signed by the artists—from old rock and folk to jazz and blues, symphonic, show tunes and standards.

"His retirement dream was to have a record shop, and a live music venue,” she added. “After visiting Jerry's Records in Squirrel Hill many times and saying 'if only,' we finally opened our own shop on the second floor of the gallery." 

Since opening in 2014, Last Dog Records has become a magnet for album-seekers and oozes cool from every corner; it is decorated with music-themed art, posters, books about musicians and the industry, music instruction books and collectibles. 

"Vintage vinyl is extremely popular with the kids these days—they go crazy over the shop," said MJ, noting that all ages are now listening to all kinds of music on vinyl. "And Dennis loves talking with the buyers about different artists and genres."

According to Bohn, 42, record companies are once again putting out albums on vinyl, including limited editions, picture discs and multi-colored albums instead of the usual black. "Now it's 12-year-olds buying classic rock albums," he said, noting that the old turntables still work better than the new versions. And today's albums are more durable than they were in the 1970s, but they still need TLC to stay scratch-free. 

"Take care of them, and your records will last forever," he added.

Max Terasaro, 37, of Millvale has been crazy about records since he was a child, so he now works part-time at Attic Records. "My older brother went into the military and took all of his CDs, but he left me his record collection," Terasaro recalled, adding that he spends a lot of time looking for albums and learning about history in the process. "You can discover a whole different kind of music in a record store, because there are things here that you would never find on the computer. These albums aren't digitally stored, and it's not that far from books. You can even study Pittsburgh history by going back through albums that were recorded here." 

Fischer noted that growing up in the digital age, most teens have never listened to record albums."Exposing them to the record store encourages kids to listen to all different kinds of music," he said, adding that listening to albums with his 12-year-old nephew has been a bonding experience.

One of the most compelling reasons that collecting record albums is such a popular hobby is because it goes on ad infinitum. Attic Records has millions of albums in a collection that extends way past what you see in the shop."Part of the fun of collecting record albums is the fact that it's never completed," said Bohn, pointing out that albums evoke sentimentality because music is such a part of people's lives. "You accumulate CDs, but you collect records. That's the difference."