Syracuse Vintage Vinyl Owner Tom Little smokes a cigarette outside his business’ first storefront, located in the village of East Syracuse on W Manlius Street. (photo by Lauren Young)
Tom Little has been collecting vintage vinyl records for the past 10 years, and has already accumulated more than 40,000 records to date — a kaleidoscope of classic rock, blues, psychedelic and doo-wop records from the 50s through the 90s, now being sold at his new record shop in the village of East Syracuse on W Manlius Street.
Little, 53, is a record collector and owner of Syracuse Vintage Vinyl, a used record store that opened in the village on Thursday, Nov. 15. Located on 205 W. Manlius Street along a strip also inhabited by two tattoo shops and Serres Donut Shop, this is the business’ first storefront.
“I buy all the time, and I love to buy the stuff that sells quick,” said Little, citing records like Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” as best-sellers.
“It’s just something fun to do,” he said. “I mean, how cool is it to own a record store? Pretty freaking cool.”
For the last nine years, Little sold used records at the Central New York Regional Market on the Northside of Syracuse on Sundays until he decided to open his business’ first storefront to include other family members, namely his wife Kate and son Brody.
“Physically, I’m not capable of doing what I used to do,” said Little, who also works in construction. “But this is what I love to do, and it’s a family thing.”
The walls of the store are adorned with some neon-painted horror masks from the 70s and vintage concert and B-movie posters. In the front sits a hand-carved Mick Jagger marionette and in the back awaits a pale zombie doll with long black hair, a vintage horoscope-telling machine from 1956 and crates, crates and more crates of over 40,000 records, including LPS, 45s, CDS, cassette tapes, a-track tapes, movies and even some boomboxes, stereo gear, turntables, record players and incense.
Little said the memorabilia is an expression of his personality, and opening his own record store has always been a dream.
“This is my dream thing to do, and hopefully it works out,” he said. “I believe in it.”
Little has been collecting records for the last 10 years, typically buying 50 pieces per collection, or “buying big” from collectors or hoarders that pass away and leave behind a massive collection. The most he has ever bought from a single collector was 20,000 records.
And his prices, he said, “are more than competitive.”
“Some stuff is valuable, but [I want to] give people a deal,” he said. “That’s what I try to do — I try to hook people up. Get them some good music that’s affordable and keep them coming back.”
The space, originally rented by Pawn King, only took a few days to redecorate, and just in time for Record Store Day on Friday, Nov. 23 and Small Business Saturday on Nov. 24. On both days, Syracuse Vintage Vinyl sold dollar records, 50-cent 45s and two for $3 albums, receiving quite a rush when it opened its doors at 12 p.m. on Friday.
“I have a little bit of a following already,” Little said.
He still remembers the first record he bought —KISS’ self-titled debut studio album — in fifth grade with $10 he found on the street.
“I bought it not because I liked KISS, but because I thought I was supposed to like KISS,” he said. “They looked cool with all that makeup and costumes.”
While Little had records as a kid, he wasn’t much into them as he is now.
“I didn’t take good care of them,” he said. “Now, when I buy collections, a lot of stuff is in very loved conditions.”
It was not until after Little quit drinking that he discovered his passion for collecting vinyl records — a musical manifestation of nostalgia and a habit he could invest in.
“Drinking was my obsession. When I quit drinking, I had to do something else to obsess on,” he said.
Little said himself and his wife Kate, who has a small record collection herself, gravitate toward these nostalgic records that transport them back in time, to times they were in the back of their parent’s car or when they first heard it on the radio.
“It’s like trying to get a piece of your childhood back,” he said.
Little’s collection ranges from Led Zeppelin to Dave Myers and The Surftones, experiencing new artists and albums daily.
“It happens to me all the time; I’ll hear something for the first time that I never thought to play before,” he said. “You just know when a song hits you and makes you feel like, ‘wow.’”
For Little, the tactility of listening to records opposed to streaming online is what makes it superior in the listening experience, he said.
“It’s something that you’re physically doing,” said Little. “You can hold it, look at the artwork, you can put it on your shelf —it feels more real.”
Though Little lives on the Eastside of Syracuse and not in East Syracuse, he said he enjoys the village’s small-town feel and character, especially the friendlessness of its residents.
“I’m happy to be here in East Syracuse, the village has been so nice to me,” he said. “Everybody has been going out of their way to make us feel welcome, and the small-town charm is really nice.”
As a friend of many local musicians, Little said the store is open to supporting local artists by selling their albums or hanging up upcoming concert fliers in the front.
Browse through more than 40,000 of Little’s vintage vinyl records, CDS, a-track tapes and more at Syracuse Vintage Vinyl from Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. at 205 West Manlius St. in East Syracuse.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.