Source, The Times Herald, Gary Puleo
“The more things change the more they stay the same.”
Would you ever have guessed that accurate old French saying would ever apply to the King of Prussia Mall?
Probably not if you’re one of the longtime shoppers who have said that, with its focus on high fashion stores, the mall had lost much of its character in the last few decades.
But now those folks may be happy to learn that, according to Roy Thomas, owner of The Rock Shop, mall owner Simon Properties has been looking to bring back two types of stores that were once dominant entities here — a book store and a music shop.
With The Rock Shop having created a cozy haven of used and new vinyl and CDs in the old Radio Shack on the lower level of what many locals still affectionately refer to as The Plaza, the mall has handily accomplished one of those directives.
“They see value in an interesting independent retailer,” said Thomas, who also owns The Rock Shop stores at Hamilton Mall, Mays Landing, N.J., and Plymouth Meeting Mall, which debuted in 2014. “I’d approached (former mall owner) Kravco in the ’90s when I was doing kiosks in the malls, and I loved King of Prussia but the rent was always way out of my league. But I think because we went to Montgomery Mall and were considering opening our third store there, we showed up on Simon’s radar and they suggested we come to King of Prussia Mall. Radio Shack was going under and they thought this would be a good space for us.”
Ironically, The Rock Shop is nostalgically situated not far from where Record Museum, one of the area’s quirkiest record shops back in its day, held forth at The Plaza for many years.
While serious record collectors never abandoned what they believed to be a warmer, superior delivery system for music, the resurgence in vinyl is being driven largely by a generation of kids who grew up on digital music and also, noted Thomas, the annual phenomenon in April known as Record Store Day, which started in 2007
“The market is so strong overall because there are so many different aspects to why people are collecting vinyl. You have the audiophiles, the collectors, the new kids and people who are buying records because it’s trendy,” said Thomas. “But kids are sure driving the vinyl sales as they discover it for the first time. It’s not a nostalgic thing for them.”
A record store once offered a kind of a clubhouse atmosphere, Thomas said.
“It was a place to escape from your daily routine and talk to the clerks about concerts and music, something you can’t get online. You remember the time and place where you bought an album, where downloading is meaningless, clicking and tapping on digital thumbnails. You can’t beat browsing through bins and deciding which album you want and holding the record in your hand … that experience stays with you and that’s what we’re trying to recreate. Adults are rediscovering the throwback atmosphere of a record store, but kids have never seen anything like it and they’re fascinated by it.”
On the counter nearby sat a copy of Elton John’s legendary 1973 double album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” with the original gatefold and its compelling artwork by Ian Beck on the cover and inside illustrating Bernie Taupin’s lyrics.
“They’re getting back to some of that great packaging again, with the gatefolds and liner notes,” noted Thomas, citing modern band Murder By Death and its album “As You Wish: Kickstarter Covers,” featuring covers of tunes by David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen and a gatefold that opens to eight feet in length.
“If something means something to you then you want the physical version of it and you can’t do that with Spotify or Pandora. You want to have the artwork and lyrics, and you need to care for the record, and that connects you even more to it. That’s an important emotional connection,” Thomas said.
“The double album used to be a risky move, now it’s everything. For any pop star, like Taylor Swift, it’s always double vinyl now,” noted manager Dan Cathcart, who’s been with Thomas since the Plymouth Meeting Mall debut.
Landing a job with The Rock Shop means starting out with a passion for vinyl, Cathcart added.
“We prefer people who are already passionate about records and then we can teach them how to do things from there,” he said, explaining that applicants are given a questionnaire to test their basic rock knowledge (“name the first four Pink Floyd albums”; “what band was Eric Clapton in?”).
In addition to records, CDs and cassettes, The Rock Shop stocks a variety of band T-shirts and eye-catching banners featuring such acts as The Who, Guns N’ Roses and Jimi Hendrix.
Thomas said he routinely stocks new releases and is always on the lookout for unwanted vinyl.
“A lot of our market is second-hand buying and trading records with the public,” he said.
The Rock Shop at King of Prussia Mall, 160 N. Gulph Road, is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Phone: 610-265-1074.