Photos Andy Calvert
Anyone interested in time travel SHOULD VISIT ROCKNSHOP IN CARTERSVILLE, Georgia; that will take them back a few decades. Eddie Bruce, the store’s owner, has created a place of escape for fans of classic rock. Vinyl records, once relegated by many to history’s ash heap, have now made a roaring comeback and Bruce has capitalized on that surging trend. The steady stream of customers through the door at RocknShop serves as proof. “This place is a destination,” he says. “It’s an experience.”
A store is born
Eddie Bruce does not look like a man who spent 37 years in IT (though he did, 25 of those years at Shaw Industries); he looks just like what he is, a dealer in classic rock. He has a gray goatee, combed-back hair, and a penchant for vintage-looking T-shirts. It’s decidedly not a corporate look, and that’s just fine with him. Bruce has a cheerful, laid-back demeanor that lets customers know they’re in a place where they can relax and browse.
For Eddie Bruce, entering the vinyl record business was a happy accident of sorts. It came about from Bruce’s lifelong habit of collecting this and that. “I’ve always been a collector of different things,” he says, “baseball cards, sports cards.” When a friend of his decided to close his sports card store, Bruce bought his inventory and started selling at baseball card shows. That went well, until the rise of eBay squeezed the profit out of the venture. Despite this disappointment, Bruce found that he had a liking for buying and selling, so he looked for new opportunities.
One day Bruce made a fateful purchase: a record player. That set into motion a series of events which would eventually culminate in the founding of RocknShop. He started frequenting antique malls, buying old records to play, and so the collecting began.
When Bruce first rented space at an antique mall/home décor store called Copperwood Company, vinyl records were almost an afterthought. He says, “We had a wall covered in framed concert posters, and we had one crate of records sitting on the floor.” The business was supposed to be about the posters, but the records proved popular, so Bruce began buying vinyl collections from people, sometimes as many as 6,000 or 8,000 records at a time.
In the three years he spent selling at Copperwood, customers kept buying so many records that his business moved from one wall to a booth, then to a double booth, then to a room of its own. Eventually, it became clear that continued growth would require a move elsewhere. “We had a good following on Facebook,” Bruce says, “so when we opened our first storefront, obviously that really helped.”
What’s old is new again
There is a great deal of nostalgia involved in the resurgence of vinyl records. Fans of classic rock (young, old, and in-between) seem to enjoy the experience of handling a tangible copy of the music they love. It is a sort of connection to the bands they revere. “People love holding that album in their hands,” Bruce says. “They want that physical copy, the album cover, especially the ones they can open up and read the liner notes, the lyrics.” He adds, “And they want that full, rich sound that vinyl gives them.”
Music publishers have responded to that strong desire by producing new copies of records by iconic bands. “Now they’re reissuing all the old stuff,” Bruce says. “You can buy brand new vinyl copies of classic rock. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, the Eagles’ Hotel California, and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.”
Currently, Bruce has two primary distributors for new records, but the used ones just seem to come to him of their own accord. “I used to go out and look for used records, but now people bring me whole crates of them.” Every week he gets phone calls from people who have vinyl records by the hundreds that they want to sell. “Just a couple of weeks ago,” he says, “a man brought in 500 records. He didn’t want to part with them, but he needed the money.”
After such purchases, Bruce thoroughly cleans every record and inspects them for scratches and damage. If a record looks suspicious, he puts it on the turntable to make sure it still plays without problems. Of course, he can’t take everything everyone brings in. “Sometimes I have to tell people we’re not looking for Dean Martin,” he says, laughing. “We’re looking for that classic rock era, Boston, the Eagles, just classic rock.”
What’s in store
As for records, RocknShop’s top selling band right now is Pink Floyd. “People love their whole catalogue,” Bruce says, “The Wall, The Dark Side of the Moon, so many great records.” Reflecting on Pink Floyd’s popularity among classic rock fans, Bruce explains, “There’s just something about David Gilmour playing those long guitar riffs. You can’t really beat that.” The Eagles also sell well at the shop, as does Fleetwood Mac. Also, some newer artists have proven popular, such as Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift. Bruce is quick to add, “And if we don’t have it, we’re happy to order it.”
RocknShop is constantly introducing new items to their inventory to draw customers’ interest. Bruce says, “This is ever evolving. We’re adding all the time.” Besides vinyl, they sell concert posters, turntables, band T-shirts, various 96ROCK products, RocknShop-branded T-shirts as well as Turtle’s Records & Tapes and Z93 T-shirts. They even sell rock-n-roll socks and underwear, as well as other kinds of apparel.
There are also a few quirky surprises in the store. For instance, Bluetooth speakers integrated into retro suitcases. These handmade suitcase boomboxes are the work of Sonic Suitcases of Fairhope, Alabama. The charm of these one-of-a-kind pieces make customers turn their heads and smile.
Another special eye-catcher in the store is a large display of framed caricatures of famous rock icons, all created by Dalton-based artist Noah Stokes. Each portrait is a spot-on likeness (hilariously exaggerated) of great names in classic rock, such as Stevie Nicks, the Eagles, and many others. A bucktoothed Freddie Mercury of Queen fame is a standout cartoon masterpiece. A perusal of Stokes’ excellent and eccentric work, alone, is worth a trip to RocknShop.
“The focus for me is always vinyl records,” says Bruce, “but I want people to come in and say ‘Oh, socks!’ or ‘Hey, I love that poster!’ That’s why we sell things like retro key fobs and drink coasters, whatever. We try to have a little bit of everything.”
Rockin’ into the future
When asked about his hopes and plans for his store, Eddie Bruce quotes the rock band Timbuk 3: “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” Sales are up, foot traffic is steadily increasing, and the public is discovering the store. “This year has been phenomenal,” Bruce says. “We’ve already (in August) passed last year’s net sales.”
Even through 2020, when so many businesses went belly-up, Bruce’s sales grew by 20%. However, he’s quick to point out that sales are not the most important thing to him, but they are, of course, very important. No sales, no store. He goes on to say, “We want to grow this brand. I want people to hear the name RocknShop and know exactly where we are and what we are.”
RocknShop is moving into the future with a purpose. They’ve bumped up their advertising by doing radio spots, and this year they will be featured on the Cartersville football game jumbotron. “We’ll be plastered up there this year,” Bruce says. “I want us to grow, maintain this building, and help continue the revival of vinyl.”
As for Eddie Bruce himself, he wants the store to be his retirement job. He says, “Maybe someday I can sit in here with my feet propped up, listening to Tom Petty or the Eagles, while my grandson runs the register.”
When CDs first hit the market, many people predicted they would be the death knell for vinyl, but as Bruce points out: “They thought CDs were indestructible, but they found out that wasn’t true.” And if the growing success of RocknShop is any indication, classic rock on vinyl has not only returned, but it intends to stay. Apparently, many fans of classic rock don’t feel the same emotional connection to other ways of playing their music. They want their vinyl. Bruce gives a mischievous smile and says, “No one has ever asked to see my Mp3 collection.”