By Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
Jean Haffner has built a record library. In fact, the building for his shop Record Exchange was literally a library before it turned into a sanctuary for audiophiles and crate diggers. After moving to St. Louis from Texas in 1975 to work as a personnel director for Traveler’s Insurance, he decided to quit his lagging day job to pursue what he considered a hobby—buying, trading, and selling records. The one-time owner of nine separate record stores in St. Louis embarked on his moneymaking pastime in 1976 with his personal collection of ‘50s and ‘60s rock & roll records. Today, Record Exchange is the combined Voltron of all nine shops; therefore, its selection is bigger than big. Not only does it carry LPs and 45s, but it also boasts a vast selection of 78s, 8-tracks, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, posters, storage containers, cassette tapes, etc. (Haffner claims, “We have the biggest inventory in the country.”)
Of course, its massive collection does have a downside: Customers can easily get lost without ever finding what they initially intend to get. So for a record store of this scale, it’s important to enter with a digger’s mentality—go in without much expectation, and then leave with newly discovered gems. And with prices ranging from ¢50 to $1,000, many treasures can be found without burning too much weight off your wallets (or your ass, since the store’s online auction venture stays open for 24 hours, seven days a week). The 65-year-old record accumulator/former drum player/classic rock & roll enthusiast, shared parts of his past, and answered our Wax Nostalgic 7 Question Survey.
What’s the first record you ever bought?
Jean Haffner: Ricky Nelson’s first album. It was probably 1957. I just liked him at the time, and I saw him quite a few times after that. I bought that record, which was his first record on Imperial. It was just called Ricky.
What’s your favorite record of all time?
Jean Haffner: There are too many for me to answer that question, but I would say, “Hooked On Music” by Mac Davis. And Mac Davis isn’t whom I’m so fond of; it’s his song and his version of it. I’m from Texas originally, and his song is about him growing up in Texas. I grew up 70 miles away from where Buddy Holly grew up, and if I stayed with [my former band] I played with back then, I would’ve been on four or five of Buddy Holly’s albums. They put instrumental tracks down in [Buddy Holly’s] vocal tracks after he died. I wasn’t with them, unfortunately, but that was my almost claim to fame. Mac Davis’ “Hooked on Music” just relates to that.
What’s the most valuable/expensive record that you own?
Jean Haffner: Well, the most expensive one I ever owned was a transcription disc for March of Dimes 1957, which had Elvis on it, and it even says it on the label “destroy after use.” Most transcription discs were destroyed. They were never sold to the public, since they were only used for news and radio stations. They were 16-inch records. Most people couldn’t even play them. I bought mine from another collector. I think I paid $3,000 for it and sold it for $5,000. That was 20 years ago. There are records that worth more than that today, but that’s probably the most valuable one I’ve had.
If you didn’t own a record shop, what would you do?
Jean Haffner: Good question. I’d be at a farm in Colorado. I’d like that. I didn’t like it growing up because I couldn’t relate to it that much, but the older I get, the more I can relate to it. I don’t know. I really hadn’t thought about it. I like what I do. This beats working. I always wanted to find something to do, which wasn’t work, and this is not work to me. This is a hobby like I said, which turned into a business. It’s fun. I could come to work and spend many hours everyday and enjoy it.
Why should people buy records?
Jean Haffner: Because they enjoy them. They can relate to them, and it takes them back to a certain time and place. Takes them back to certain memories where they could relate to somebody else. Or a lot of times it’s just the music, the sound, sometimes it’s the word, sometimes it’s the rhythm, sometimes it’s just something about the song you like. You can relate to music in many different ways. So it’s a subjective answer I guess.
Vinyl will never die because…
Jean Haffner: Because it’s still the best sound, and it always will be. It lasts all formats as long as you take care of it. CDs are laminated products. They will separate eventually. They won’t last as long as vinyl. Plus, like I said, they’re compressed music. You’re getting the sampling sound. You’re not getting the full sound.
Have you ever played a certain record and gotten laid?
Jean Haffner: I don’t know. [Laughs.] I’m not sure. I’m sure I have, but I don’t really look at music that way.Record Exchange
5320 Hampton Ave, Saint Louis, MO
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