By Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
Eric Isaacson’s motive behind his shop’s name was quite simple: “We’re on Mississippi Avenue, and I wanted the most plain name possible.” Eric made the decision to open up his shop during a chance random encounter with the owner of the store’s building seven years ago, when the block significantly lacked businesses to accommodate its slowly bubbling foot traffic. Jobless at the time, Isaacson leaned on his experience as a manager in Oakland’s now-defunct Saturn Records to prompt his unplanned journey to start his own business. Now, the 15,000-records-wielding vinyl house stands as one of the most sought-after music bungalows in a city that boasts the highest number of record stores per capita.
Going up against such a vast amount of competition, Isaacson credits “offering selections not heavily focused in most Portland shops, like soul, funk, and reggae,” and, “building a customer base by selling [records] in lower price point, while purchasing them for a bit more than others,” as his winning business model. His rationale also includes selling strictly vinyl and cassettes (he sells 700 a month) and not having a computer at the shop (the inventory is checked via notebooks). This approach may sound dusty, but it's been a winning formula for Isaacson so far. We spoke to the shopkeeper of this pleasing musical destination, and had him answer our Wax Nostalgic 7 Question Survey.
What’s the first record you ever bought?
Eric Isaacson: That would be the White Album by the Beatles for ¢50. I was about five years old. I begged my dad to give me money to buy it, and he bought it for me. My parents weren’t really into music believe it or not. It was kind of my own thing. I don’t really know where that came from. But I listened to the radio obsessively when I was a kid, and that was it.
What’s your favorite record of all time?
Eric Isaacson: I don’t know if I can answer that. I don’t think there’s a favorite of all time. That’s too difficult. Favorite record that I’m listening to right now…I kept listening to this record by a lady named Little Ann and her record is called Deep Shadows. It’s a soul record. I’m pretty all over the place. I listen to country music. I listen to rock music. Punk music. International music...
What’s the most valuable/expensive record that you own?
Eric Isaacson: You know, I’m not much of a record collector. I keep few things at home, but it’s mostly stuff from my store that I’m listening to. I try not to collect too much because I can’t really afford it. [Laughs.] I have some valuable and expensive stuff at home. A little bit. I have this record by Moondog. He was a jazz musician. I have a record by him that’s pretty expensive. I can’t remember where I got it. I think I just picked it up at a garage sale.
If you didn’t own a record shop, what would you do?
Eric Isaacson: That’s a really good question. I used to work in social services, so maybe I’d be doing that, working with homeless folks. Or maybe I would be cooking; one or the other. I used to work in bistros and delis. Currently, I’m working on being a sushi chef. That’s my goal for the future. I’ll see if I get there.
Why should people buy records?
Eric Isaacson: Because there’s so much history out there. They’re out in the world already. Throwing away old technology is one of the biggest problems in America these days. I think people treat everything as disposable. Like whatever came out half a year ago, you should throw away. We built this beautiful technology to play records, and we litter the whole landscape of America with record players and records, and then people are just trying to desert that whole thing and make landfills with it. It’s a shame because people put a lot of love and soul into all those records out there. It seems like a real waste for people to just stop caring.
Vinyl will never die because…
Eric Isaacson: I think it’s going to stay around for a long time to come, only because there’s so much already out there in the world. For [people] to bury every piece of vinyl, and for future generations not to be curious about what’s on those records is pretty unlikely. Just like we are now, how we’re curious about all the things from the past. I doubt a future generation is going to be like, “I don’t know what this junk is, let’s just burn them.” I would like to be positive about humanity, and think that they listen to their ancestors and try to figure out what they’re trying to say. That’s my hope at least.
Have you ever played a certain record and gotten laid?
Eric Isaacson: I don’t think so. [Laughs.] Not that I can directly correlate to a record. I got to say no to that question.Mississippi Records (Portland)
4009 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR