Customers dig deep at tiny music shop
“Organized chaos” is the best way to describe the Eagle Valley Music Company in Vail’s Crossroads shopping center. In fact, it’s the phrase used by the music and video store’s owner, Tom Robbins. For the novice music shopper the first impression of the shop can be a bit overwhelming. At first glance one just sees hundreds of CDs stacked floor to ceiling, with boxes upon boxes of CDs and more titles buried underneath. The hand written numbers and letters scribbled on the shelves denote some type of cataloging system. If there’s a spare space anywhere on a wall it’s covered with a poster or a framed and autographed musician’s photo. There are large boxes on the top shelves containing box sets and rare collectors editions.”Believe it or not, there is a method to our madness in here,” Robbins says. And he quickly proves it by finding requested titles in an instant, giving a brief history on the CD and/or the artist, while moving easily around the jumbled shelves.But the music lover may not be so nimble. An serious collector’s pulse must quicken at the site of all this music shoved into every nook and cranny. Be it rock-n-roll, country, hip hop, heavy metal or classical piano, there’s a good chance the Eagle Valley Music has it and if they don’t, they can get it, Robbins says. Jam packed
Not only is the Eagle Valley Music Company the oldest music store in the entire valley, it’s one of Vail’s oldest businesses period. The shop has been around since the late 1960s. The Robbins family moved to Vail from Lincoln, Neb. in 1977 when Tom was just 14 years old. While in high school Robbins worked at the record store during the summer months for the previous owner. When the opportunity arose to buy the shop, Robbins jumped on it. The year was 1983 and he was just 19-year-old. Tom and his mother Jeannie Robbins have worked the store together ever since. “It works really well with mom and me.” Tom says. “Since I like to sleep in, Mom opens the store. Then I come in around 1 p.m. and work the afternoons and evenings.” The Robbins’ somewhat cryptic catalogue system makes complete sense to them, of course, because when it comes to anything related to the music industry the two are like walking encyclopedias. Although the tiny shop is all of 550 square feet, smaller than your average Beaver Creek walk-in closet, it boasts over 16,000 CDs – and that’s just the music. There are also more than 8,000 video rentals – everything from current releases to foreign films to Fred-and-Ginger black-and-white classics. The Robbins even have old LPs.”In the 80s all we carried were LPs and some 45s,” Tom says. “But it’s important to stay current with new vinyl because there’s a demand for it from local disc jockeys.”Tom says the shop has a number of clients who visit regularly from the Front Range, along with several Mexican customers who make a point of stopping into the shop each year when visiting from Mexico City.
Running a business in Vail is not new to the Robbins family. Tom’s father, Jim Robbins, came to Vail in 1977 to help open one of the local banks. A few years later Jim and Jeannie bought the Alaska Shop in Vail Village and Jim still runs it today. Tom’s older brother and wife own Lions head Liquor located just below Concert Hall Plaza in Lions Head. “I told my mom she should open a brothel and then we could say we sell it all – sex, drugs and rock-n-roll – but she didn’t like that idea too much,” Tom says. Pirate problemsAs far as watching the music industry change over the years, Tom seems to take it all in stride. In the 1980s, few had envisioned parental advisories being posted on LPs, cassettes or CDs. “We have a lot of kids who come in here and want to buy CDs with the parental advisory warning, so if they’re under 16 or 17 I tell them they have to bring a parent with them,” Tom says. As far as competition goes, Robbins said he hasn’t felt the pinch from Wal-Mart’s discounted prices.
“Wal-Mart doesn’t have the knowledge, the selection or the stock that we do,” he says, adding Wal-Mart is only allowed to sell the edited versions of CDs labeled with a parental advisory. “I sell the real thing but, like I said, a kid has to have permission or I won’t sell it to him.”But music piracy over the Internet has had an impact, but, as Tom explains, it’s affected the entire industry. He says if people just copy a song here or there, the loss is not that substantial, and hopefully people will like one cut enough to be interested in buying the whole CD. But when people illegally burn or download entire CDs, it cuts into everyone’s profit-margin. “It’s a moral dilemma – it’s a gray area even in the industry,” Tom says. “And it affects everyone, the songwriter, the artist, the manufacturers, but in the end, the retailer gets hit the hardest.” He tries to minimize the loss of sales by participating in what the industry calls the “jump start program,” a reduced-price program where participating record labels sell retailers discounted CDs and then the individual stores pass the savings onto the consumer. “This way a CD that normally costs $18.98 can be reduced to $12.99 or $13.99 and old releases can be as low as $9.99,” he says. “It’s not going to make the problem disappear, but it helps.”I like to think of our store as a one stop-shop that carries a wide variety of labels, including independent labels, and saves people time and energy,” he says, adding that burned CDs do not last as long as officially released CDs and that the sound quality is compromised.