Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Vintage Vinyl Partners Split; Lew Prince Moving On

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2015 at 7:15 AM

Lew Prince (left) and Tom "Papa" Ray at Vintage Vinyl. - PHOTO BY JON SCORFINA
  • Photo by Jon Scorfina
  • Lew Prince (left) and Tom "Papa" Ray at Vintage Vinyl.

Tom "Papa" Ray is now the sole owner of Vintage Vinyl. After more than three decades of sharing duties with co-founder Lew Prince, Ray assumed full ownership yesterday, as Prince moves on to new adventures. Both men talked to the Riverfront Times, sharing their pride in the store. The reason for the split? As Prince says, "I did this for 35 years. My kids graduated from college and it's paid for. My house is paid for. Now I get to do something different. It's just that simple."

Vintage Vinyl started in 1979 when Ray and Prince began selling used records out of a booth at Soulard Farmer's Market. The business thrived and eventually put down roots on the west end of the Delmar Loop in University City.

The store was recently named as one of the ten best record stores in the U.S., which only confirmed what locals already knew. Vintage Vinyl has long served as a hub of St. Louis music culture. In addition to the expected music store wares, Vintage is also a friend of the local scene: it stocks tons of local music, frequently hosts local bands for in-store performances and boasts a thriving paper fliers section just inside the front door, internet be damned.

"I'm looking forward to continue working with the best staff that we've ever had in the 35-year history of the store," Ray tells us. "And being a part of the musical community in St. Louis as well as the record store mothership in the Delmar Loop."

Vintage Vinyl ownership isn't the only musical venture in the life of Tom Ray. He's also a long-time DJ at KDHX who currently hosts the Monday drive-time slot with his show the Soul Selector. He was also recently tapped to curate a compilation released by Trojan Records and is known to play a bit of harmonica with blues acts around town and on tour with Los Angeles band Vintage Trouble.

Ray credits the shop's success to the rich musical history in St. Louis.

"I would say that we started with the knowledge that we saw that there was a responsibility to not only serve our customers but to understand how important of a foundation city St. Louis is in American music -- which is something that I often saw ignored by other store owners," he says. "It was almost like they were oblivious to the fact that, you know, we have musical greatness in our DNA here in St. Louis."

And though the Soul Selector is now the sole owner of Vintage Vinyl, co-founder (and White House award-winning) Lew Prince was kind enough to grant us a jovial exit interview of sorts late last night. (Prince is also a former RFT writer.) Here, he walks us through his history with Vintage Vinyl, his political views and his plans for the future.

Read on:

Will you please explain to me your current situation?

It basically is: Tom and I started this company 35 years ago. I did this for 35 years. My kids graduated from college and it's paid for. My house is paid for. Now I get to do something different. It's just that simple. I don't know what it is yet, but something different!

Until then, maybe you get a couple of naps in?

[laughs] You know, I am going to take the next month or two off. I love to travel. One of the benefits of the job that I had was the way that Tom and I structured the company. It wasn't something that was going to make us a bunch of money, but [it did] give us free time to do the things that we want. I mean, you see Tom go on the road with Vintage Trouble, the band he plays with. You see Tom go off on the road opening for bands as their DJ.

And over the years the two things that I've done is, first, pretty much every year or so I take a month or two off and go hiking in the Himalayas, go hiking in the Andes. I go up a river in Thailand. I spent months and months walking around China in the late '80s. I spent months walking around Tibet in the early '90s.

Oh my god.

Yeah! And this job is what freed me to do that. I think I'm headed to the Himalayas for August and part of September. There's a little former kingdom up there called Sikkim that's between Nepal and Bhutan, that used to be a separate country but now it's part of India. It's one of the places in the Himalayas that I haven't walked so I'm going up there, I think. When I get back I'm hoping to find a job.

And the second thing that I've always been able to do is to go off and do these political things that I've done. I've been a spokesperson for Business for Shared Prosperity and Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, which is a national organization for almost a decade now.

So, I don't get paid for any of that. But it sort of frees me to be part of the political process in a really interesting way. So maybe I'll do something with that.

I really think that you're a local hero when it comes to stuff like that.

[laughs heartily] You know, I totally backed into that stuff. I was really pissed off when dumbass George W. Bush kept talking about "job creators" and all of these backwards things. So I thought, well, through Vintage Vinyl I've created a couple of dozen jobs. I had about 25 employees. And I just thought that he was wrong. Most small business owners that I know really want their people to be able to earn a decent wage and understand that national health care or some form of healthcare for everyone is really important. And I've always done issues that, like, essentially have a moral center.

Yeah, it seems like employees who are well taken care of are better employees, too, right?

Absolutely. I think as Americans we sign this deal that we're going to take care of each other. That this is a country that is constructed to be -- at its root -- classless. That is to say: anyone from one class can move to any other class if the system is working correctly. But it's not working correctly right now. And simple things like a basic wage and safe working conditions and reasonable health care are how we help each other in this country.

Next: Prince on what he's looking for next.

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