Vinyl adventurer Mark Elliott boards a plane to Orlando and discovers a virtual theme park for record hunters, with nine – yes, nine – stores all ripe for a ransacking…

orlando

It’s a dilemma many of us share: the holiday we secretly want – a fortnight driving round the back streets of towns and cities, getting ensconced in dusty shops, crate digging – or the one we find ourselves on: a two-week package trip to Florida, spent (it seems to me, anyway) in endless queues for nausea-inducing rides at the Magic Kingdom with the extended family.

And I’m not alone. Orlando is one of the most popular summer holiday destinations for Brits, with 1.7 million of us visiting the wider State of Florida in 2015.

I wonder how many of them experience a day as exciting as mine – a staggering nine record stores, all within a few miles of each other and, hands-down, better vinyl hunting than you’ll find in seemingly more obvious US choices, such as Manhattan. Orlando is a record collector’s dream and, although you’ll need a car to get around and a generous baggage allowance for the flight home, this city turns up some elusive finds.

Orlando may be nicknamed ‘The City Beautiful’, but I’d soon tagged it ‘The City Bountiful’. With 2.3 million-plus residents in the wider metropolitan area, it seems they’d all been buying an awful lot of records back in the day. The amount of second-hand vinyl here is stunning and, although the pound is lower than it used to be against the dollar, prices are still keen.

On my trip, I find that LPs are about 10-15 per cent cheaper than back home, while 7″ singles are $2 to $3 and 12″s around $5 to $7.The traffic is heavy in the city, but parking is easy everywhere. In truth, it was a rush to cover all nine stores in a single day, but with discipline and a heavy heart for the stacks of stock I wasn’t able to attack, I just about managed it! A couple of stores would’ve taken me hours to investigate thoroughly, so pace yourself – there’s a lot to get through.

The theme parks had kept me busy for a few days – there’s even some Disney-related vinyl for sale at them (the widely available picture-disc soundtracks and some nice LP reissues of The Lady And The Tramp and Alice In Wonderland storybooks). I’d dived into a couple of Barnes & Nobles, too – there are a handful across the city – and found good vinyl sections in two of the three I visited, with a number of store exclusives.

So I’d had a bit of a fix already, but this was the blowout course! Mindful of the need to consider the weight on the plane and my customs declaration back at Gatwick, I’d planned to keep spending moderate.

Getting there

Plot your course on a map. We didn’t – and although most of the stores are clustered downtown and in the northern suburbs of the city, you can spend a lot of time going round in circles if you don’t plot out your route. The traffic in Orlando is heavy, so head out after the morning rush hour and get home before 5pm.

If you’re staying near the parks, it will take you just under an hour to reach the furthest store. If you follow the GPS – and you’d be a fool not to – it will likely take you on a few toll roads, so have some coins and low-denomination notes to hand.

1. Park Ave CDs

Don’t be put off by the name of this store: I find a better selection of new stock here than almost anywhere else I subsequently visit. Maroon 5’s second and third albums find their way into my basket, along with Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, badged as part of Capitol Music’s recent 75th birthday celebrations.

There’s a decent amount of used stock, too, and I pick up a good haul of Andy Gibb 7″s for a couple of dollars apiece – he was a much bigger star here than in the UK. That’s one of the benefits of an overseas expedition: hoovering up back catalogues of acts that barely shifted a unit back home and thus rarely turn up at UK fairs or charity shops.

Music From The Edge Of Heaven is a US mini-album containing a mix of songs and issued in 1986 when Wham! split. It’s not particularly rare, but I offer a retail-inspired tribute for $7. Alongside the vinyl, there’s a very wide range of CDs here – including lots of hesitate-and-you’ll-miss-them boxsets – plus books, magazines, neat stationery and gifts.

Michael Redig loved Park Ave so much, he ended up working there. It’s been around in different locations for more than 30 years and at its current address for 10. As a visitor, Redig always used to call in, and jumped at the chance to join the staff when he moved nearby. His chatty interest in my mission and the pack of nifty store stickers he thrusts into my hand give me a feeling that today is going to end up being the highlight of my holiday.

2. Retro Records

The first thing that hits you is the memorabilia. There are walls of it – from rare 60s Beatles products to the classic Osmond dolls from a decade later. This store initially seems more ‘museum’ than record shop. Then your eyes focus on the racks of used vinyl and holiday panic sets in – how much can I carry home on the plane and, with seven stores still to visit, how much can I afford to spend here?

I decide to focus on singles exclusively and the vast 12″ rack yields early dividends. A Motown promo of Lionel Richie’s 1992 Do It To Me comeback is $6. An intriguing collective of rock acts such as Motörhead, Slade and Venom recorded a Belgium-issued charity track, Sport Alive, in 1985 and here it is, in mint condition. Either a collector shipped it over or a tourist dumped it on arrival, but who knows the personal journey of most second-hand records?

Whatever its story, I decide it’s coming back to Europe again, joined by the US issue of Alphaville’s Universal Daddy and Sheena Easton’s Jimmy Mack. A picture-sleeve 7″ promo of Michael Jackson’s Twenty-Five Miles, written by Johnny Bristol and paired with the festive Up On The Housetop, was plundered from the Motown vaults in 1987 and secured an issue in France, the USA and Italy.

The store has been here since 1980 and is obviously a draw for other tourists escaping the parks like me – a chap from Hungary is picking up a lot of Bryan Ferry and another from France is focused on the soundtracks. I join him and pick up the vinyl reissue of the Whitney Houston-led Waiting To Exhale.

Having broken my singles-only oath, I reason that my prized, still-boxed 1970s Cher doll truly needs a new outfit. For $20, I pick up a sealed ‘Cleopatra’ outfit set. The box recommends it’s for children aged over three, so I guess they never reckoned on gay men like me still coveting this stuff, four decades on.

3. Foundation

Situated in College Park, slightly further out than many of the other stores, this neat vinyl and vintage clothing boutique has just celebrated its first anniversary. Founder Peter Cohen tells me that he tries to keep a good mix of collectibles and sources a lot of stock online.

Like everywhere else I visit, the discs are in great condition. Nothing is too expensive – and collectibles are priced fairly – and I unearth a few great finds in his bargain racks. Lime were a Canadian electro-disco act and the Prism Records issue of their Greatest Hits in 1985 is something I’d never found in a decent state, but here, I pick up a mint copy for less than $10.

Madonna had been part of Breakfast Club before her breakthrough and, in 1987, the slimmed-down four-piece made the US Top 10 with Right On Track. Their debut LP is mine for a few dollars, alongside a nice copy of the soundtrack of Star Trek IV. Peter’s not surprised at my random selection.

“The kids who buy a lot of vinyl now have such eclectic tastes,” he tells me. “They come in, buy the vintage clothing and pick up some random stuff to play back home. It’s really inspiring!” For a collector like me, who enjoys The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and their like, but sometimes tires of the endless attention they get, this gives me fresh hope that my interest in Flock Of Seagulls will one day generate equal excitement elsewhere… Plus Peter sort of implied I was a kid too. That hadn’t happened in a while.

4. Uncle Tony’s Donut Shoppe

About ready for a lunch break? Don’t be fooled, as I was! The calorific temptations are long gone, but what’s left is a fantastic store that’s elegant and well stocked with a strong range that’s particularly good for soul and R&B. John ‘Brooklyn Dusty Fingers’ Sarivola and Jonathan Santino tell me the store started as a vinyl and doughnut pop-up, but found its permanent home three years ago.

“We found we kept eating the doughnuts in the downtime,” they recall. “They were making us fat. We briefly considered replacing them with kale, but in the end, thought we’d stick to the records!”

The project is clearly a labour of love and they spend a lot of time deciding on the shop-window selection for the front store, with the million-sellers relegated to the $5 room out back.

I head there first to find a copy of the 1980 soundtrack to Loving Couples, with tracks from The Temptations and Billy Preston. The guys don’t charge me for this record when I later pick up a Canadian 12″ copy of Trio’s 1982 hit Da Da Da and the four-disc DJ promo boxset for the Red Hot + Dance release. The box hasn’t yet been priced, but Brooklyn sets a fair one. Everything here is beautifully presented and there are decks to try out the discs.

Top Five

1. The car is king
You’ll need a car; rentals are super-easy. All of the stores have parking outside or, in a couple of downtown locations, very close by.

2. Get it on credit
Unlike many UK stores, the record stores all accept credit cards. Be careful of currency charges, though, which you’ll be hit with each time you flash the plastic.

3. The far side
Florida is blessed with a scattering of record stores in the metropolitan hubs of Miami and St Petersburg.

4. Park life
If you’re on holiday, the theme parks are likely what you’ll also be here for – there are a lot of them and you’ll need at least a full day for each one. Get to them early and be prepared to queue, although expensive Fast Pass access will help (a bit).

5. Shop it like it’s hot
There’s plenty of other shopping here, but avoid the tourist-trap flea markets south of the city. It’s almost all tacky souvenir stuff with a few CD and DVD stalls of discs you can source easily elsewhere.

5. Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven

This vast store is certainly the emperor of music stores in Orlando, and literally takes my breath away (it has the widest range of collectibles I come across on my trip). I find myself drawn to the enormous and fantastically well-organised 7″ racks. Artist by artist, section by section, it reminds me of Beanos, the legendary Croydon store once billed as the largest in Britain.

Freddy Ehmen took over this 1977-launched store in May 1987 and now runs it with his brother. Boasting one of the largest ranges in the USA, you could easily spend a day here. Garage, psychedelic and soul are especially well served, but I come across every vinyl genre imaginable, plus cassettes, 8-track cartridges and LaserDiscs.

“This place is the soul of Orlando,” former musician Freddy tells me. “I can guarantee you’ll find stock you can’t easily source elsewhere.” His customers include many of Florida’s most famous musicians and other acts that passed through the State over the years.

He credits Michael Jackson with the massive range of music memorabilia he carries – the late King Of Pop would spend a lot every time he stopped by. The walls are covered with sleeves signed by artists who have been in – and the toilet walls are an autograph hunter’s dream.

I don’t have Michael’s spending power, but do pick up a really nice US Wham! Make It Big picture disc and a PRT-issued Graduate album featuring a pre-Tears For Fears Curt and Roland doing their best Secret Affair impression. The best buy of the day is a 1983 West German, RSO-issued box of all the Bee Gees albums up to Living Eyes, plus rarities. The set busts my holiday allowance, but I reason it’s an efficient way of collecting one of my favourite bands’ back catalogues in a unique package that’ll hold its value.

Freddy tells me the vinyl boom is serving the city well and says the internet is helping everyone understand what records are worth. He tells me that 20 years ago, dealers would swoop in, pick up boxes of stock such as Northern Soul and sell it on at inflated prices. Freddy’s prices are fair, but he knows what to charge. Still, it would have been a tragedy to leave that Bee Gees set behind…

6. Re-Runz Records

With my wallet still gently smoking, this smaller but well-stocked soul-oriented specialist provides gentler respite in the shadow of the Orlando City Stadium. Like everywhere on this trip, I find the stock well-graded and the service beyond friendly.

Owner Ed Smith spends time trying to source me a still-sealed copy of the 1986 Diana Ross And The Supremes 25th Anniversary three-disc set, but I settle for his excellent-to-mint copy instead. A stack of sealed Sesame Street 7″ singles also catches my eye and the puppets’ take on the Saturday Night Fever disco sensation leads to a final purchase.

How this pile of 1978 records ended up here unopened is another of the day’s mysteries, as Ed just shruggs his shoulders, also none the wiser.

7. Remix

Billed as something of a New Wave specialist, this is always going to float my boat – and doesn’t disappoint. It actually carries a good range of wider pop/dance, too, and I’m happy to buy some mid-90s tracks on 12″ DJ promos, including As Long As You Love Me from Florida’s finest, Backstreet Boys.

On a similar theme, my 12″ of Ace Of Base’s Whenever You’re Near Me (label boss Clive Davis refused to release the original Life Is A Flower Stateside without a rewrite) surprisingly doesn’t raise an eyebrow – I’m told this 18-month-old store sells a lot of this material, especially to European tourists.

The New Wave and 80s stock is impressive, and I pine after some Japanese picture discs of early Madonna albums but manage to restrain myself. Instead, I pick up a Madonna wannabe’s 12″. Tia’s incredibly derivative Boy Toy never got a UK release, but it’s mine for $3. Billy Idol’s debut US LP in mint condition cost a bit more – another crossed off my wants list.

8. East West Music & More

This is the city’s oldest operating record retailer, with an impressive 46 years on the clock, and was established when the area was populated predominantly with orange groves. There were once four stores, but now just this one soldiers on.

It’s another real treat, with some impressive stock, including some great finds from recent Record Store Days and 2016’s Black Friday. The second-hand stock secures me an interesting 1979 Casablanca TV-advertised double-disc compilation A Night At Studio 54. My clubbing days may be largely behind me, but this is the sort of collection that still gets my toes tapping, featuring cuts from Dan Hartman, Chic and Cheryl Lynn.

From the new racks, I pick up the fine Monkees 10″ Record Store Day exclusive of B-sides from Good Times along with the red-vinyl 7″ reissue of Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus/Vienna Calling and the 10″ picture disc of Mickey Mouse March from The Mouseketeers. I am, after all, in Florida.

9. R ‘n’ R Record Shop

Situated in the heart of the tourist district, near to the outlet malls and the airport, we find R ‘N’ R tucked away in a small mall. It’s worth a look – the amount of stock is more modest than some, but prices are keen and I like owner Anthony Venturini’s trick of packaging the LPs and 12″s with a free 45.

It persuades me to pick up a Barry Manilow US-only 12″ EP of his Shakin’ Stevens cover Oh, Julie!, which he’d paired with the 1975 MOR classic I Write The Songs. The latter topped the Billboard charts early the following year, and was also on my wants list.

I leave the store content, but something’s nagging at me. I’d spied a copy of the 1985 Italian bootleg 12″ of The Wild Mix by Duran Duran – a disc I’d read about but never actually seen before. Another welcome promotion here is that every purchase entitles you to a discount on the next. Not much use to visitors on a tight timetable, but… after a few minutes, I go back and seal the deal.

With the discount, I secure a bargain and a copy of the John Taylor solo single I Do What I Do to boot. Now I just have to get all this bounty back home…

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