Betty Strachan may never be “on the cover of the Rolling Stone” as the catchy Dr. Hook song goes, but she would definitely love the chance.
As the owner of the Little Big Store music shop in Raymond’s historic train depot, Strachan is a gatekeeper of music nostalgia, a curator and authority on some of the past century’s most classic and unforgettable tunes and artists.
From 45/78 LPs and 8-tracks of Johnny Cash and The Carpenters to cassette tapes and CDs of Whitney Houston and Aerosmith, the Little Big Store has something for every ear.
“I thought I’d never run out of space when I moved in here. I have a whole train depot and I’m out of space,” Strachan says.
There’s literally thousands of albums stacked ceiling-high and wall-to-wall in multiple formats and Strachan says she has no way of knowing how much she has or what it is all worth.
Speaking of the Rolling Stone, if customers duck their head in the right cranny they can find a whole shelf of archived copies of the popular music magazine, wrapped in plastic and dating all the way back to the 1980s.
Bob Dylan blares from the ceiling on a muggy Monday afternoon as Strachan prices a new pile of records that a customer has brought in to sell. Using a lamp to check for wear and tear, she picks out what she wants and scratches numbers on a scrap of paper. Jewelry, incense and other knickknacks line the counter.
“Perseverance and determination beat the heck out of intelligence,” she says. “I plan on working till I’m dead.”
The old price guides on the shelf behind her counter are worthless; Strachan sets most of her prices based on the going rates floating around the Internet. Most vinyl LP records run between $8 and $12 an album. Strachan’s most recent snag was a first press recording of “Da Doo Run Run” from the Crystals that will fetch $200.
Originally from Modesto, Calif., Strachan came to Mississippi in 1976. She opened the Little Big Store in 1981 without any money and sold merchandise from the Mississippi Craftsmen Guild to pay rent and build up revenue.
“MTV started and people had a lead on what was happening nationwide, the music and fashion,” she says. Music lovers also starting dumping their records in favor of the new CD formats.
“All this beautiful vinyl that I can’t get anymore… I just bought it,” Strachan says. “That time it was thought to be low-tech and worthless.”
The original store was on County Line Road in Jackson but after a break-in and insurance difficulties, Strachan moved down Mississippi 18 to Raymond.
“It has hurt me business-wise because inner city people will not drive to Raymond,” she says. “A lot of people don’t even know I’m existing.” Strachan recently shipped an online order to a customer in Spain but also filled one for another customer in Ridgeland, just one county away.
While it hasn’t been her first, Strachan says getting through the last recession was her biggest challenge yet. “I cut my advertising but now I’m coming back,” she says. “People will consistently spend on entertainment. In the Great Depression they spent money on movies just to have a little bit of entertainment.”
Vinyl records are also making a miraculous comeback.
“A lot of record stores went out of business across the country. Now, they’re coming back with a vengeance,” Strachan says.
Popular retailers like Best Buy, Target and Brookstone are selling compact record players for a new generation to drop the needle on an old technology.
Recoiling at the notion that her records “hiss or pop” Strachan is adamant that true record aficionados aren’t after her merchandise in some shallow retro way. Her customers are looking for the best in analog sound that hasn’t been ravaged by time or technology. Her restored vintage record players sell like hotcakes.
The great differences between analog and digital sound is something only audiologists and musicians probably fully appreciate. While “Hotel California” might sound great all polished and re-mastered on a CD, Strachan says its the old LP records that have that distinctive mellowness that can really pull a listener in.
The sound signatures, for instance, from CDs have a very choppy bracket-like readout while the signatures from analog formats roll up and down in wavy patterns, according to Strachan. Having an LP also is more personalized: You get artwork and information on all the people behind the scenes from the musicians to the engineers.
“Its not like a download where you get nothing,” Strachan says.
Many of those same customers that gave away the records in their attic come into the Little Big Store wanting to buy them back.
“If they’re into vinyl they are going to come out here and stay all day and take a lot with them,” Strachan says. “I keep hoping (Led Zeppelin singer) Robert Plant’s going to stop in because he loves vinyl. If he does… I would just keel over. I’m sure he has that effect on people.”
>>The Little Big Store
Address: 201 East Main Street, Raymond
Hours: Monday, Friday-Saturday 10 AM-5 PM, Sunday 1 PM-5 PM
Phone: (601) 857-8579