Every few days, Ben Hull descends the stairs at 303 Kellogg Avenue to toil amid sheets of drywall and piles of sawdust, renovating a tiny suite of basement rooms. Hull’s no stranger to this kind of work. He’s been a construction worker of one stripe or another for the past decade. But come April 2010, in this very space, Hull will leave construction for a completely new trade – selling records.
The space Hull’s renovating is the future site of the Vinyl Café, a combination record store/coffee shop with a projected inventory of more than 10,000 records. Most of the albums Hull plans to stock are used LPs, but a small selection of 45s, 78s, cassettes, CDs, and 8-tracks will also be available. Though this collection will include folk, blues, jazz, and lounge records, releases by canonical ‘60s and ‘70s bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and the Doors will predominate. For those who lack the hardware needed to play the older items for sale, used stereo equipment will also be available.
The 25-year-old Hull recognizes the risks involved in opening a brick-and-mortar record shop in the twenty-first century, but he believes he can manage them by keeping his overhead costs – and expectations – low. “I’m not in it to make a bunch of money,” he says. “I’m just in it to survive . . . Otherwise I would have rented a bigger spot and I would have more records.”
Hull hopes to bolster a modest income from vinyl with sales of coffee – an idea originally suggested by his wife. He sees his coffee as so integral to his business’s success that he won’t even give the name of the company that supplies it, for fear of losing an edge on his competition. The most he’ll say is that his espresso is “incredible,” and that it’s sure to draw coffee enthusiasts from all over Ames.
No matter how good his coffee, Hull knows he’ll have to be creative to keep trade in his 700-square-foot shop profitable. “The big draws I’m going to push are offering coffee to-go and offering free delivery on Main Street,” he says. “That is what I’m encouraging, because I know seating is limited.”
For patrons who take their coffee in the shop, Hull will offer free wi-fi, subdued pendant lighting, and tables with built-in power sources for laptops. With amenities like these, Hull hopes to make his customers comfortable. But he has grander hopes for them as well. He says he wants to “expand people’s taste in music” in the same way that collecting vinyl has expanded his tastes.
“I grew up in the generation of cassettes and CDs. To experiment with that music cost you ten bucks or more, so you couldn’t really expand. But with records it’s possible.”