HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — If you need a soundtrack for your trip back in time, Walt Smith can keep you on track. The 80-year-old combines his passion for music with his profession.
“We’ve got it all here,” said Walt.
He is the owner of Virginia’s Memory Lane Records in Henrico, where you’ll find just about every genre of music.
“We’ve got probably half a million records here,” said Walt. “I grew up with Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard.”
Smith’s specialty is vinyl.
“So that is the biggest thing. We’re selling memories,” said Walt.
Walt started amassing records when he was a young teenager in New York.
“I still have my 45 collection,” said Walt.
He listened to music whenever he could. While serving in the Air Force in the 60’s, Walt joined a band called The Epics.
His band would play juke joints and opened for headliners, including Jerry Lee Lewis.
“Back then you needed to know three chords and you could play the hits of the day,” said Walt.
He eventually relocated to Virginia and opened a record shop in Newport News in 1979. But his bread and butter was blossoming beyond the turntable.
“Well Memory Lane records evolved out of our mail order business,” explained Walt.
50 years later, Walt’s bi-monthly Record Smith newspaper stretches across the globe.
Walt unloads thousands of hard to find recordings to the highest bidders from America, across Asia to Europe and every country in between.
“That is what is gratifying. Customers say, ‘I’ve been looking for this record for 40 years and you have it’. That type of thing.”
Early jazz is a universal language and a hot seller. Customers spend from a few bucks to serious dough.
“Everything is for sale. Everything has a price,” said Walt. “We’ve sold some Jazz records for $3,000 to $5,000 each.”
Walt said digital recordings can’t hold a needle to vinyl.
“Its got so much more warmth and depth than a CD does or an MP3,” explained Walt.
For him, the pull of nostalgia always sounds better with music.
“Records from the past trigger memories,” said Walt. “You can remember what you were doing when you heard a song at the prom or on a first date.”
At his office across town, Walt isn’t liquidating by any stretch. Walt’s storage facility is stacked with new arrivals.
“We know there is a minimum of 10,000,” said Walt.
Walt and his team catalogue each one before selling them.
“I still get joy out of it. It’s the hunt. You just never know what you’re going to find,” said Walt.
Matthew Smith can’t recall a time when he wasn’t loading inventory for his father’s business.
“Obsessed is the perfect word. Seven days a week since I can remember,” said Matthew. “We get stuff coming in every week and every other week and him going through records he loves it. If there wasn’t music, I don’t know what he’d be doing.”
Walt’s customers range from the unknown to the famous.
“We’ve had Tom Hanks stop by the store with his son,” said Walt.
Employee Cole Riendeau calls his boss a walking encyclopedia.
“What doesn’t he know about music. That is the question. That is the question you should be asking.”
This senior isn’t slowing down. He still clocks in about 50 hours a week. All the while keeping an eye out to add to his expansive collection.
“I would say we have 1 million plus records,” said Walt.
Like a jukebox on replay, this music lover doesn’t see retirement in his future. Why unplug from something you love so much? For Walt Smith, the beat goes on.
“We started before computers,” said Walt. “I look forward going to work. The Lord has been blessing me. I’ll be here till I’m gone.”
Virginia’s Memory Lane Records is located at 8609 Sanford Drive off Parham Road. Walt’s vinyl paradise is open Monday through Saturday.
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