When I started this blog one of the first shops that came to mind was Bananas Records in St. Pete (St. Petersburg) Florida. I knew that one of the owners was a woman and with the quantity of records and size the shop(s) have become not only for record collectors but as a part of the community I was so intrigued to learn more about Michelle, Genevieve manager and assistant manger Jennifer.
These ladies are managing a huge inventory but in their spare time Michelle loves to read, watch documentaries, “I’m an NPR junkie. My favorite thing to do, is get to together with my closest friends for dinner at home.” Genevieve says “I’ve always enjoyed going to shows but I’m becoming a bit more selective with age. I spin vinyl regularly with my coworker, Jenn at the Independent in St. Petersburg.” She’s also been into cooking the last few years and tries to make a new creations whenever she can. …And Jennifer; she loves to travel, “I read a lot.” She also writes essays and one-woman shows.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
Michelle: As a young couple my husband and I were avid readers and decided we needed to have a bookstore of our own. To make a long story short, we started to purchase used records and eventually had more vinyl than books. That all started 42 years ago with 500 sq. ft. We now have over 17,000 square ft in 3 buildings and 12 employees. We house over 3 million records, tens of thousands of cd’s and dvd’s.
Genevieve: I’ve always been a music lover but I was given this employment opportunity by knowing the business owners for years. I was still in school at USF and looking for part-time employment and the Allen’s were opening up a new location, so it worked out in my favor!
Jennifer: I’ve been working for the store since late 2014 until present; although, I did take a year break for grad school in Spain. I was burned out of corporate jobs and I decided to take my savings and travel around Europe solo. Upon my return, I wanted something different and my friend and manager of Bananas offered me the job. It was just temporary until I figured out my next move.
What is a day in the life like?
Michelle: We have a large retail location which is open 7 days a week. We have some employees who only work that location. They process incoming collections of dvd’s and cd’s and file vinyl as well all day everyday. We also do special orders for customers. One of the current new things we do is participate in what we call pop up shops which are held at different venues in our city. We send merchandise and a couple of employees to work these. Keeps us out in the community. At our vinyl location, where we house the 3 million pieces of vinyl, we purchase and process collections that are acquired on a continuous basis. I work at this location at least 90% of the time. I oversee our mail order division, supervise all the employees, do all the accounting, work on the online merchandise etc etc etc . Even though we have a great staff, I find that it’s the females that are the glue of the business. We make all the details happen.
Genevieve: Every day is a new adventure. Music attracts so many different types of people so you never know who will walk through the door. Most days we are helping customers find what they want, buying used collections and trying to process product from our massive inventory.
Jennifer: I wake up at 7am, meditate, and enjoy coffee during the quiet morning hours. This helps me prepare for a busy day working in a retail environment where I’m running around and helping customers. We have three locations and the retail store is the biggest and busiest. We have customers from all walks of life and from all over the world. You never know what the day will bring. Most days I open the store arriving at 9:45am, I immediately set to work on Amazon mail orders, then work on merchandising, organizing, and maintaining vinyl, and manage social media content (everyone pitches in, but I take the majority of the video and photos). Before I know it, its 7pm and time to shut down the store.
What has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
Michelle: Our first website. It was very rudimentary, but I did most of the pages myself and had a friend design the basics of it. It was a great learning experience but far beyond my scope nowadays. Second would be live theatre. It was fun, exciting, great to meet all the talented musicians, but it was the hardest and most costly thing we have ever done. If anybody thinks concert promotion is easy, well, they have never done it.
Genevieve: I really enjoy getting out in the community and supporting the other local record stores. We have collaborative pop ups at local breweries/hang outs a few times a year that are always fun. Other than that, I started playing vinyl out for random Bananas events and always enjoy doing that.
Jennifer: Turning our meager Instagram account into something beautiful and irreverent. Getting to DJ all-vinyl sets around town and playing my favorite songs to Also, being included in the new t-shirt designs. After 40 years, Bananas needed some upgrades.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Michelle: Well, supervising a bunch of employees can be a challenge. Young people can be difficult to teach just basically how to work!! As our industry changes, keeping relevant is extremely important and constant adjustment is necessary. Trying to educate the public on the different issues of vinyl and why some are valuable and some are not.
Genevieve: Not getting overwhelmed! We have so much used inventory and years of stuff to go through while accumulating more daily. I’ll focus on a project or something I really want to get done but I’m always taken away with some other massive project. It is hard to focus when the store is always evolving! I’ve learned to deal with it the best I can over time.
Jennifer: Dealing with the public is tough. You have to have a thick skin especially being a woman in the South. There are plenty of Good Ol’ Boys who know everything about vinyl and mansplain the most ridiculous things.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Michelle: It’s a difficult business to get into. It takes a lot of time and capitol to build the necessary inventory to keep a large base of customers. We were the second used record shop in our town in 1977. We now have 12 stores here. We are the only store that caters to all formats, all genre’s and all age groups. The other stores are small niche stores which are important as well, but easy to handle. If you want to make a lot of money as a store owner and work regular hours, then this is not the business to be in. After all these years, we still put in 50 plus hours a week. I have a network all over the Country of other record store owners that I converse with and compare notes with. It gives me a good understanding of how our store stands on the grand scheme of things.
Genevieve: I think the best way to get your foot in the door of your local record store is to become a regular. We rarely have openings, so getting to know the employees would automatically give you the upper hand. Most of our regulars usually get first word when a position is open.
Jennifer: I think experience is the best teacher. Get into a shop you like, work a day or two, make it work. Learn as much as you can about music, grading vinyl, and maybe even the top 50 albums of all time or the year, like Rolling Stone or Pitchfork. It’s not for everyone and its hard work.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Michelle: We got into vinyl by accident. We were not really collectors. Since our beginning 42 years ago, we now have a niche collection of our favorites. Mine is Sam Cooke which I have all of this Lp’s and my husband collects, a variety of stuff.
Genevieve: I’ve always been a collector of music. I started my current vinyl collection around the time I started working at Banana’s in 2010. As a kid, I had some Disney records and my mother’s collection of vinyl so I was familiar with the format. I mainly collected cassette tapes and CDs growing up just because of the format changes at the time. In my opinion, the resurgence of vinyl is the best thing to happen to the music industry!
Jennifer: I do. I’ve been surrounded my records my entire life. My parents and grandparents always had something spinning on the turntable and a large collection of records to browse through. I’ve been collecting punk 7 inches since I was a teenager, and luckily, St Pete is home to several independent record stores that provided the bulk of my private collection. I have too many records and not enough somehow.
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
Michelle: The resurgence of vinyl alone is exciting. It is the only format that has nearly died but came back with a vengeance. We are hoping that young people continue to see the value in purchasing vinyl records. It has a lot to do with owning tangible items, quality listening and quality products. We work hard on selling people quality turntable set ups to plays them on. It’s disturbing that people expect to get a great listening experience out of the portal turntables like Crosley and Victorola. These are not turntables, they are more like the old plastic children’s record players. We fear that if this is the whole exposure to the wonderful sound of analog vinyl, then people who use these will think that is what all vinyl sounds like and will not continue to buy this format. If the industry continue to press new vinyl, we hope that the eventually the retail price will come down. I personally wish that all new vinyl releases were analog, but some are simply digital in a vinyl format which is fun to play, but like listening to a compact disc.
Genevieve: Although the resurgence has been going on for years now, we continue to see customers that are new to vinyl every day. This is the first time in decades that people want to physically own music again and I’m sure that is due to the vinyl comeback. While streaming services are a massive threat to the vinyl industry, the love of vinyl is still growing and sales are continuing to rise. I think the local and vintage movements have helped create and push the love of vinyl. I hope that the trend continues.
Jennifer: I like seeing more women interested in vinyl, selling records, and running labels. Vinyl has been a boys club for far too long.
So with all those records, what are you listening to right now?
Michelle: My favorite rock band growing up, was the group YES. I really love 60’s rock like Cream, Steppenwolf, YES, Spirit and so many more. More modern music that I love, would include the Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, Alison Krauss, Jack Johnson and Elliott Smith just to name a few.
Genevieve: I’m always changing things up with my music listening. I’ve been mostly into post-punk, dark wave and all the new female indie musicians. I have been jammin’ to a lot of my childhood favorites recently like Roxette, Heart and Janet Jackson.
Jennifer: I love Future Islands and Spoon. Lucy Dacus, Snail Mail, and Big Thief. I’m a 90s kid. I love a lo-fi and dancey stuff.
Find Michelle and Jennifer:
Facebook: Bananas Music