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Jessi Zilka| Owner, Jesse Carl Vinyl

I was able to connect with Jessi through social media, and loved the story about how her community embraced her passion for vinyl and she ended up opening her shop. She is the owner and operator of Jesse Carl Vinyl located in the heart of downtown Lakeland, Florida.

My goal as a record store owner is to bring a special music experience to every person that walks through my door. I want my customers to not only feel that this is a space where they can come and find amazing music to listen to, but to also feel safe, comfortable, and able to be their unique selves.

She specializes in used and new LPs, cassette tapes, CDs, used and new equipment, and special orders. When she’s not at work:

I am a HUGE disnerd. Growing up an hour away from Walt Disney World meant that I was there all the time as a kid (and still am today; annual pass holder here!) I love the films, the parks, and the culture.

Her newest hobby is pin collecting. Buying enamel pins of all kinds, but her main focus is on Disney “fantasy” pins made by fans and artists and not the company itself.  Check out more on how she started her business and more below.

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

I attended college with the intention of going into the music industry after I attained my degree. After graduation, I went to interview after interview, but nothing was clicking. No doors were opening. So I took it upon myself to figure out a way to work a normal day job while doing something on the weekends that was both enjoyable and lined my pockets. My goal was to eventually move to Nashville in the hopes of finding work once I was officially established there. I was a record collector, and had been since I was about 15 years old. It was my favorite hobby and something I was very connected with and passionate about. I approached my parents in April of 2015 with the idea of doing a “pop up record store” at the local farmers market on Saturdays. I could go to garage sales and flea markets, buy records for super cheap, then clean them up and play test them before selling them at the market. It was an undertaking we all knew would be time consuming and challenging, but felt I could handle the task.

Jesse Carl Vinyl popped up for the first time in July of that same year. My assumption was that I would make pocket change each week, and for the next year or two, I’d build myself a small nest egg. What ACTUALLY happened was that my town embraced Jesse Carl Vinyl wholeheartedly; flocking to my booth each week in droves. I was spending every moment I had away from my full-time job cleaning, listening to, grading, or searching for records to sell. By the time October rolled around, my parents sat me down and asked if I would be interested in looking for brick and mortar space for Jesse Carl Vinyl. They believed I had started something that was quickly growing in a positive direction, and could be fulfilling and successful in Lakeland. At first I was against the idea; I wanted to move to Nashville. But with each passing week, I was seeing more and more faces that had been eagerly waiting for Saturday in order to come shop at my little booth. I began to see that my town needed this space. So many were searching for a place that they could feel comfortable while finding good music without the hassle of traveling hours in any direction. I was also making connections with fellow collectors and cultivating amazing friendships with some of my most loyal patrons. I finally saw that my parents were right; this was truly breeding something extra special, and I couldn’t let it go. It was a path that kept me close to my family while simultaneously fulfilling my desire to have a job focused on music. And as a collector, what better job than to be surrounded by the hobby I had the biggest passion for?!

We got in touch with a local realtor that was constructing a brand new space in downtown Lakeland and needed smaller stores to fill up the commercial spots of their building. They offered me a temporary store front with low costs with the agreement that, once it was complete, we’d transition to the new building and help establish a clientele. So in March of 2016, I opened my brick and mortar, and in November of the same year I moved to the new building. We are still in the same location today, and are flourishing more and more with each passing month. It has been an exciting journey full of beautiful people, new experiences, and good music.

What is a day in the life like?

My days are unpredictable for the most part. But typically, my day consists of listening to great music, first and foremost. Because I work on my own, I sort of do everything around the shop. I price out used and new media, I perform organizational tasks, and make orders from distributors. I assist customers with any and all questions they may have, I handle buying used material from those that bring it into the shop, and I keep the store tidy. I answer phone calls, emails, and social media inquiries that pop up throughout the day. I keep the place running, with the help of my dad from time to time. It’s a fun job, but it’s a lot of work!

Favorite sale / relationship made from behind the counter?

I had a father and son come into my shop about a month after I opened in 2016. They made it a regular thing, coming in every other week or so together, and the three of us made a very deep connection talking about music. The son, Michael, has become one of my very best friends; someone I spend time with outside of work on a regular basis. He was even in my wedding recently! The father, Derek, has become a mentor of mine and someone I look to as a hero and friend. If I take nothing else away from Jesse Carl Vinyl, I have two of the most special people in my life because of the success of my store. That means everything to me.

In your opinion what has been the coolest thing to come through your shop / thing you had to keep / almost couldn’t put out for sale:

Haha, well, it is one I ended up keeping. And truly, I feel like I will get judged for this answer, but I have no regrets. We got a pressing of Creed’s ‘Human Clay’ album in this past winter. I had no idea they even put that on LP! It’s a 1999 issue on white wax, in gorgeous condition. I grew up listening to that album, and HAD to have it. I have around 700 or so pieces in my collection, and it’s by far one of my favorites.

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

Customer service is not easy. The good obviously outweighs the bad, but the bad can be brutal. It was not my intention to get into customer service full time, but the store sort of pushed me into it, so there can be days where I feel very discouraged about my job. But as I said before, I’ll have a day filled with unfortunate people, then one customer that I always enjoy seeing comes in. That makes it all worth it in the end. That and the leg work; I’m 4’11”, and lifting crates of records on my own can be tough work!

What has been the craziest experience that has happened at the shop?

I think the craziest (but one of the best) moments was when a couple came and got their engagement photos taken in the shop! They came to the store on their first date, and they wanted to incorporate that into the photo shoot celebrating their upcoming marriage. It was such a crazy but beautiful and unforgettable moment. The couple was so sweet, and I was so thankful to be able to be noted as just a tiny speck within their love story.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

Oh man, I’m not really sure! I kind of waded into waters and hoped I could swim. I will say, make sure you have the capital. Don’t open something like this thinking you can hire four employees, be able to buy merchandise, and keep a roof over your head. Use your money wisely, even if that means you are the only employee for almost four years (hi, that’s me, haha). Let your profits pour into your business before taking on any more expenses other than the unavoidable ones. I think it’s important to realize the amount of effort and time that is about to be poured into the venture. Everyone that meets me always says “Man, it must be so great owning your own business and being your own boss!” While that has its perks, unlike the majority that works shifts or set hours a day, my job is 24/7. My down time is often spent doing things for the store that I can’t do while at the store. So if running a small business is something you think you want to do, just make sure to keep that at the forefront of your mind. And, above all else, continue to cultivate your relationship with music! I use Spotify to play music in the store during the day, and I’m constantly sniffing around for new things. If I like it, I often times find a way to get it in stock here. Above any relationship you could make doing this job, your relationship with music and its growth are at the top of the list. People expect you to know what they’re talking about when they ask about a certain artist or genre, so it’s important to educate yourself. You can never truly know everything about music, so keep finding new things to listen to!

Oh yes! I’ve been collecting since the age of 15. I grew up in a home that was full of music; both my parents are fanatics like I am. I remember always wanting to touch on the handful they kept from their collection after things moved forward to cassettes and CDs. And in early high school, I just sort of told my dad it was something I was interested in. I started buying stuff here and there, but it wasn’t until I was 20 that I got my first turntable! I think my parents wanted to wait and see if I ACTUALLY loved it, or if I was just going through a “phase,” as kids do from time to time. It still brings me so much joy, 12 years later. I love finding new record stores to visit and the rush of finding something you’ve been hoping to get in the collection. It’s a huge part of my character now; I couldn’t imagine not collecting.

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.

I’m excited to see all of the different, smaller pressing companies springing up! They’re a bit on the popular side, but something like what Mondo is doing over in their space. Creating these legit pieces of art through pressing music onto wax. Every release I’ve ever seen or bought from them are so detailed and gorgeous. Of course, one of my biggest inspirations is Jack White, and Third Man Pressing is doing amazing things up in Detroit. Jack’s company is constantly curating unique artists to bring into their roster. They’re preserving older music in ways that no one else really is. I find all of that so fascinating and exciting. I love being able to incorporate items from both companies previously mentioned into my store.

Favorite music / genre / band right now?

My favorite artist is Pearl Jam. I’m OBSESSED with them. I even have my own podcast about them! It’s called The Porch Podcast. But I just LOVE rock and roll! I love Prince, Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, the Beatles, the Clash, David Bowie, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains, and so many more! I’m currently challenging myself to find more female led artists, but I have a handful that I love already like HAIM, Janelle Monae, Aretha Franklin, Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, The Sundays, the Breeders. I’m getting a good list going!

Find Jessi:


Shop: @jessecarlvinyl

Personal: @jessizilka

Facebook: @jessecarlvinyl

Twitter: @jessecarlvinyl

Website:  http://www.jessecarlvinyl.com/

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