Hot wax and 8-tracks: When everything was Peaches
Licorice Pizza, Oz, Wherehouse, Camelot, Coconuts, Turtles, Record Bar, Sam Goody, Strawberries, Tape Town, Big Daddy’s, Waxie Maxie’s — just a few of the weirdly named music chains of the 1970s & 1980s. Fondly remembered as some of those places were, they all paled in comparison to Peaches Records & Tapes.
In the early 1970s, your average LP sold for $4.99, 8-Tracks $5.99. That’s $20-$25 today, adjusted for inflation. Record companies, wholesalers and retailers, were awash in cash. Even so, local record stores were reliant on a hopelessly antiquated distribution system devised decades earlier. At Greensboro Record Center, with locations downtown and Plaza Shopping Center, if an album wasn’t in stock and had to be special ordered it could take weeks, even months to arrive.
In 1974 Los Angeles, street-level record hustler Tom Heiman opened his first Peaches Records & Tapes on Hollywood Boulevard, followed the next year by an Atlanta superstore. That palace on Peachtree was legendary for its exhaustive back catalog; music lovers made pilgrimages from neighboring states to acquire albums that had long escaped their grasp.
In 1978, a million dollars (huge money then) was expended to construct and stock Peaches Records & Tapes’ 29th appendage in Greensboro on a stretch of High Point Road just past Merritt Drive. Reserved for mobile home dwellers and sellers.
Jim Vestal was there from the beginning, hired before the 16,500 sq. foot outlet opened.
“Other record stores at the time paled in comparison to Peaches,” he said. “They had an enormous selection of imported discs, classical, jazz, anything you could want that you had never been able to get here.” With 40 employees, the Greensboro store was the largest in the Peaches chain.
At 10 a.m. on July 7, Warner Bros. recording artist and future Christian rock star Mylon LeFevre cut a ribbon covering the front door, allowing over a hundred customers to pour in. As it happened, a barely visible chemical cloud hung in the air.
Raymond Tucker was a teenage holiday hire in 1978, “Apparently, they didn’t properly season the wood before fireproofing. Some people couldn’t stand being in the store for more than a few minutes. That odor lasted for at least a couple of years.”
Like everyone I interviewed, Tucker thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“Most of the people there were super die-hard music fans, so we always had something to talk about. It was like family; we were all friends. When we’d do inventory, it was like a big party, music playing full blast.”
This was a transitory period for the music industry as Tucker explained, the store started at “the beginning of the end for disco.”
“When disco was big, just by having a [disco] record in the store you had a 90 percent chance you’d sell it. People were going crazy for disco. By the late-70s, record sales started dropping off, disco began waning in popularity, and nothing else was really there to pick up the slack.”
‘Tapes’ in the Peaches logo referred to 8-Tracks, the cassette’s bloated, wound-a-bit-too-tight older cousin, arguably the clumsiest musical delivery device of all time. Sure, it made albums portable for the first time, you couldn’t very well bolt a turntable to your car’s dashboard (don’t think it wasn’t tried), but 8-Tracks were prone to breakage and warping, not to mention the tape itself unspooling then wrapping tightly around the player’s heads.
The lasting genius of the chain were its crates. Wood slatted fruit crates, like those used by farmers, were perfectly proportioned for storing LPs. For $2.98 you could purchase Peaches crates emblazoned with a logo rendered by John Alford.
Sales were so strong in Greensboro a Winston-Salem location was added to the grove.
While all was peachy keen on the outside looking in, the retailer had adopted an untenable business model.
“They would order 500 copies of an album where I would have ordered five and still be worried about how many I’d have to return,” Vestal explained. “We had mountains of inventory that had to be sent back to the manufacturers because we couldn’t possibly sell it. It got to be ridiculously expensive.”
Vestal resigned in 1980, “The day my paycheck bounced.” Forced into bankruptcy in 1981, investors swooped in to purchase only the most profitable outlets scattered around the South and Southeast, who continued doing business as Peaches Records & Tapes.
Peaches Records & Tapes, under new management in 1982 and are now based out of Florida, allowed their 15 remaining affiliates a great deal more independence, with almost total control over what music they ordered.
A Peaches employee from 1986 to 1991, Jeff Rainey was in charge of ordering the 12” singles.
“That’s when discos and clubs were real popular; I had DJs all over the city that I would set aside remixes for.”
Eugene Sims started at Peaches Greensboro in 1986.
“There were already CDs in the store, and they were taking off, but when I started it was full-on LPs,” he said. “I got to watch as the LP section kept getting smaller and smaller. The only thing that really stuck around were the 12-inch remixes.”
One of the side benefits Sims and company enjoyed was getting concert tickets from the Elektra Representative.
“I got into some of the best damn shows in my life,” Rainey agreed. “It was like being a rock star back in the ‘80s, working for Peaches.”
A close-knit bunch, Peaches’ employees often socialized after hours.
“We were young, we wanted to hit the local clubs, that’s what we did,” Sims said. “Somewhere Else Tavern, Miracle House of Rock, Jeff Rainey used to work at the gay bar down the street, XTC, sometimes we’d go hang out with him. College Hill was always the thing.”
Jeff Kay kept bugging store overseer Jeff Smith for a job, eventually getting hired part-time in 1985. Within months, Kay was a night manager.
“[Smith] saw something in me that I really appreciated, it gave me a lot of confidence in myself.”
Kay remembers his coworkers as “a great group,” and is still in contact with them today. He left town in 1989 but he “used my experience as a buyer at Peaches to get a job as a buyer at WEA [Warner Elektra Atlantic]. Between WEA and Warner Home Video, I was there for 17 years. So it set me up for a pretty nice career.”
Attempting to adapt to changing tastes and technology, Peaches Records & Video limped into the 21st century; when a mob-style bust out got underway, closing stores and liquidating inventory for quick cash to prop up the few profit centers left.
In January of 2001, there were 10 (out of 45) franchisees left, including Greensboro’s. By the end of the year, every outlet had been shuttered.
A reunion of Greensboro Peaches employees was held recently at College Hill.
“We had a great, great time,” Sims told me by phone. “We’re thinking about doing another one. There’s a concert coming up with Dwight Yokum, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earl. We’re talking about meeting and going down for that show because they are three artists that we all made it a point to see.”
It’s all about the music and comradery, same as it ever was.
A key member of ‘The New York Yankees of Motion Picture Advertising,’ Billy Ingram is the author of PUNK, a memoir of his time writing about the East LA punk scene from 1980-1983. Thanks to David Gwynn and groceteria.com.