Written by Jonathan Patrick for The Dallas Observer, October 24th, 2014
The space is huge. And the clean black-and-whites, slick concrete floor, and pristine aesthetic make it seem even larger. For reference: It’s not inconceivable that a shout or frisbee might fail to bridge the room wall-to-wall. It smells like fresh woodwork and feels, only in the very best sense, like a museum or some other high-end gallery. Row after row of record racks line the interior, and the mammoth walls are fresh with painted artwork. Even in mid-construction, everything in the soon-to-open Josey Records sits just so; from modern leather chairs to hand-etched coffee tables, design is no afterthought in this place. I’ve visited record stores the nation over, and still this yet-unfinished shop might be the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen.
The bodies inside are busy, engaged, each preoccupied with several tasks at once. It looks like hard work but it doesn’t look like boring work. In fact, there’s a faint art school vibe to the scene: There’s laughter, good music and beer cans, there’s a guy on a skateboard swooshing about (impressively, he drops neither of his two beers). In short, it’s an interesting place. While there are no doubt several behind-the-scenes figures involved, this whole thing, this massive record store, is the vision of but three longtime friends: JT Donaldson, Luke Sardello and Waric Cameron. They’ve all worked in record stores, they all collect music and they’re all very serious about shaking-up the Dallas marketplace.
“We thought about doing a boutique shop, even looked at a couple spots, but I already had the line on a couple of large collections anyway, so we thought let’s make it a destination spot, a place where people would really want to hang out, explore,” says Sardello.
With a lounge, DJ booth, listening stations, a gallery of local artwork and future plans for a possible coffee and juice bar, Josey sounds like a spot to frequent indeed. However, it’d be a mistake to think that any feature takes precedent over the stock — over the music, that is. A quick look around alone could tell you that.
“All genres are covered. Josey is for diggers; for DJs; for sampling musicians; for anyone that wants to discover something new; for everyone,” Sardello continues. “We want to make sure that every time you come in, you see something new.” Donaldson adds, “We want people to leave here feeling like they scored, like they can’t wait to come back!”
As a destination shop — a potential DFW hub — Josey Records is ideally located. Roughly at the elbow where I-635 and I-35 meet, not far from the Dallas North Tollway, the store is in a unique position to serve both Dallas and Denton, as well as the northern ‘burbs of Allen, Plano and Frisco. Surely, many Dallas residents will frown on Josey’s far North-West locale, but that’s missing the point. The concept here is to create a gathering place that’s in reach for all of DFW, and for that purpose, Josey inhabits prime real estate.
Donaldson explains: “We’ve all lived here and we know the business. We knew Dallas well enough to know it needed something more.” And it’s true, we do. Here’s the situation: The Dallas’ record shopping landscape is changing. Fast. In a span of less than three months, we’ve welcomed some fresh faces (Spinster, Off the Record), made some new favorites (Dead Wax, GrooveNet), and said goodbye to a local legend (CD Source).
Where does Josey Records stand in all this? Even in its pre-open state, the store measures up nicely. In reality, only Forever Young in Grand Prairie can match Josey’s depth of stock — approximately 100,000 records, alongside tapes and CDs — and while the former offers more titles at the moment, Josey boasts a larger space overall. Which is to say, its potential for growth is unmatched in the area. In a way, Josey is looking to do for records what CD Source did for CDs; that is, offer an ever-rotating inventory (by way of customer buys), with a selection that’s competitive on a national scale. Word is, CD Source’s assistant manager is even set to join Josey’s staff.
With respect to the other new kids in town, frankly, it’s a non-competition. Firstly, Off the Record isn’t purely a record store, it’s a bar that sells records. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s an intriguing concept, but it places them in a different conversation altogether. Secondly, Spinster is yet another quite different venture from Josey. It’s geared more as a neighborhood hub, and as such has placed more emphasis on the ancillary features of a record shop — the look, the mood, the non-music merchandise — which places it once again in a rather different conversation from the sheer size and ambition of Josey.
That leaves Good Records, GrooveNet and Dead Wax to contend with. The last two are more akin to boutique stores — small but rich in their offerings, emphasizing left-of-center releases, serving a cult-like clientele — and so their aims are of a much different sort. If any side-by-side comparison makes sense, it’s with Good Records, who’s become the de facto “hip” record store of Dallas. They offer live music, and put on the best (social) record store day event in town. However, their stock consists almost entirely of sealed releases (read: it’s not really digger friendly). What’s more, Josey is not only very crate-digger friendly but its staff, at least on first impression, lacks any pretense and, from what I could tell, their prices are unusually low. Strong points all around.
Without question, Josey Records has the potential to be grand, something unforgettable: a music community onto itself, an influential taste-maker and possibly even the South’s answer to Amoeba Music. From ambition to knowledge, to stock and space, Josey has all the makings to be that important. But the question is, can Dallas’ sustain such a place? The record market is in a new and strange way. Records are selling better than they have in some time, yet record shops keep failing the world over. In other words, we’ll just have to wait and see.
“There’s a lot of potential and support here for something like this,” Donaldson says. Let’s hope he’s right.
photos by Kathy Tran