Grass Valley store owner at forefront of vinyl resurgence |

Grass Valley store owner at forefront of vinyl resurgence

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

It’s the smell that hits you first. Anyone past his mid-30s will remember that familiar cardboard scent of thousands of vinyl record albums in their colorful covers, stacked against each other in alphabetical order.

Then it’s the long-lost sound of customers flipping through albums — flip, flip, flip.

Then there’s the visual — 1960s, ’70s and ’80s posters on the wall — the likes of Hendrix, The Dead, Tom Petty, Crosby Stills & Nash. A bag featuring the Yellow Submarine hangs a hook.

And finally, there’s the owner of Clock Tower Records himself, Curt Smith, whose passion for everything vinyl is contagious.

Music lovers — many of whom travel from out of town — come through the doors daily to swap stories and buy, sell or trade music of all kinds. Recently, a former member of the ’60s Texas band The 13th Floor Elevators popped in to chat.

“I’ve been collecting records for 35 years,” said Smith. “I’ve got about 30,000 of them. I’d always dreamed of owning a record store.”

As it turns out, smack in the middle of downtown Grass Valley is a hard-to-find, old-fashion record store with a vinyl collection that rivals any nationwide.

Smith is hardly a stagnant relic of a bygone era. In fact, many would argue he’s on the cusp of a hot trend.

According to the New York Times, “Turntables, those once-arcane machines for playing records, have staged a big comeback as a hipster essential, like cocktails with artisan bitters and skinny jeans with rolled cuffs over oxfords without socks. If you need a gift for someone who stays ahead of the trends, what could be better than some vinyl with a high cool factor?”

Not only does Smith’s collection include rare, classic and vintage gems, contemporary artists, such as the groups Florence and the Machine and Green Day, are putting out vinyl albums today, he said.

“Also people like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty are still recording on vinyl,” added Smith. “Vinyl is still a small niche market, but the majority of people don’t know it’s coming back in a big way. There are only a handful of record plants left in the country, but they’re incredibly busy.”

In addition to records, Smith buys, sells and trades CDs and reel-to-reel tapes, as well as new and used record players. He also offers a service of converting LPs, or long-playing vinyl records, to CDs.

Vinyl is popular among 18-to-35-year-olds, said Smith, who’s struck by their passion for the music he grew up with, such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors and The Who. Smith’s first concert at the age of 13 was Frank Zappa in 1967.

The large retail space at Clock Tower Records also lends itself to other music endeavors. The large back room is occasionally used for live performances, where Smith has a mixing board. Upstairs, space is available for music lessons. It’s also where Smith’s wife, Debbie Kiva, gives astrological readings.

Smith, who formerly owned the Eco Community Thrift Store, has roughly 35 years of retail experience. But finally his passion and his business have meshed like never before.

“I get to meet and talk to people about music every day,” he said. “This is unlike anything I’ve ever done. I love it.”

To contact staff writer Cory Fisher email or call (530) 477-4203.

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