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TAYLORVILLE — Sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact on a person. Doug Cowell can attest for that. His encounter with a single book lead him to becoming the owner of a bookshop and vinyl record store opening soon on the square in Taylorville, Illinois with his close friend Joey Cavatorta. The store, Sydney Lynn’s Little Bookshop and Vinyl, will open on Friday, July 31 at the location where many booklovers remember Dana’s Bookshop being.
“Joey got me to read a book by Stephen King called ‘The Long Walk,’ which published under Richard Bachman. I read that book, and to this day, it’s one of the most frightening stories I’ve read,” Cowell admitted. But that single most scary book would soon become a cornerstone for him as he struggle through some personal turmoil.
Cowell was upfront with how bad things became for him. “After my divorce, things kinda went a little downhill. I was supposed to take over my dad’s jewelry store and that didn’t happen. I was having a tough time finding a job. Books were my big escape. Then Dana, God love her, told me she was selling her shop. And she saw the excitement in me every time I talked about a book I read, because I loved it. I get excited when I talk about stuff I enjoy.”
And Cowell enjoyed books. They had carried him through a tough time, and now they were giving him a chance to do something special with his life. Cowell took the plunge and bought Dana’s store. He inherited her vast inventory of books, but he wanted to make his new shop stand out.
One way he did that was by naming the shop after his daughter, the number one most important person in his life.
“She thinks it corny, but I tell her, I don’t care what business I run, I am always going to name something after her,” He declared.
“After we bought Dana’s, my dad suggested maybe selling coffee in the shop,” Cowell went on to explain, “I was like, no way! There is too much coffee around here.” But even though he did not want to sell coffee, Cowell was struggling to find a niche to make his shop shine. That was where his friend Joey Cavatorta came in.
“Joey, whose a huge vinyl collector, I asked him the idea about vinyl records. And he thought it was brilliant. It was so brilliant, a lightbulb went up over his head. But he was also standing underneath a lightbulb and I had just turned it on.” Cowell joked.
With a firm idea for his shop, Cowell and Cavatorta moved forward with their plans. They have been busily taking stock and innovatory of the vast amount of books and vinyl records they now own. He estimated that they currently have between 4,000 to 5,000 vinyl records, with almost double the amount of books. But former customers of Dana’s store might be a little disappointed to learn that, for now, Cowell has no plans on doing book exchanges like she did.
“We aren’t doing any trade ins on books right now, just because of the large inventory,” He remarked sadly, “I have a lot a people getting a hold of me wanting to donate their whole collection and I hate to tell them no, but I have no room right now.”
That being said, the two men are accepting donations of vintage records. As for book donations, Cowell said it would depend on the book. But he was willing to accept books he thought of as rare or interesting – or any Stephen King novels people wanted to give him.
“I am interested in any and all Stephen King books. I got a bunch of first editions I got from a collection, and old ones, too. Books start at $.75 and they go up from there. The most expensive book I have now is a $300. It’s not in the shop right now, I have it, but it’s an Isaac of Asimov limited edition, hardback, numbered and autographed,” He excitedly shared, before continuing, “My oldest book was just donated me. It’s really cool. It’s got old handwritingin it. It’s got an 1819 copyright and it is called ‘An Apology for the Bible.’ That’s pretty sacrilegious for back in the day, 1819. I think it’s the coolest book I’ve seen.”
While the books in the store are near and dear to Cowell’s heart, the vinyl records are his pride and joy. The store will have an exclusive vinyl room in the back where customers will be able to peruse the merchandise and talk with vinyl expert Joey Cavatorta. The back room was specially painted to reflect the nostalgic nature of the records, and will be premiered at the grand opening.
Cowell admits that without his friend, there would be no way for him to run a vinyl shop. “The vinyl part of this store, I couldn’t be doing it without Joey. I didn’t know a lot about vinyl, and I still don’t know as much as he does, but I’ve been learning a lot. Growing up with all this music, now getting to hear it on vinyl? There’s, to me, listening to music, there isn’t a greater feeling.”
Cavatorta agreed with him. “Music sounds better on vinyl. It does. It’s richer, it’s fuller. Vinyl records actually outsold all digital sale and CD sales last year, the first time that’s happened since the 80’s. It’s the younger generation that is really pushing the vinyl sales.”
He believes that the unique draw of vinyl will bring all generations to the store. He feels that there is something special about listening to a vinyl records the music lovers just don’t get listening to streams and the radio. “The physicality of vinyl, to be able to hold an album cover and look at it as art, to be able to put a record on, set the needle down. Instead of just pressing buttons, you actually have to do it.”
“When one side is over, you actually have to get up and flip it,” Cowell interjected.
“There’s something to that,” Cavatorta agreed.
The physical nature of vinyl especially appealed to Cowell, as it reminded him of his beloved books. “It’s just like turning a page on a book, instead of reading it on a Kindle. When you’re on a Kindle and you’re just scrolling down, I don’t know, but when you’re turning a page on a book, and when it’s a good book and you realize ‘I’m almost done with this book!’ And you realize how many pages, that’s an accomplishment. Just finishing a book,” He enthused.
For customers who might not yet be on the whole vinyl record bandwagon, Cavatorta explained the records are not just for listening to. They’re art. “The other thing about vinyl is, it has multiple uses. Covers can be used as artwork on walls. You can decorate with them. You can make coasters out of the labels and use them in your house. We are going to have those here. You can even used records that are ruined and use them as place mats on your table. There are multiple uses for these things. And it’s kinda kitschy, you know what I mean?”
For both men, the most important part of their store is preserving the past. In an era where digital media is king, they fear the importance of physical books and vinyl records might fade away. And they desire to protect that history.
“Just imagine some records here, our grandparents listened to growing up, or that’s all they had when they was a kid, was the radio or the record player. They’d sit by it as a family and listen to it,” Cowell explained, shaking his head.
Cavatorta agreed. “Nostalgia will be a big draw, absolutely. Considering we are only dealing in vintage vinyl at this point, I expect a lot of collectors to come. We are not selling any new stock. It’s all vintage, at this point. We don’t know what the future holds.”
But while the men want to honor the past, they aren’t afraid of using present technology to their advantage. Eventually, they plan to open and run an online store as well.
“Not at first, we aren’t going to have an online store,” Cavatorta hurried to explain, “We want to offer it locally. After awhile, we will have an online store so people not near here can buy our stuff. That’s the progression, and it’s natural. For just a little while, we are going to make it a little treasure hunt. You have to come here to get it.”
While records and books will be the mainstay of the store, they also plan on offering high end records players to customers who want them. Cavatorta said these would not be the same a record players people could go buy at a big brand store like Wal-Mart.
“I’m not saying anything bad about that, because a lot of folks have bought those record players. But. When you hear a record on an actual good record player as oppose to that, it’s night and day. Night and day.” He emphasized, wanting to share the joy of vinyl music with everyone by providing quality equipment. However, they will not be doing repairs on record players.
Cavatorta will be offering his expertise to customers of the store. “I can show people how to protect, preserve, handle, and take care of their record collections. If they have questions, I’ll answer them.” He was also willing to do private appraisals of record collections.
The two men plan on keeping books and vinyl alive by bringing their passion and expertise to avid readers and music enthusiasts alike. They invite everyone to experience the joys of music and books by attending the grand opening ceremony on Friday, July 30 at the Sydney Lynn’s Little Bookshop and Vinyl on the square.