When I met Bobby Egger at his Oregon Hill record shop, Vinyl Conflict, he was charmingly scatter-brained. I caught him a few days before their Customer Appreciation Day. Preparations for the event included coordinating an all-day roster of live bands, inflating a moon bounce, and finding a victim for the dunk tank. “Yesterday, I was a supreme grouch,” Bobby commented self-effacingly. He moved to turn down the jerky soundtrack filling the shop, revealing the dull chatter of customers as they thumbed through bins of punk, metal, and hardcore albums. “Good thing we’re talking today, then,” I joked. He cracked a smile and settled in. “Ready to talk VG Minus?”
VG Minus – A Richmond Record Affair is the brainchild of two Richmond record shop owners, Bobby at Vinyl Conflict and Marty Key of Steady Sounds, located in the Broad Street Arts District. The record fair is self-deprecatingly titled, in true “record-nerd” fashion, using the rating system that vinyl merchants use to rate the quality of used albums. The scale ranges from “P” to “M” (“poor” to “mint”), with “VG” (meaning “very good”) hovering somewhere in the middle. Bobby grinned, “I was joking around and thought VG Minus was a funny name because occasionally you’ll see someone label a record VG minus because they don't want to give it the lower grade.” The event, scheduled for May 22 at Hardywood Craft Brewery, will host over forty merchants hailing from all over the East Coast, guaranteeing an eclectic mélange of used and rare vinyl.
Now in its second year, VG Minus has doubled in size since their first go around, featuring a wider variety of record genres and more live DJ sets throughout the day. “The event was super successful last year,” said Marty, “Way more successful than we thought it was going to be. We were expecting three to four hundred people, but it was closer to one thousand.” To accommodate this increase, Bobby and Marty are expanding the fair to occupy both buildings at the Hardywood complex.
Choosing to hold the fair at a brewery was a conscious decision on their part. After attending record fairs in other cities, the two saw an opportunity to host one in Richmond, but wanted it to have a more laid-back vibe than what could be accomplished in a hotel or convention center. “We felt like there needed to be alternatives to other record fairs that were happening around town,” Marty explained. The large amount of space at Hardywood, plus the availability of beer and food truck services, was just what they were looking for. “Since it’s at Hardywood, even people who don’t buy records can still shop, drink beer, eat at the food trucks, and hang out,” Bobby added.
“Exposing people to new music, or being able to play something in the store and have someone get excited about it, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
Richmond’s central location in the the Mid-Atlantic corridor makes it an appealing destination for merchants coming from points both north and south, adding diversity the genres that will be represented. “When you do a record fair, you’re bringing a lot of vendors who aren’t from the area or people who are selling records that you can’t easily access on a day-to-day basis,” Bobby explained. “You have a chance to see a lot of records that you might not otherwise.”
The focus on used and harder-to-find records, rather than new pressings, is also a key aspect of the event. There are already plenty of record shops in Richmond where you can find the latest releases, but VG Minus celebrates the crate-digging aspect of record collecting, offering patrons the chance to seek out those hidden gems and converse with like-minded audiophiles. Of course, there will be plenty of representation from local stores as well. “The more I travel around and see bigger cities, the more I realize that I’m really proud of the quality of our record shops,” says Bobby. “Each one has a completely different vibe.”
The sheer quantity of RIchmond-based shops speaks to the renewed popularity of record collecting as a hobby. Beyond the music, there’s a real passion for the medium itself. Marty agreed, “So many people in the Mid-Atlantic area collect records now, more than ever. It used to be just dirty, crusty old guys who smelled like urine,” he joked, “Now people who don’t smell like urine like records, too!” The appeal of analog, the thrill of finding some long lost out-of-print rarity, even just the methodical fun of thumbing through bins of vinyl, all contribute to its popularity. Marty added, “It went from being ultra obscure to now where people are discovering music through records again.”
Near the end of our conversation, I asked Bobby if he’d always dreamed of owning a record shop. “Yeah!” he exclaimed, grinning, “Exposing people to new music, or being able to play something in the store and have someone get excited about it, that’s the best feeling in the world.” With VG Minus, Bobby and Marty are bringing that specific joy of sharing new music to the next generation of record-collecting aficionados.
VG Minus – A Richmond Record Affair will be held at Hardywood Craft Brewery on Sunday, May 22 from 11 AM to 4 PM. Admission is free.
Photography by Nicki Stein