When you enter Montpelier's Riverwalk Records, you might think it looks like any number of other shops that line the streets of Vermont's crunchy capital. Local artwork is mounted on clean white walls, along with posters of the Grateful Dead. A rack of Baja shirts offers prime hippie fashion. It feels laid-back.
But when you pay closer attention, it becomes clear that this is no typical incense-and-flower-power record store. The psychedelic depictions of Jerry Garcia, drawn with a variety of Day-Glo colors and dizzying fonts, are selling for hundreds -- if not thousands -- of dollars. There are no CDs in sight. Large wooden racks hold uncountable LPs arranged alphabetically and by genre. First pressings of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album rest in plastic sleeves beside rare recordings by other '60s greats such as The Band, Neil Young and The Who. A black wooden case, filled with 12 original Rolling Stones records, goes for just under $300. A first edition of Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica carries a $50 price tag.
Since last June, the Langdon Street shop has been providing vinyl junkies and die-hard music fans with classic and hard-to-find records and concert posters. The place is a haven for anyone obsessed with the sounds of a long-gone era.
Owner Patrick Mullikin, a friendly, fiftysomething man with bristles of silvery hair, opened the shop as an outlet for his own passions. "LPs were the medium growing up," he says. "When CDs came out in 1983, I thought it was the end of the world. All of a sudden the size and art of albums diminished. [LPs] are so beautiful. Now no one cares about having real records." The traffic in his shop, though, suggests that's not quite true.
The store has become a true family affair, with Mullikin's wife Jennifer keeping the books and children Brendan and Suzannah lending a hand at the counter.
During the early- to mid-'60s, Mullikin, like most kids of his generation, became infatuated with the brash, loud music he suddenly heard pumping from radio and television stations. Growing up near Los Angeles, he was exposed to many legends of the time, attending concerts by The Doors, Cream, Steppenwolf and others. "I saw The Beatles in Los Angeles in 1964," he recalls with a nostalgic smile. "There was screaming and yelling and they only played for 20 minutes, but it was incredible."
At Riverwalk, Mullikin has been surprised by the youth of many of his customers. Though he expected the store's regulars to be boomer men looking to fill gaps in their collections, in fact a number of patrons are high school- and college-age kids fascinated by this classic music.
"Everyone wants the Dead and Miles Davis," Mullikin says, adding that Riverwalk also sells large quantities of folk and Celtic records. "Not too long ago, I had this kid who must have been no more than 8 or 9, come into the shop. He immediately walked over to the box that holds 78s and shouted, 'Hey, mom, Bing Crosby!'" Mullikin laughs. "I was amazed. He then came directly over to me to let me know that two of the records I had in the box shouldn't have been there because they were actually 33s instead of 78s. I couldn't believe it."
Business has been bustling since the shop opened, with sales increasing each month. Mullikin estimates that, he currently sells 75 to 100 records a week -- not large numbers for a Tower Records, but respectable for a store specializing in rarities.
The poster business has also been strong, with a half-dozen pieces selling each week. Every item Mullikin sells is an original, with the colorful art advertising gigs by Quicksilver Messenger Service and other stars of the psychedelic revolution. Along with the vintage pieces, he has current works from clubs such as Boston's Avalon and Philadel-phia's Trocadero, which have resurrected the concert-poster art form.
Last November, Mullikin began booking Vermont musicians at the store to play intimate, smoke- and alcohol-free concerts. Held the first and third Saturday of each month, the series has presented local legends Dave Keller, Josh Brooks, The Warrens, Abby Jenne and others. The relaxed evenings have proven popular for both the musicians and the crowd, and Mullikin has already scheduled shows through next fall. Each act has a custom-made, signed poster of his or her own that hangs behind the stool on which the musician performs. An old acoustic guitar autographed by each artist is displayed on a wall.
Wandering around the store, Mullikin gestures to everything from stacks of old 45s to $80 copies of Miles Davis records, which he claims customers purchase without batting an eye.
Asked what he'd suggest if someone with no musical experience walked in wanting to be turned on to the world of rock 'n' roll, Mullikin answers without hesitation, "Oh, definitely The Beatles' catalog. I'd have them pick out an inexpensive copy of Sgt. Pepper, and the cheapest original Fillmore poster. I'd have them hang the poster in their living room, stare at it, and listen to the record each day." He smiles contentedly. "Then they'd be a better person."