A RECORD RUN: After a legendary half-century, Budget Tapes & Records closes shop

NOTE: This story was originally published on March 2 in WestVirginiaville. Budget Tapes & Records closed its doors on Sunday, March 3.

Budget Tapes & Records — a West Virginia institution, if not an alternative, hippified haven for generations of folks — closed its doors after 52 years of existence on Sunday, March 3, 2024. As Priscilla Pope, co-owner of the store at 3708 MacCorkle Ave. S.E. in Kanawha City, noted in a Charleston Gazette-Mail story: “With a changing business model and changes in the music industry, it was time to close.” The story goes on to note:

There is much more to say about the role this long-running establishment played in the life and times of West Virginia. For so long, it served up an often mind-blowing musical education, tickets to must-see concerts, and ‘lifestyle emporium‘ options available nowhere else at the time. These offerings were popular not just with generations of Charlestonians, but with countless roadtrippers from many states, who drove miles to access Budget’s wares and tickets, its pipes and bongware, incense, posters, and beyond.

A rare, autographed Hasel Adkins LP was on display at the store for years and in various rooms in John Nelson’s house. | Photo from 2009 Charleston Gazette video.

Below are two takes on the role Budget Tapes & Records played in the psychic, musical, and cultural life of many thousands of people for half a century. First up is a 2009 video profile of store manager and music buyer John Nelson. And then, a reprint of a recent Stephen Schmidt Facebook homage, which more than anything I have read, sums up the several roles Budget played in the life, times, and cultural education of the people for whom it was a go-to place to … like, go.

The video below — a slideshow, really, set to an audio interview — is a blast from the past and a gift to all who loved Budget Tapes & Records manager, music buyer, and opinion purveyor John Nelson. I crafted this video for the Charleston Gazette way back in 2009, back when newspapers were just beginning to play with multimedia profiles. It’s set to a soundtrack of a tune by Lucas TheFlow (when you raise a son who becomes a killer electronic music composer, you always have soundtracks!)

The video jumps away from Budget at one point for a visit to John’s inner sanctum at his cool Mom’s house and his 1,000-plus record collection. There’s a glimpse of a scarce-as-hen’s-teeth album by wild-man West Virginia legend Hasil Adkins; a tour of the store and its philosophy; how John modeled his haircut after David Bowie’s. And a roundup of bands Budget ‘broke‘ by way of introducing their records in town, from The Police to The Clash.

Thank you John and to all who helped birth and keep alive this extremely hip niche in the universe. I so loved what John had to say — it is part of the offbeat oral history of West Virginia, is it not? — that I transcribed the interview out of the video (via the remarkable otter.ai program). I hereby post it below, for those of you who don’t do four-minute video excursions.

Douglas John Imbrogno | WestVirginiaVille.com editor

VIEW VIDEO ON YOUTUBE AT: https://youtu.be/QGl4ZyTfODk

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

I am John Nelson, native of Charleston. Falling into being a music fan due to all these great concerts that came. Was getting ready to go to school to be a teacher at Marshall or State. I fell into the music retail business in 1976 at Budget Tapes & Records, initially started by David Pope and some friends back in around 1972. Priscilla came in right after that.

So, for the last 32-33 years, I’ve had the pleasure of serving all the live music fans, by selling albums to two and three generations of customers from all over the Tri-state area. Trying to break bands. You can’t break bands like you used to at the retail level-slash-with radio. But we sure have had fun. Some of the bands I’ve broken in town — I’m the first one to ever play AC-DC. Dire Straits. The Cars. The Police. The Clash. All these bands that means so much to people, we helped break ’em in West Virginia.

JOHN’S MOM: We lived here when John was born and my grandfather built it. His father and I had great old LPs all the time. And he has quite a collection of those, now. I don’t think he has any of Jackie Gleason’s, like I did …. [LAUGHS]

JOHN NELSON: Tell ’em about tha last Mountain Stage we went to …

JOHN’S MOM: That was, like probably, two or three back — was when Chuck Leavell was here. And he was the keyboard artist with the Stones. And I have his CD — and I just love it.

JOHN: Yeah, no CD player or DVD right here. But still got an amp, two great speakers, and a good turntable to play over 1,000 albums, still, when I come home to visit mom …

John Nelson modeled his hair after David Bowie from the singer;’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ days — and never changed it.

JOHN: This is me in, uh … Fall of ’75. A few months after seeing David Bowie. My hair long, as you can see — still to this day. But modeled after David Bowie in the mid ’70s.

The Byrds right there — ‘Sweethearts of the Rodeo?’ That’s the first country rock album ever made when Gram was in the band.

Here’s a rare Hasel Adkins LP that was autographed and was on display at the store for years and in various rooms in my house. If you know Hasil — ‘the Haze‘ — well, he was illiterate. And made the best of it. And there it is: ‘To John and the boys at Budget … ‘ And ‘Budget’ is Bug-ed — B-U-G-E-D. He told him like you saw ’em. Miss you, Haze …

Colorized photo of John Nelson and Jimi Hendrix working the bins at Budget Tapes and Records in Kanawha City, W.Va., in 2009.

[Age] 18— winter of 1976. Got into music retail. I’m manager and the music buyer. For many years, we’ve used the term ‘lifestyle emporium,’ to describe what we offer besides music. And all the other gift items and fashion items. Piercing jewelry. Stickers, posters, shirts. We have fountains, lamps. All kinds of goodies, now, to try to sell in addition to music. Then, hopefully, over the next few years we really can develop some kind of Internet sales. Maybe independent stores can still maybe get a piece of the electronic pie.

No one in the Kanawha Valley has more fun with music that doesn’t play music. Feeling it. Feeling the rock and roll, man Feeling the rock and roll roots …

I still wear my hair long.

Just a long hair from the ’70s, still havin’ fun …

Still Life with John Nelson and his old-school vehicle, at Budget Tapes and Records in Kanawha City, W.Va., in 2009.

A MAN and HIS RECORD STORE

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stephen Schmidt is a long-time creative in and outside the borders of the state of West Virginia. A professional audio guy, filmmaker and artist, he now calls Dunbar, W.Va., his home base. Of the several homages on Facebook to Budget Tapes and Records, this ones covers the most ground in sketching the emotional resonance and significance of its closing, especially to those for whom it was a sort of touchstone while growing up and growing older.

‘A million purchases that spawned a billion memories..’

By STEPHEN SCHMIDT | reprinted from Facebook

I am STUNNED. There is nothing more sacred than a man’s record store. We started trekking there from Dunbar in the mid-1980’s, when it was foretold that we could buy punk and hardcore music in Kanawha City, instead of waiting for weeks through mail order. That was followed by frequent pilgrimages once we got a look inside and found all that other stuff.

We came for the punk; we stayed for the funk.

My record collection went through the roof there in the early ”90s when, in the midst of the compact disc ‘revolution,’ everyone sold their records and I CLEANED UP, buying stuff for $1.99 that now sells for 30-40-50 bucks a pop. (I remember debating paying a whopping $3.99 for my copy of ‘Marquee Moon’). Spent forever cleaning the price stickers off the front (and backs) of those records with my thumbnail and Q-tips and lighter fluid.

A five-dollar copy of P.I.L.’s ‘Second Edition.’ Funkadelic’s ‘Free Your Mind …’ The Beastie Boys’ ‘Check Your Head on cassette’ the week it came out. Ride’s ‘Nowhere,’ after hearing “Polar Bear” over the loudspeaker. Plus, EVERY issue of ZAP Comix for like, $2.50 an issue (they’re way more than that now). A million purchases that spawned a billion memories.

‘Let’s see,’ Stephen Schmidt pondered. ‘Is Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’ really worth shelling out $3.99?!?’

And the staff. My late buddy Johnny Rock worked there. Met my buddy Brandy Kessler there. A lot of young folks stayed young while on Budget’s timeclock. They were also the only place ballsy enough to sell smoking paraphernalia back in the day. My brother and I had so many out-of-state friends in college who — blown away at how easy it was to ditch their Coke cans and toilet paper tubes and just walk in and buy something made of glass — made the hours-long trek to Budget with friends from back home to score.

Oh, shit, almost forgot: before I worked at PBS and could get ‘Mountain Stage‘ tickets for a song(!), I bought tickets to see Arlo Guthrie there for me and my parents.

Oh yeah! And John sold me Audio-Technica needle cartridges for my old Yamaha turntable there!

And everything, EVERYTHING you bought in that store smelled like incense…

he heart of the heart of the store. John Nelson takes an order back in the day, in this photo from the 2009 Charleston Gazette video profile above and also on Youtube.

Like so many others, I met John Nelson there and struck up a decades-long friendship that remains to this day. Pre-internet, I’d go there regularly to special order records, from the Verve, My Bloody Valentine, the Spaceman 3, etc.

In 2017, I was perusing the used records (as I had since I was a teenager) when John yelled out across the store with that distinct voice of his: “Hey Steve, you hear about that new Stones album that’s coming out next month? We’ll have it here on vinyl if you want…” My response was: “John, how many decades am I gonna walk into this store and go through these records while you tell me about a ‘new Stones release’?”

Seemed like it would go on forever but in that moment (age 47 at that point) I knew it also couldn’t, and I dreaded the day this might happen.

I will be there. Believe it. I will be there.

Forever.

There is nothing more sacred than a man’s record store…

Douglas John Imbrogno is a lifelong storyteller who spent the bulk of his career as a feature writer, feature editor and multimedia producer at The Charleston Gazette and Gazette-Mail. Follow his latest writing, photography, video and documentary work at https://thestoryisthething.substack.com, and https://westvirginiaville.com.

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