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Tables Turn Again For Vinyl

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Craig Wright

By Claire Walla

A record store? On the East End?

It started with the Japanese.

Record collector and East Hampton native Craig Wright had been running a successful music business on eBay for five years, regularly sending used records to buyers both locally and internationally. But, last year he suddenly began receiving visits from music store owners on record-buying missions from half-way around the world.

“I had at least six or seven guys from Japan looking through my storage facility over the last year,” Wright exclaimed. “And I thought, this isn’t the way to do it. I’ve gotta make this available to everyone.”

The result is Inner Sleeve Music, a full-blown record store in the heart of Amagansett, which sells everything from rock and jazz (which happens to be the favored genre among Japanese buyers), to new releases, reggae and even spoken word.

Wright said his original intent was to set up shop here in Sag Harbor, which he had targeted for its thriving nightlife. But, after 10 years of eying spaces that never seemed to fit the bill, he settled on Amagansett.

But he has no complaints. Within walking distance to Crossroads Music and Stephen Talkhouse, Inner Sleeve has completed a veritable music trinity on Amagansett’s Main Street.

Since the store opened last month, Wright said sales have been pretty steady.

“I’ve been selling a bit of everything,” he noted. “I’ve had country sales… even classical sales, which really surprised me.”

Perhaps unsurprising, however, is that Wright’s biggest request thus far has been for The Beatles. (He has to re-stock Beatles and Rolling Stones sections on a regular basis.)

While Wright said his store certainly caters to music aficionados — he also sells rare items and collectibles — his customer-base runs the gamut.

Shoppers have been old and young, music snobs and vinyl newbies. It’s really unpredictable.

“I’ve been surprised at some of the things I’ve sold this week,” Wright said. “Like Hall and Oates. Five years ago you couldn’t give away LPs of Hall and Oates! The whole record-buying phenomenon has changed the way some people look at some of those guilty pleasures.”

Customers have even come in exclusively for album art.

“Just last week a guy came in an bought several AC/DC albums to frame and put up in his office,” Wright said. He added that once a customer came to him for images to put up on his bathroom walls. “He wanted any albums with a Hawaiian or beach theme,” Wright recalled.

What’s been most common thus far, however, are those who come in for the nostalgia.

On a recent afternoon, a woman and her mother stepped into the store with one thing on their minds: “I want a record player!” the younger woman pleaded to Wright, who calmly assured her they would be in-stock soon.

When asked why she was so adamant about the dated device, she said her attraction was simple.

“I grew up with record players,” she explained.

“And now that he’s here,” she continued, motioning to Wright, “and she got me crazy over them,” she added, motioning to her mother, “it’s nice that they’re coming back. They’re just so much fun!”

Her mother went on to explain the thrill of the tactile listening process, which Wright punctuated later on.

“You realize that the experience is about being involved in your music,” Wright explained. “I mean, you’re forced to hold the record, you have to flip it half-way through, you’re moving the arm and the needle on top of it…. You’re part of the process.

“When you’re listening to an MP3,” he added with a hint of disdain, “you’re usually doing something else — it’s just background music.”

Of course, even for Wright, it wasn’t always this way.

There was a time when the avid record collector, who held his first job at Long Island Sound on Main Street in East Hampton, actually gathered his entire record collection — which at the time was heavily bent toward artists with big hair: KISS, Quiet Riot, Def Leopard — and chucked it at the East Hampton dump.

(Strictly for reasons of taste, Wright said he said he doesn’t regret that decision.)

It’s the same familiar story of new technology trumping old ways of being.

Back in the ‘80s, the art of the mix tape was gaining prominence, and with double tape decks so easily accessible, LPs were seen as cumbersome and unnecessary.

It took relocating to California to get Wright back on track.

“I was in my early 20s at the time, and this guy in his mid-40s kept telling me: Records! Records!” Wright recalled. “He was the guy who was saying what everyone’s saying now, that the sound quality of a record is just better because that’s the way these recordings were meant to be heard.”

“A CD is just ones and zeros and a laser reading that back and translating it into music.”

Twenty years and one record-toting cross-country trip later, and Wright is still strictly vinyl.

To build his stockpile — which is well over 10,000 records, not including Wright’s personal collection, which at this point is a few thousand — Wright goes to yard sales and estate sales, buying masses of old LPs the way an antique book dealer scours homes for old books.

Sometimes he finds a rare collector’s item, but that goes right in the store with hula-themed album art and Hall and Oates.

“As a collector, I used to always be frustrated by walking into a record store and feeling like I was only getting access to the B- and C-level stuff,” Wright said. “Sometimes you just get that feeling, that the primo stuff is being held somewhere in a back room, waiting to be sold on eBay, and the person walking through the front door has no access to that.”

This goes back to the driving force behind Wright’s brick and mortar shop.

“I don’t want any collector to feel like he or she doesn’t have access to a premium piece,” he said.

Collectibles may be displayed, like artwork, on the walls of the building, but Wright said it’s never off-limits.

“Everything in the store should be available to everyone who walks in the door.”

Wright said the taste for records on the East End still remains to be seen. (He’s waiting for the height of the summer season to figure that one out.) But he remains positive, adding that the store may shift to accommodate the community, depending on what people long to buy.

“There’s certainly nowhere else on the East End to get this stuff. As a collector, I would drive two hours to find a good record store, one I hadn’t been to before,” he said.

And with a grin, he added, “The people who want it will find me.”