Do you know how you can judge the anticipation for a new shop? Look for the nose print smudges on the windows. By that criteria, Long Play Cafe record store/coffee shop on Butler Street in Lawrenceville is garnering quite a bit of interest even before it starts regular hours next week.
Nobody is as excited about new customers as Roos (Dutch, pronounced Rose), the wildly friendly pup that greets everyone.
A close second is Brian Broad, Long Play Cafe’s owner. This guy loves records. Not in the normal record store owner way, either. He wants the absolute best for them. That involves giving each album a comprehensive cleaning akin to restoring a piece of art punished by decades of dust and harsh handling.
Broad radiates joy when he picks up a rare, freshly cleaned 1968 record by lost avant-garde psychedelic greats The United States of America. The record looks flawless, and even the cover shines.
Broad’s passion for vinyl began in Amsterdam, where he lived for 10 years.
“They were selling 35- and 40-year-old jazz records at a shop there,” recalls Broad, who is originally from Buffalo. “I told the owner one day, ‘Dude, I come back here because I live here. But if I were just coming through and reviewing this store, I’d say ‘The guy sells dirty records; it’s a shit store. Don’t waste your time.’ But I know you, so it’s a different story.’
“So I bought the record and took it home. I have this machine called the Loricraft from England that I clean the records on. I clean all the jackets too using paper towels with Zippo lighter fluid. (That removes decades of dust, sticker goo and other assorted gunk). So I took it down to the store and said, ‘Now, this is a 35-year-old record.’”
The Amsterdam record seller agreed. Soon, Broad was strapping that machine to the back of his bike and riding it through the streets of Amsterdam to the shop every weekend.
“When we moved back to the States, (the Amsterdam shop owner) asked, ‘What are you going to do, man?’” recalls Broad. “I said, ‘I’m done with IT. I’m going to open a record store. I have no idea how to do it, but I’m going to figure it out.’”
Broad opened the first Long Play Cafe in Newark, Delaware, a college town (University of Delaware). Then, Broad’s wife got offered a job with PPG, so they came to look at Pittsburgh.
“We came to visit in late November, and I was blown away,” says Broad.
Curiously, although Pittsburgh has a number of world-class record stores, there aren’t any in Lawrenceville or Bloomfield (RIP Paul’s and 720 Records), the epicenters of Pittsburgh’s music scene. Though rents are rising, the foot traffic on Butler Street is lively.
Although Broad is most passionate about records, he also loves coffee. He has a special blend of Italian Musetti coffee that’s just like he preferred in Europe. It’s getting harder to find, but he’s got another Italian company working on a special blend for him. Long Play Cafe sold food in Newark, but when Broad looked around Butler Street, he noted that “there’s just too much good food here already.”
So he’s concentrating on what he does best. And that’s selling records.
Broad prefers, well, a broad approach to curating the selection — there’s a little bit of everything, from ‘60s West Coast Jazz to vintage Funkadelic to local legend Mac Miller (who used to record several doors down). He stocks more classics and popular records than other local stores for people just starting their collections, including a mix of used and new albums.
Broad says he has about 10,000 records in his collection and only a fraction appear so far on the walls and shelves (though there are some really good ones). His cleaning and pricing process — which involves a survey of what each record is selling for on the worldwide online marketplace Discogs — takes time.
The life of a used record isn’t always a happy one — but that’s not the case here.
“We do buy records — walk-in, appointment; we can visit the owner if they can’t bring them to us — and we will help people who just want to move things they don’t want any longer,” notes Broad. “We find value in almost every record, even if it’s just to turn it into a clock or a bowl, because of its unplayable condition.”
(Yes, he makes clocks, bowls and coasters out of ruined records.)
All used records take a spin on the Lori Craft PRC4 cleaning machine.
“It is one of the best cleaning machines made,” says Broad. “It is a wand extraction cleaner that pulls all the water out of the grooves, taking along with it the dirt, dust and yes, mold. It is incredible.”
To prove his point, Broad puts on a freshly scrubbed Motown record by Junior Walker and the All Stars. The familiar, warm analog hiss remains, but all the crackles, pops and skips are gone. This is a record that’s as close to new as it can get.
There are comfortable chairs and a rug in the front, which can be moved for small performances. There’s also a basement, which is going to open as the Bargain Basement with boxes of $1 records.
The store has limited hours this week — Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. Next week, the store will be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“We want to get a feel for what the neighborhood needs and wants, and what customers might like,” Broad says. He speculates that Lawrenceville may want a more early morning coffee spot, or, if weekday evening hours are preferred, he will adjust.
“I’ve got the doorbell here,” says Broad, who says he lives just around the corner. “If the lights are on, and I’m in here doing work, and you want to buy a record, come on in.”