RAYMOND — On the first day of August nearly 35 years ago, MTV was launched on television with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.”
About one month later, Betty Butler Strachan opened the doors to the Little Big Store with a goal to give people access to the music that was taking the world by storm.
“There was such a renewed interest in the rock and roll scene — the music, the clothing, everything,” Strachan said. “But we didn’t know what was going on here, we didn’t have access and you didn’t know what was happening in other parts of the world or country with music until MTV. It was different than it is now.”
Strachan had always wanted to own a business and first tried her hand at a crafts store.
“The crafts didn’t go over so well, so I started buying records and reselling them,” she said. “That just took off like crazy.”
Three and a half decades later, the Little Big Store is housed in Raymond’s historic train depot that was built in 1889 just off East Main Street and operated until the 1970s.
The inside is filled — almost to the ceiling — with all kinds of music paraphernalia. From vinyl records, tapes and CDs to posters, T-shirts, jewelry and gifts.
“It takes up all the space in the depot, so it’s a lot of stuff,” she said.
The Little Big Store is reminiscent of an older record shop, with a vintage Coca-Cola machine at the front door and the smell of burning incense wafting throughout the building. Rows upon rows and stacks and stacks of records and 8-tracks fill the building. Stickers and posters cover the walls, and books and cassette tapes are among the thousands of other items.
“It’s unusual. It harkens back to the old-time music stores before things went so digital,” Strachan said. “It’s like the old record stores from the 1970s with posters all over the wall — just the way things used to be.”
And, though the Little Big Store started on the heels of a rock and roll phenomenon, today it carries a diversified collection.
“I started in rock and roll, and then I branched out into everything else,” Strachan said. “We have everything — literally — from gospel to heavy metal and everything in between. And we have lots of everything, not just a little.”
And the customer base differs just as much as the selection.
“Our customers are young, even little kids, older people, locals and lots of tourists,” Strachan said. “It’s virtually everyone.”
Once, Leslie Hawkins, a woman who sang with Lynyrd Skynyrd wandered in and sat behind the counter all afternoon telling stories of her own music career and that of her father’s with Hank Williams Sr. Another time, Strachan had a feeling one of her customers was “somebody.” She was right.
“He just had an aura about him, so I said ‘You’re somebody, aren’t you?’ and he said ‘Well, I don’t know about that, but I used to play with Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash a bit.’”
In addition to run-ins with fascinating customers coming in and out of the shop, over the years Strachan has also seen a change in the musical platforms that sell the best.
“My vinyl is making a huge comeback. I sell very few CDs,” she said. “It’s a huge retro thing that has happened, and everyone wants vinyl.”
But the renewed love and popularity of vinyl was a trend Strachan didn’t predict ahead of time.
“The whole record thing surprised the heck out of me — the fact that every day people are going back to vinyl,” she said. “I’ve thought and thought, and I think, with digital music, you get the sound. But when you put a record on, it’s like the sky opens up and the sound is so different and so real.”
With the surge of passion for vinyl lately, business is good — so good, in fact, that Strachan is now open seven days a week.
“We did that at the beginning of the year,” she said. “Business is good, and we want to be here for everybody.”
A place like the Little Big Store is quite different from digital download stores today. In that old train depot, holding a record in hand is important, and the physical aesthetics of the album can set it apart just as much as the sound.
“You don’t get any artwork with a download. You don’t know who played what. You know nothing about the music, and people want to know about the music,” Strachan said. “You’ve got something you can hold in your hand that is real.”