Timmy Stamper admitted to being on the fence.
“I was planning to close up the store forever,” he said last week about Tracks in Wax, the Central Avenue record store he’s owned since 2015. “But so many people are bummed out about it, now I’m thinking about staying open.”
Stamper locked his doors in April after Governor Doug Ducey announced Arizona’s COVID-19 nonessential retail restrictions. He’d been open with limited hours the past week or so and was asking customers to wear masks and gloves while they flipped through bins of records. Before reopening, he’d announced that Tracks in Wax would be gone by the end of June.
“The thought of opening up again after a shutdown of who-knew-how-long seemed pretty grim,” Stamper said with a shrug. “The world was upside down, and I had a bad outlook. I didn’t think we could come back.”
Response to Stamper’s farewell was loud and boisterous. “People have been coming in and saying ‘Oh no’ a lot. So I really sat down and gave it a lot of thought, and I’m going to talk to the landlords and see if they’ll do a six-month lease. After that, I’ll see how we’re doing.”
He took some comfort from his colleagues at other local record shops. “Everyone is slow right now,” he said while ringing up a customer’s stack of LP inner sleeves. “I’m friends with the guys at The Record Room and The 'In' Groove, and they’ve told me things have changed for everyone.”
Stamper started collecting records in the early 1970s, after his mom bought a retiring DJ's collection of 45s at the Greyhound Park swap meet. “She brought home a couple thousand 45s, and that got me into buying records,” he said with a smile. “I was 5 or 6 at the time. I’d save my paper route money and spend it all on music.”
As a teenager, Stamper got into heavy metal and punk music. “I was a punk and a metal head,” he remembered. “But my main source of collecting was always Pink Floyd. I’ve got a world-class collection of Pink Floyd records, thousands of imports and variations.”
In the old days, Stamper made the rounds of local record stores, his mother driving.
“I shopped at Musicland, Tower, Hollywood Records,” he recalled. “And then the used stores started opening. I shopped at the first Zia Records, and at Roads to Moscow there was this guy there named Manfred who had the best punk records.”
Stamper nearly lost his ride after his mother caught sight of the decor at Roads to Moscow. “She was a real religious lady,” he explained. “One time she got tired of waiting for me in the car and she came into Roads. I was having a great time, stacking up these AC/DC imports that I was going to buy. And my mom comes in and sees this wall-sized poster of naked John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and she pulled me by the ear out to the car and said, ‘You’re never coming back to this store ever again.’ I had to listen to her talk about the Bible all the way home. After that, whenever I wanted to go record shopping she’d say, ‘I’m not taking you to that dirty one.’”
When he went record shopping, Stamper always wound up at Tracks in Wax, one of Phoenix’s first used and collectible record shops. He befriended brothers Don and Dennis Chiesa, who’d opened the store in 1982, and the trio later became drinking buddies. Stamper began working at the store in the mid-1990s.
“Don died first, and then Dennis died in 2011,” Stamper said. “About five years ago, Dennis’s wife, Julie, was ready to shut the store down, but I stepped in and bought it.”
He couldn’t think of the single rarest record he’d ever sold. “Oh my goodness, there’s been a lot of them. I sold a really rare Art Pepper album yesterday. And I’ve moved some very rare Pink Floyd records. When you get into the Japanese white-label promos on those guys, you’re talking big bucks.”
Stamper thought that owning Tracks in Wax was inevitable. “My birthday is the same day as Dennis’s,” he said of the shop’s former owner. “It’s also the same day as the guy who stocks our 45s.”
Running a record shop has, Stamper insisted, been a good time. “Until the COVID thing, anyhow. I work a full-time job in addition to this, and it was getting rough to do them both. Being forced to shut down kind of got me thinking we’d never recover if we came back.”
He’s reconsidering. “It’s a bummer that it went viral that I was closing,” he said, while ringing up another sale. “But I’ll just have to do something to change that message. Maybe I’ll boost a post and put something on Facebook.”
Meanwhile, he’s got a more positive outlook on his record-selling future. “The people who shop here just really don’t want this to go away,” he said of the racks of records on either side of him. “I’m going to talk to the people I rent from about staying on. They’ve always been cool. Maybe we can work something out.”