In a nondescript strip mall in east Mesa, Uncle Aldo’s Attic advertises itself with a large banner that reads: Vintage Records. Inside is a pop culture wonderland offering not just a sizable amount of vinyl, but an impressive selection of books, board games, figurines, and comic books — inventory fueled by the proprietor's passion for nostalgia.
“In California, there was a swap meet every weekend,” says owner Desi Scarpone. “So, for 40 years, I’d go and pick up records. It’s a sickness. I have 50,000 records at home.”
Scarpone lived in Southern California, working in post-production for DisneyToon Studio films such as Planes and Return to Neverland, until he was laid off. He moved to Arizona six years ago.
“I didn’t have any money, and I didn’t want to work at Walmart," he says. "I’m a big collector, so I figured maybe people would buy collectibles.”
Once he noticed his vinyl sales beat out all other items, he opened his own record store. Uncle Aldo’s Attic, which has been around for about three years, is located at 6016 East McKellips Road.
Scarpone’s uncle, the eponymous Aldo, and his large personal collection of memorabilia was an inspiration.
“Something about this weird and magical junkyard of stuff he had always stuck with me,” Scarpone says.
Most of the records on the shelves (which Scarpone built by hand) are from Scarpone's own collection. A small percentage are from what customers have brought to him for consignment. The same goes for the vintage board games. Scarpone once attended a swap meet where he noticed a board game he’d owned as a child, available for only $1.
“From there, I couldn’t stop buying the games I had as a kid,” he said.
Now, Scarpone is also an expert on the subject. He wrote Board Games: CD, published in 1995, followed by More Board Games, published in 2000.
As a longtime seller of collectibles, he's seen trends come and go, and in 2020, he noticed a sudden increase in demand for entertainment.
“This sounds so horrible, but the pandemic has been really good to me,” Scarpone says. “I’ve never done better business.”
Research agrees. A study from Felix Richter, data analyst at Statista, confirms that record album sales in the United States have grown for the 15th consecutive year leading up to 2020; vinyl LP unit sales hit 10 million in 2015 but in 2020, they grew to 27.5 million and are expected to grow.
“I think the kids, they’ve seen that vinyl has better fidelity than CDs,” explains Scarpone. “It just sounds better on vinyl, and they’re drawn to the tactile sensation of holding something.”
Robert Lovato, 18, is one of Scarpone’s most frequent customers.
Lovato’s father owns the '80s-themed Starfighters Arcade just down the street from Aldo’s, and he says he suspects he loves vintage music from growing up in that retro-style atmosphere.
“I personally like vinyl records because they have a history to them,” Lovato says. “It’s very interesting to think about the person who owned the record before you.”
Lovato and his friends formed the punk/New Wave band Polybius four years ago. They play cover songs from bands like Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Misfits at the arcade.
“A lot of our covers are from the 1980s," Lovato says. "So, the records I look for are much like the music we play.” Lovato even remembers the first record he bought at Aldo’s: Ocean Rain by Echo and the Bunnymen.
“I think people associate that music with that decade as a better time,” says Lovato on the increase in demand for vinyl. “So, there's escapism, but also people enjoy collecting things, which is easier nowadays.”
Scarpone says he enjoys the wide range of customers and the ability to offer sometimes quirky and obscure merchandise.
“The other day, a guy just ran in here and said, ‘Do you have Pavlov’s Dog?’ And I said, ‘As a matter of fact, yes I do,’ and he was out in 45 seconds.”
But, don’t expect reissues at his store. “A lot of the reissued stuff is not good,” Scarpone says. “I only sell the originals. I want people to be happy. I want them to be satisfied.”
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