Beloved record shop in Five Points rocks n’ rolls with the changes, celebrating 40 years in business

Beloved record shop in Five Points rocks n’ rolls with the changes, celebrating 40 years in business
Papa Jazz recently celebrated 40 years in business. (Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A renowned music store in Five Points celebrated 40 years in business a few weeks ago.

The secret to its longevity just might be that the business has stayed true to its roots. In fact, when you step inside Papa Jazz Record Shoppe on Greene Street, it feels like you’re stepping back in time. You never know what you’ll hear playing on the speakers inside the eclectic music store.

When we visited last week, instrumental rock n’ roll hits from the 1960’s like “Rumble” by Link Wray and “Sleepwalk” by Santo and Johnny could be heard overhead.

When asked if he ever expected to stay in business for 40 years, owner Tim Smith said, “Honestly, I guess I didn’t think that far out.”

But clearly his popular record store has stood the test of time. The store is filled with used CD’s and vinyl records of all genres, including rare and hard-to-find titles all at a discount.

From Bob Dylan to the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen to Boyz II Men, Paul Anka to Pavarotti, and the Righteous Brothers, to Linda Ronstadt, there is something for every musical taste inside this wood paneled music paradise.

While mega music stores abounded in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, many went under in the digital music age. Services such as iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora have made a clear imprint on the market and yet, Papa Jazz plays on.

Smith said his store is more profitable than it’s ever been. The store buys and trades CD’s and vinyl from customers looking to unload their collections. Papa Jazz has also built a reputation carrying titles that music lovers simply cannot find elsewhere.

“I figured out right away I had to learn how to fill the niche,” Smith said when asked how he stood out in a crowded market. “I did niche things, new things that other people didn’t do. Having the used records, of course, they were all used when we first started.”

And as cycles tend to go, 40 years later, vintage vinyl records are as popular as ever. Smith chalks it up to the tastes of college students who frequent the store.

“College-aged kids drive this business like they do many businesses in Columbia,” Smith said. “And they’re very much a vinyl driven audience now - a vinyl first audience.”

The staff at Papa Jazz said some of the younger customers come in these days requesting music they listened to with their parents at one point, including folk music from John Denver.

“Nostalgia is different for everybody,” Smith quipped.

And yet, those who enjoy vinyl records thrive on the unique music listening experience. Smith said listening to a vinyl record is an intentional act. Smith added his customers enjoy reading the album covers and liner notes, experiencing the music the way it was originally intended.

He credited his staff for keeping the customers coming back. Smith said at most anytime Papa Jazz is open, someone is working inside the store that can knowledgeably answer questions about the many genres and artists represented on the shelves and racks.

As for his favorite genres, Smith said jazz and blues remain at the top of the list. He plans to stay in business as long as possible, admitting “The store will probably outlive me.”

Looking at the many album covers inside the store, it’s not just an impressive archive of musical memories: it’s a bright thread in the fabric of Five Points.

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