The latest move from Floyd businessman Dylan Locke is about resistance.
Today, he re-opened the door at County Sales, the bluegrass and old-time CD retailer and mail-order business that closed in January, after 44 years in Floyd. He bought stock from the store’s longtime owner, David Freeman, and took over rent on the business at downtown’s Talley Alley, off West Main Street.
A redesigned Countysales.com went live, too, with a newsletter, a podcast from radio host Kinney Rorrer and links to buy albums from the likes of Kenny Baker, Peter Rowan, Frank Newsome, Foghorn Stringband and Five Mile Mountain Road.
“I had a lot of people, rightly so, who cautioned me against getting into this,” said Locke, who with his wife, Heather Krantz, owns Floyd Country Store. “These are musicians and studio engineers and people like that, seeing the trends of putting out CDs and trying to sell them.
“I think there’s more to this than that. I think this is a bigger statement to make to the streaming industry and the modern era of music consumption.”
Locke said he believes that people still want to look at liner notes while they listen to the music. That activity prevailed in the LP era but still can be part of the CD experience.
“I think it’s important to not give up on that yet,” Locke said. “And maybe do it in a sort of resisting change kind of way.”
Freeman, who started the business in New York City in 1965, moved it to Floyd in the spring of 1974. Freeman, who also founded the bluegrass and old-time imprints Rebel Records and County Records, decided to retire as he approached his 80s. He continued to pay rent on the space while he searched for a buyer.
Freeman’s son Mark Freeman, who runs Rebel Records and County Records from Charlottesville, said the market is not dead, despite all the gains in streaming and downloads.
“Traditional bluegrass audiences are a CD-buying crowd,” Mark Freeman said. “They sold their turntables long ago.
“Our customers, longtime Rebel Records fans, say they can’t get into digital. They want something they can touch. That’s why we’re going to continue to make CDs.”
While it’s true that bluegrass and old-time aficionados can order CDs from online retailers, many of them are more likely to buy from the performers themselves, at festivals or concerts, or from smaller retailers.
“A lot of these folks would rather deal with the folks at County Sales in Floyd as opposed to some big operation like Amazon,” Mark Freeman said. “I believe Dylan sees that, too, and feels that it’s worth taking over County Sales.”
Locke wasn’t sure he wanted to buy the store at first, but after multiple discussions with David Freeman, he decided to go in.
“I think he really wanted me to do it because of the proximity to the Floyd Country Store [at nearby South Locust Street]. And ... he saw how I was running the business there and how we cared about the music and the musicians there at the Floyd Country Store. We were already retailing from County anyway, almost exclusively working through County Sales to stock our shelves with music at the store.”
David Freeman, whose decades of work earned him a place in the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, had amassed about 170,000 pieces of merchandise, including LP albums and books, along with CDs. Getting County Sales off the market was going to require a creative deal, the elder Freeman said.
“Nobody was going to come and buy the whole inventory,” David Freeman said. “That wouldn’t have happened there. He could just buy, in essence, little by little and get the material he knew he could sell, especially. It worked out nicely. I have no regrets about it at all.”
Locke said he has more than 5,000 titles in stock.
The business operates in the basement of a building that used to be Floyd’s Pix Theater, where such performers as Bill Monroe and Roy Hall played. It’s tucked out of the way, though true aficionados know where to find it.
It’s more of a warehouse for a mail-and-internet business than a retail site, but shoppers have been welcome there since the beginning, and they’ve come from all over the world.
Locke said he plans to keep County Sales open later on Friday evenings, so people who are in town for the Floyd Country Store’s weekly Friday Night Jamboree can browse the inventory. Later, he will expand County Sales’ footprint in Floyd, with a storefront near the country store.
The famous County Sales newsletter will be back, as well. It used to feature reviews, sometimes scathing and typically honest, that David Freeman himself wrote. That’s not Locke’s bag, but he has contacted writers including Rorrer, Gary Reid and Art Menius, who are interested in participating.
“These are guys that do it, and know how to do it … with the same amount of integrity that Dave did,” Locke said.
Both Mark and David Freeman said that Locke has the ideas in place — including the possibility of releasing some past Rebel and County material on limited LP releases — to keep things going.
“I think he’ll be OK,” David Freeman said. “I think they’re armed with all the implements of doing a good continuity for County Sales, and I’ll be happy to see that happen there.”
Both Floyd Country Store and County Sales are listed among major stops along The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Locke said he feels strongly the responsibility that he and Krantz have at the store, and that he now has with County Sales. While Krantz is his partner in life and business, she is more of a cheerleader for Locke on this project, he said.
“It’s one big giant statement to the world that we’re not ready to let it go,” he said. “What Dave Freeman did is admirable. The work he did for the last 60 years is just ridiculous. We shouldn’t just let that slip away, and we should all applaud the work. He’s supported a lot of music and provided to a lot of music lovers over the years.”
Now Locke is taking a shot at doing the same.