I got off on a tangent the other day when discussing how I bought “Nightclubbing” by Grace Jones from a K-Mart record nook [not quite a store] back in the days when I biked to local shops to spend my lunch money. Just to jog my memory, I was looking at Maps to remind myself of the locations of stores like East-West Records, and Record Mart Oak Ridge when I couldn’t help but notice that one of the stores in my reverie, East-West Records + Tapes [as it was known] was still on the Maps app! [insert stinger]
I moved to Orlando, Florida in 1972. I was nine years old. The original East-West location on Orange Avenue near Ft. Gatlin had been a landmark to me growing up. I got my first stereo in 1978 and the first thing I did was ask my dad to take me to East-West Records + tapes so that I could buy the “Black Noise” album by FM, which was the first album I wanted to hear on my stereo! The store was a smallish, stand-alone building that I had seen all of my childhood, and was now going to shop at. I entered the store and like most of them, back in the day, it also doubled as a “head shop” selling objects that were not technically illegal to be used with substances which definitely were.
That’s just how it was, back then. Two things young people apparently needed in the 70s were a steady supply of music and drugs. As for me, music was my drug, so the posters, incense, and bongs were surplus to my needs. But the store did have stock beyond the wildest imaginings of my local K-Mart. I got the FM album and have never stopped listening to it [even though it’s Prog…]. Most of these photos are from their Yelp! page. Look at the one below – they still have records at $2-5 and a dollar bin! And the B-52’s debut album is still there.
In high school I started biking to the shop and occasionally buying things that I wanted. I would bike to K-mart [closest] but also Record Mart on Oak Ridge, or East-West on Orange Avenue. None of those stores had any import stock, which by 1979 became like a siren call to my New Wave besotted ears. And my preference want to the other Record Mart stores on Colonial or the big Warehouse, that opened when I was a senior in high school on Orange Blossom Trail. Those two stores were managed by Don Gilliland, and he made sure that any store he was in charge of was well stocked with the things I wanted most.
As I got older and moved deeper into the metro Orlando area from the southwest corner I grew up in, I found that there was a second East-West location in Winter Park. By the time I was in my twenties and thirties, this was the East-West I did most of my later shopping in. But I do vividly remember the last time I bought anything in the original location. I was bored and wanted to shop for CDs in 1987, so I biked to the Orange Avenue East-West and bought two new titles on CD. What were they?
Those are some pretty freaky bedfellows! But they were two Atlantic Records titles, with the ELP Prog opus being fresh to the silver disc, and Mel + Kim just getting fresh [for the weekend]. I still have them. It’s still one of the two ELP albums I still have time for occasionally.
The original East-West opened in 1971, just a bit ahead of my arrival in Orlando. The same couple [Hannah and Roman Skrobko] owned and operated both stores until the Winter Park location closed down [I’d guess about 20 years ago after Napster] but the Orange Avenue location still going until they owners sold it in 2018 to Robert Serros, Jr, one of their customers who grew up to run the store. According to the current Yelp page, it’s now owned by one Emma. I also ran across this interview by Don Gilliland with the original owner Hannah Skrobko conducted a decade ago when the store was merely 40 years old!
As of this year it marks 50 years of continuous operation and has weathered the decimation of the music retail space [20 years ago] by file swapping, the real estate boom and bust cycle in the volatile Orlando real estate market, the Great Recession of 2008-9, The Covid-19 Pandemic, and has now existed long enough to reap the benefits of the swing back to LPs in this crazy 21st century. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Florida any time soon, but if I do, then I need to stop by East-West Records [And More], just because I can!
I can’t remember visiting this place, at all, but if they had a location in Winter Park (where I lived when we met) I must have darkened their door at some point. Where was it?
> metro Orlando area from the southwest corner I grew up in
Isn’t the southwest part of town the region over by International Drive and Dis**y? I didn’t think any locals lived out that way unless they were mouse employees!
JT – As Mr. Ware stated, the Winter Park locale was on Mills Ave. [17-92] just south of the Winter Park Mall. I lived in Sky Lake. Near the Florida Mall. Definitely in the southern edge of the SW Orange County Metro quadrant. Growing up, anything north of Colonial Drive was something I’d see only when going on vacation!
Great post Mr.Monk. However as I recall it, the Orlando location was not the original, and the Winter Park location everyone remembers was actually their third spot in Winter Park. The original East West that I remember was on Fairbanks in a small retail strip near the intersection of Fairbanks and Formosa. A tiny location that they quickly outgrew. Then they moved to a building on 17-92 next to the McDonalds just north of the Orange Ave. intersection. Their final location was further north near the old Winter Park Mall. At some point the Orange Ave store opened and like you, I’m delighted they hung on.
Mr. Ware – As a native of a certain maturity, I cede to your expertise on the history of Orlando record stores! So their first location was near the infamous “FBI” Fairbanks Inn [a well seasoned local “watering hole”]? Who knew? I have memories of always seeing the South Orange location while riding around in the back seat of my dad’s station wagon. If they weren’t there from ‘71 it couldn’t have been too much later as I always looked at their marquee sign to see the latest release being touted. Record stores were right up there with places that sold model kits as points of interest to the young Monk.
Sadly, I don’t have the same nostalgic relationship with a record store. I have a couple that hold a few fond memories, but nothing consistent because I didn’t get into music until later in life and we werealways moving. Now I just wish I could *AFFORD* to walk into a record store.
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postpostmoderndad – Well, East-West was simply the first actual record store I bought music in in Orlando. There was a single visit to a hippie record store [a redundancy] in 1971 in the San Fernando Valley in California that was an outlier to my future, but that was nearly a decade earlier. East-West was the point zero of my buildiing of the Record Cell, though. The 3.5/5 rating on Yelp is probably square on the money. It was never the best store but merely a good one. I quickly outgrew it but it was always there, and decades later…it still is!
It’s just like the story of my local record store, The Record Exchange, in Salem, MA, which started in 1974 & where I started blowing my dough as a 15 yr, old in 1977-78. It managed to survive a lot too, including the death of its beloved owner Skip several years ago. I do appreciate the fact that it’s still around.
diskojoe – Then you can appreciate the odds of the store where you bought your first albums at still going strong 40+ years later!
That’s true about the odds. I think one of the reasons why the Record Exchange is still around is that it does have an internet presence & has taken advantage of the vinyl revival thingie. Also, there is Salem State University down the street & plenty of tourists, especially in October, w/an itch to spend money. I wonder if East-West gets any tourist trade from those visiting the Mouse House.
diskojoe – It’s in a really weird place. Not near much of anything congruent. Sort of a residential neighborhood. Light years from Disney.
Interesting-the comments about Orlando and the Disney area are spot on…I hate driving around there as it is full of rental cars with drivers from all over the world who all have different skills…
Out west the record store with everything was Tower Records in Tempe, AZ, and of course Los Angeles…huge place and had everything you could want in any genre/media…don’t know if they survived. I haven’t seen any record stores where I live in Germany now but I’m sure they are here.
Bridget – Tower was the best big chain ever! Trips to big cities with a Tower were always highlights. I shopped at Washington D.C. and Atlanta. And I loved the curation that they let the staff do. I miss Tower Records. They died about 15 years ago but now exist again as a web only retailer. Sort of missing the point.
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