Carolina Soul Records: Durham’s newest playground for music lovers helps build community

Customer Ken Beck digs through bargain vinyl at Carolina Soul Records. (Staff photo by Gabriella Bulgarelli)

From the first step beyond the threshold at Carolina Soul Records, nothing but music is on display. The on-shift cashier spins records while customers are free to peruse bins and check out their finds at the listening station.

Carolina Soul is one wide room. Records line the walls, bursting out of bins. Towards the back of the store one can see a library of stock that will be sold through venues such as Discogs or eBay.

Carolina Soul’s shop at 117 East Main St. will turn two years old in December, but Jason Perlmutter, the owner, has been running the business since 2010. The idea for a physical storefront grew in tandem with an exponentially growing collection, but ultimately came about due to a strong desire to “interface with the community.”

Perlmutter’s business predominately markets used vinyl, and has a pretty quick turnover rate. There is a focus on regional soul music, from both North and South Carolina, however customers can also leaf through expansive collections of jazz, hip-hop, rock, disco, blues, and more. Their stock comes from a wide variety of places, but first and foremost private individuals. One person’s loss is another’s pleasure at Carolina Soul – where exploration and discovery are truly encouraged.

As more and more young customers hop on the vinyl resurrection bandwagon, Perlmutter and his staff are appraising more and more collections to sell, brought in by mostly older music enthusiasts who do not engage with them much anymore. According to Forbes, an estimated 40 million units of vinyl may be sold in 2017, which would enable the industry to surpass $1 billion in value for the first time in over 25 years.

For Perlmutter, it is great to see his business be successful and sustainable. But he seemed most proud of the fact that Carolina Soul was able to “burst into the already existing Record Store scene [in Durham] and carve out its own niche.”

Jared Patterson, a regular customer, “makes sure to keep Carolina Soul in rotation,” along with places like Chaz’s Bull City Records and Schoolkids. “It’s definitely in vogue [to collect records] right now, but it still brings about a sense of community,” said Patterson, specifically by “connecting people of various ages who are passionate about music.” In such a unique, culturally driven place like Durham – and such a competitive market with the resurgence of vinyl – this is definitely high praise.

Carolina Soul also has a global customer base, not just a thriving local one. Records are sold at high volume to places like England, Japan, France, and Germany.

Carolina Soul’s global success did not come easily.

“Record stores do the pretty invaluable work of making new sounds available for people to share,” said Grant Bisher, acquisitions manager at Carolina Soul, “So we have to make ourselves a resource for collectors and fans. We often try to create content that is easy for people to consume and learn from.”

Carolina Soul hosts different kinds of events to connect with Durham’s music scene, including occasional parties. Its most popular events are its bargain and dollar sales – with the next one coming up Oct. 20-22.