Anthony’s Airwaves — Transmissions from Phillip Pope of Pi Records

“…I really try to treat everyone that comes in the store with the same respect and what I consider (hopefully everyone else does as well) to be a charming personality, because you never know who you might be talking to.

With the resurgence in vinyl, I’ve been seeing more and more people posting records for sale in the many different online marketplaces and forums, and even some new record shops popping up here and there. I went from having to drive nearly an hour away to my closest record shop to only 15 minutes. Today I’m talking to a personal friend of mine, and a truly incredible guy, Phillip Pope of Pi Records, in Gastonia, North Carolina! While Phil is “new” to the vinyl game in terms of collecting and selling, he is a huge supporter of the Vinyl and Music Communities. Phil steps up for local bands and offers space in his store for them to sell their merchandise, with 100% of the profits going directly to the bands themselves. How many of your local stores have you seen do this?! Like I said–Phil is an incredible guy. He’s an inspiration to us all to never give up on our dreams, and his journey is proof that there is no “right” time to start following your dreams, regardless of your level of experience. I’m really honored to introduce you to him, and I know you’ll find him as awesome as I do. Dig in!

Anthony:
Phil, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions and talk with us about yourself and your shop, “Pi Records.” First off, can you tell us a bit about your passion for music, what got you into records and what lead you to open up your shop?

Phil:
First, thanks for thinking that I am interesting enough to be interviewed, I will try not to disappoint. I kind of feel like I have a weird relationship with music. When I was a kid, I was one of those kids that could tell you just about anything about 90’s alternative. I was like a walking encyclopedia. Then around the age of ten, my family saw the light and decided to become a strictly Christian music only household. I went along with the decision happily because when you are that young, you want to do what the family does. After about a year or so of giving it a try, it just really was not for me. No disrespect for the Christian artists but try as I might, I just was not feeling it. So, I just sort of shut myself off from music for a while. Until, one day for some strange reason, during my sophomore year of high school, my family made the slow transition into listening to country music. I dug it for a little while, just being able to have a little more freedom of choice, but country is ultimately not my cup of tea. Then, about a year later, the ban was lifted and I finally got to really start embracing different kinds of music. Still to this very day, I am playing catch up and discovering new artists that are not new artists at all. So, in a way, the record store is helping me fill the void and helping me make up for lost time. As far as how the store itself came about, it started as an idea between three retail workers in an office who were tired of working for other people, so we decided, why not work for ourselves. One of the guys had previously owned Pi Records out in Arizona back in about 2006, so we decided to resurrect it. Other than seeing my parent’s old records around the house from time to time, this was my real introduction to records.

Anthony:
To my understanding you had opened up in one location and ended up where you are now. Could you elaborate a bit more on how that transition occurred and what events lead up to the move?

Phil:
We decided to open Pi Records in Cherryville, NC because the rent was cheap and one of the guys lived there and could handle the day-to-day operations. We opened around Halloween 2019 and we enjoyed a hell of a first holiday season. January came and things got a little tight, but that was to be expected because that is generally the “dead’ season, and still things were going well through February. Then March 2020 rolled around, and we all know what comes next. Things got hard, and we had to close down for a few months. Things got worse when the partner that handled the day-to-day operations decided to leave, which I do not blame him for. Times were hard and we were not making money anymore and still had bills to pay. In July 2020, we were finally able to open back up. I tried running the day-to-day operations on a part-time basis myself with the other partner, but the thirty plus minute drive every day, not to mention still working a full-time job, was really taking its toll. We opened for a total of three days until another series of unfortunate events happened and we were done for good in Cherryville. I had invested the most money into this business and I refused to say it was over and a lost cause. I was making my money back and I wasn’t giving up on the dream of working for myself.

We scrambled to find an alternative option and lucked into the space at Eastridge Mall. As we were getting into the thick of things of moving and planning to reopen, there was another blow. Something came up and my other partner chose to step away and leave the business, which again I do not blame him for, as it has been a really hard year. This left me to pull everything together and by November 18, 2020, with the help of family and friends, I was able to officially reopen Pi Records and things are running better than ever.

Anthony:
I know the new location is fairly new, but have you seen a noticeable difference in foot traffic between the two locations, and are you much happier in your new location?

Phil:
It’s night and day. I literally see more people pass and stop by in a thirty-minute period then I would in a whole day’s time at the other store. I really appreciate and am thankful for our time in Cherryville, but to be closer to home and to do a lot more in business, you just cannot beat it. I think of us as a band. We had some good success and great times where we were. Everyone went their separate ways and now the new store is my solo act. I am just hoping to make the best of my opportunity.

Anthony:
I know you deal mostly in new stock vs. used, and we talked briefly about this last time I was there, but for the sake of our readers, what are your experiences with people trying to sell you collections of used records and why you prefer new stock? Do you ever plan on expanding out to the used stuff?

Phil:
Short answer: I prefer dealing in new because its easier. To elaborate on that, I have more control on what I can bring in, how much I can bring in, and sometimes when I can bring it in. I like to pride myself on being able to tell someone that I can bring in that record that they have been searching for forever. To see someone’s face light up when I tell them that I can get their favorite band’s more obscure album, and not just the popular album that everyone has, is a great feeling. With used, it’s more of a take what you can get deal. You have to luck into someone’s old collection, and most people want top dollar for something because it’s old, even though we all know it is not usually worth that. I will never not carry used vinyl. Some people only like used, and I do not want to alienate anyone. I do plan on expanding my used section, but the way things are right now, it’s a lot harder for me to go out get more good used inventory. But, I assure you–it’s coming. As far as people coming in to sell, we had pretty much an open-door policy with used stuff at the old store. You bring it in, we will go through it and work out a deal any day of the week. On several occasions, we would have people come in with trash cans of un-sleeved records that were covered in some kind of oily substance. I am not going through that again. The door is not quite as open now. I will advertise when we’ll be doing buying days on our Facebook page.

Anthony:
Earlier in December you mentioned on your Facebook page that a guy came in claiming to be one of the lead singers of Boston. Have you had any other artists stop by into your store?

Phil:
Not to name drop or anything, but yes, one of the lead singers from Boston did come into the store. I will not say his name because that would literally be name dropping, but his son, who is also an accomplished musician, did return a few days later, so the store must have made a decent impression. The main reason I shared that story was not to brag or anything, but more so just to offer a reminder that you never know who you might run into. If he had not told me who he was, then I never would have known. I have had a few other local artists come in, but I only accidentally found out who they were by chance. So I really try to treat everyone that comes in the store with the same respect and what I consider (hopefully everyone else does as well) to be a charming personality, because you never know who you might be talking to.

Anthony:
A lot of people like myself prefer to go into a physical store and come out with something right away knowing you don’t have to worry about shipping or if the item will arrive damaged. I know there’s currently a lack of local record stores, so do you have to worry much about any competition aside from online retailers?

Phil:
I do not want to come off as cocky with answering this question, but I do not necessarily feel like there is much competition. Even though there are a few other local record shops near the Gastonia area, I do not see it as competition. To my knowledge, most of the other shops in the area specialize in used, while I specialize in new. Even though we are all record stores, we specialize in two different things, and therefore we should capitalize on that and work together instead of against each other. The big stores in the area, Target and Walmart, only carry new but I still do not see that as a huge threat. I carry more variety than they have. I have also learned, and am so thankful for the fact, that most people are happier to come support me and my small business. Some people are also surprised to find that my prices are not too different from the big stores either.

Anthony:
Retail is definitely a volatile thing to get into right now, especially since we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Would you say your business is doing good considering you moved shop in the middle of all this going on?

Phil:
I do not know if that is a fair question to answer right now. I just moved to a much more highly populated area right at peak holiday retail time, so of course business was expected to be good. I really hope things keep trending in this direction though.

Anthony:
One time I asked about if you had a personal record collection for yourself, and you looked at your shop and said something along the lines of, “You’re looking at it.” Do you actually have a personal collection at home, and if so, what genres and artists does it consist of?

Phil:
I honestly do not have much of a personal collection for myself right now. I feel like I have done a good job of avoiding the collector bug and if I start to go down that road then I would be in danger of getting high on my own supply. I also don’t currently have the time to sit and really enjoy the vinyls the way they are supposed to with working two full-time jobs, but once I get the free time, I’ll definitely start an honest collection.


Most of what I have are gifts given to me by my girlfriend who has nailed my musical taste so far. My small collection includes Kanye West, The White Stripes and Orville Peck. I feel like I am off to a good start.

Anthony:
How do you see Pi Records panning out in the future, and what you hope to accomplish with the shop?

Phil:
The sky’s the limit. I am a pretty big dreamer so there’s a part of me that wants there to be a Pi Records in every mall across America. At the end of the day though, if I can do this for a living as my sole means for supporting my family, then I will feel like I made it as a major success.

Anthony:
Phil, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer these questions and talk with us. I’ve got one more question for you. It’s no secret that vinyl is booming and I hope you see much success with your shop. Do you ever plan on expanding to online sales or even opening up a larger or even a second shop in the future to accommodate for this resurgence in vinyl? Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Phil:
I have my eyes on a few different avenues for expansion. The thing about where I am currently is that I am only using half of my sales floor. Step one is to finish filling up my store that I have now. I am also in the process of learning how to make my own merchandise, so that in itself is an expansion of not only things I can do for myself, but services I can provide to others. Online sales would be the next logical step, but that will honestly probably have to wait until I can step away from my other full-time job and devote all my time to Pi Records, which hopefully will be able to happen sooner rather than later. Then maybe after I check all those boxes, I can start to entertain the thought of a second location, but like I said, I am a big dreamer.


One thing I would really like to share or promote is that I fully support local artists and sell local music in the store. If anyone out there has any merchandise and or hard copies of their music, please reach out to me; I’d love to work together and do what I can to help get your music out there and help accomplish that dream. I do not make any profits off the local music: everything you sell is yours, and you earned it. I just provide another platform to get it out there.

Thank you so much for choosing me to be a guest. I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity. I will see you in the store again soon.

You can find Pi Records in the Eastridge Mall, located at 246 N New Hope Rd, Unit 225, Gastonia NC, 28054. You can contact Phil by phone at 704-215-6077.

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/a-m-radio-archives/

Published by Anthony Montalbano

Born in Long Island, N.Y., USA and growing up listening to oldies, Anthony's passion for music began in the mid 90's when his older brother would introduce him to music other than what what he grew up on from his parents and thus, his passion for pop punk was born. Heavily influenced by bands like New Found Glory and Taking Back Sunday, his musical tastes have grown over the years. With the help of his first roommate to spark Anthony's love of vinyl, his collection grows more and more. Aside from music, Anthony loves cooking, photography, baking, anything electronic and has a huge passion for horror movies, video games, podcasts, books and TV shows. He now resides in North Carolina where he carries on in his great grandfather's footsteps as a baker.

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