I’m Being Followed by a Vinyl Museum

vinyl museum

I read a quote recently from a record collector where he mentions that when he visits record stores, for him it’s like going to an art gallery. I can easily identify with that sentiment, as record stores have always been more than just a “store” for me. They’re a repository of mystery, an archive of archaeological discoveries just waiting to be unearthed.

In the Clearwater, Florida of the 1990’s one of the record stores I visited often was called Vinyl Museum (or, more precisely, Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum). I’d usually go to Ye Olde Record Shoppe on Drew St. first (about which more in a future post), then drive a few blocks up and over through a neighborhood of low-slung 50’s houses on quiet palm-lined streets and pull into the tiny parking lot behind Vinyl Museum. A generously-sized establishment, it had an enviable location on busy Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., right across the street from Clearwater High School.

Vinyl Museum had an interesting background. Two brothers – Peter and Jim Dunn – had moved down to Florida from Syracuse, NY in the mid-70’s. By 1978, Peter had moved up north to Toronto and soon opened the first Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum.  [Watch this cheesy, yet charming 1980 TV commercial for Vinyl Museum from Retro Ontario]. It was such a success that he opened another location in Toronto as well as one in Florida, at first managed by and eventually owned by his brother Jim. A relocation from Largo to the larger Gulf-to-Bay location in 1989 occurred as the store gained notoriety.

Things were going well for both brothers during the CD boom, and they dealt in used and new titles. The two Toronto stores are well remembered for the giant and eclectic LP selection, as well as the rock bottom prices. The Florida location focused heavily on CD’s and tapes as time went on but they always had a big selection of used vinyl as well. In fact, the walls were covered with album covers floor to ceiling. Though, in a not-too-prescient moment, Jim Dunn is noted as a “firm believer in the future of cassettes” in a 1997 Billboard magazine store profile.

Somewhere along the line, Peter Dunn became a born again Christian and started putting religious slogans below the store’s logo on the custom printed plastic sleeves that went on each record. As Dave Bidini notes in his book On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock: “Besides its reputation as a goldmine of unwanted vinyl, the store’s main attraction is its owner, Peter Dunn, who pastes Bible quotations on record sleeves. The cover of say, Yanni Live at the Acropolis, would proclaim “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers!” even though Yanni fans are the least likely people to freak out and axe murder their parents.”

Many of these sleeves found their way down to the Clearwater location as well, and I suspect some intermingling of stock happened from time to time also. Yet, the stores only had a few more years left. Reportedly, Peter Dunn started concentrating on carrying Christian artists instead of rock and the more popular music genres he’d been selling. He lost his main customer base and the Toronto store (down to one location by this point) eventually went out of business. At least that’s the story I’ve heard – more likely, he was just another victim of the drop-off in consumer taste for vinyl.

News story on the closing of Vinyl Museum in Toronto:

Down in the sunshine state, Jim Dunn made the wise decision to change the store’s name from the dusty sounding, antiquated “Vinyl Museum” to something more in tune with the compact disc times. “Planet Grooves” was the new moniker, with a slogan as well – “As the world turns, the planet grooves”. The slogan was included as part of the large mural painted on an outside wall, announcing to the world that here was a fresh new presence on the retail music scene.

Unfortunately, the name change wasn’t enough to save the store, and it fell victim to the early 2000’s epidemic of independent music stores closing. An attempted resurrection under a new owner and new name (Park Ave. CD’s) only lasted about 2 years. I think there’s a furniture store in the space now.

Which all brings things to the present. The other day I was browsing in a custom t-shirt store on the small main street in the town north of Toronto where I live. They had recently added a used record selection to one side of the store. Talking to the manager, it turned out that the collection I was perusing was the 30,000 album stock of the long-since closed (15 years ago) last outlet of the Toronto Vinyl Museum! It had been stored in two garages since the store folded, until the manager of this t-shirt shop stumbled into the opportunity to buy it all in one lump purchase (with the caveat that he had to have it out of the garages in one week).

25 years and 2000 miles away from when I first stepped into Vinyl Museum, it was like I had entered a time warp. It was entirely conceivable that some of these records (or at least their plastic sleeves) were the exact same ones I had flipped through in my youth on any given sunny Sunday afternoon, beach-going traffic zipping by outside, maybe an Allman Brothers record playing on the store stereo system, the sun slanting through the plate glass windows, slowly bleaching the album covers stapled to the wall.

If this were a science fiction story, I’d say the records had in some way been frozen in time, only to follow me through a portal to reappear in this unlikely location.


21 Comments Add yours

  1. Tracy says:

    I have just bought a copy of Air Supply The Vanishing Race on cd with a Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Music sticker with Toronto Clearwater on it.

    It has a cat but is different to the one shown, It’s Travelled though because I am in Solihull England.


  2. Rob says:

    That’s very cool. I wonder how many others have journeyed to various parts of the world…

  3. Brian Zinger says:

    What town is this t shirt store in?

    1. Rob says:

      It’s in Newmarket – but unfortunately all the records are gone and they don’t sell music anymore at all. (The guy who worked at the store and brought the stock in is no longer there).

  4. lb says:

    Great recollections, Bought more records from the Toronto stores then I can count. Interestingly discovered some cool local Florida based artists like Terry Brooks and Strange that I suspect made the drive from Florida to Toronto to stock the shelves. I still see sealed copies of Terry Brooks today throughout Toronto record shops and flea markets.

  5. Rob says:

    Never heard of Terry Brooks (except for the Fantasy author of the same name) or Strange – I’ll check ’em out!

    1. Dave says:

      I aquired many copies of Terry Brooks and Strange from Peter Dunn.
      It’s a really wild ride to listen too.Many different colored vinyls and quite the guitarist.

  6. Tim says:

    Thanx for this. I’m originally from Florida (Bradenton) and back in the ’90s, my buddy and I made occasional forays around the Tampa Bay area hitting all the independent record stores. On more than one occasion we stopped at the Vinyl Museum in Clearwater to peruse the stock. I found a promo copy of The Last Words of the Great Explorer by TV Smith’s (of legendary UK punks The Adverts) short-lived early ’80s band The Explorers there and to this day it’s still a favorite of mine.

  7. Jeff says:

    I just received my latest purchases from Jim at Discovery Records in Toronto. I purchased a copy of ‘The Best Of Joe Walsh’ and the sleeve is a Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum sleeve. I kind of feel lucky that I got this after reading about Peter Dunn’s stores.


  8. Mike Adair says:

    I used to shop at the Clearwater location on a regular basis, starting in the mid 1980s until it closed (as Planet Grooves). I liked that they had listening stations (at least for CDs), so you didn’t buy a turd. Some guys I went to school with worked there.

    I managed to visit one of the locations in Toronto in the ’90s, which was kind of cool but nothing compared to the Clearwater store in its heyday. I still have a few of the sleeves with the flying cat.

  9. Doug says:

    I have great memories of browsing through the stacks of records at Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum in Toronto. I used to go to 3 or 4 used stores faithfully and Vinyl Museum was one of them. I bought lots of vinyl and cds there and still have all of them. I left Toronto in 95 and just got back into vinyl in the last few years. When I pulled out my stack of old vinyls, many have the Vinyl Museum inner sleeves with Bible quotes. Just checked a Larry Norman album that has one of his sleeves. I use to go to the store on Yonge St. most of the time because of it’s closeness to Sams and A&A Records. I loved browsing in all of those stores and could spend hours in those 3 stores. Thanks for bringing back some great memories!!!!

  10. Dave says:

    I am the person who purchased the large inventory from Peter Dunns.

    I am thrilled to hear people talking about my purchase.

    1. Rob says:

      That’s really cool – great purchase on your part! Where are they now?

      1. Dave says:

        In a warehouse being processed.I have found some historical gems like a master pressing of New World Man.by Rush with the Xerox copy saying it’s not for release in Canada or Japan.
        Also the Rob Baumber LP China Doll mint and sealed.
        A Luis Prima autograph album and hundreds of signed LPS and promos.
        This project actually is saving.my.life.
        So Peter Dunn thank you for that injection of hope.

    2. Joe says:

      Years ago i bought some of the paper and string wrapped russian pressings the vinyl museum had – would like to buy more, did you get those?

  11. NS says:

    Great article. Visited all 3 (make that 4) locations of Peter Dunn’s in Toronto.He moved to a new Lakeshore location in the 90’s ( From Mimico to New Toronto aka Lakeshore & Islington next door to the old post office). Another thing about the Vinyl Museum that was memorable but not mentioned were his pet cats in store that looked quite a bit like the store mascot. Probably my 2 most memorable purchases were an error gatefold copy of Rush 2112 that opened up to be the inside cover of Kiss Alive, Speaking of Kiss, i found 2 copies of their 1st album (both 1st pressings without the song “Kissin Time”) Still the best used record shops ive ever visited in North America….they were an experience.

  12. Verseman says:

    As the owner of a Clearwater record store [LP Archeology] I can safely say I own about 300 records with those sleeves along with a couple packages of those sleeves still new 🙂 considering i never saw the old place it was nice to read about it.

    1. Rob says:

      Very cool – glad you found the blog! I’m going to be in Clearwater in April and will check out your store.

  13. metalstoic says:

    I found this article on Google because I used to frequent the shop in Clearwater. I’ve always been a CD collector. I was trying to remember what it was called before the name was changed to Planet Grooves… Vinyl Museum. Good times. Thankfully Sound Exchange still exists here for us CD heads who are into more obscure music. I miss the 90’s when music shops were everywhere. Thanks for this post!

  14. Steven says:

    I enjoyed the story very much. It hits home because as a kid , my dad and older brother would take me to the vinyl museum and we would flip through all the cds. What a good time it was!

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