The Valdosta Daily Times
In a corner shop that housed a bank in the 1880s, Jessica Donaldson now runs Red Door Records.
Donaldson, 32, a Valdosta native, was more interested in providing a service and a hangout when she initially opened the shop; a place that would enrich and enliven the downtown area. Because she loves vinyl records and vintage clothing and accessories, a new-and-used records store seemed the right fit.
Since opening in September 2010, Donaldson’s business has enjoyed moderate success, making enough money to keep her afloat and earn her some income, but her greatest priority is to connect people through her business to music and the downtown community.
“We’ve been successful with our sales due to our unique product, but we’ve survived because of our relationship with our customers,” Donaldson said. “This is more than just a shop; it’s a community that breeds ideas.”
Donaldson’s clientele typically fills a certain niche — downtown business owners, friends, artists and others interested in seeing Valdosta thrive. Most of the clients that don’t fit this mold are from out of town —either military, university students from other cities and states or new Valdosta residents — who come from cities where hip thrift shops are common, she said.
She keeps the prices low to keep her products accessible to the public. Donaldson would much rather see her records sold to clients who will take them home and listen to them, to connect with a period of history and with a new community interested in the same things.
In addition to the records, Donaldson offers vintage clothing she has hand-picked from other thrift shops, vintage bicycles assembled and reconditioned by her boyfriend in the back of the store, original artwork by local artists, and books. Every First Friday, she opens the store as a venue for live music.
"Part of being in business is supporting the community," said Donaldson, who also mentioned that local artists press original music on vinyl records, along with many contemporary groups.
While some may consider vinyl obsolete, the reality is that vinyl records have survived through many eras of recorded music—tapes, compact discs and digital—and still remain in circulation, lauded by music fans young and old as the best way to listen to music, according to Donaldson, who called vinyls "superior" to other formats. The fidelity is sharp, the product is long-lasting and the sleeve artwork is collectible.
"Vinyl records connect young people to the music their parents listened to when they were our age," Donaldson said. "It's a great way for older music to reach the younger generation."
Record players are easy to find, often sold at major department stores like Target and Best Buy for decent prices. About 80 percent of modern bands put out their original music on vinyl these days, she said, and many popular albums that sold well as CDs are being re-issued on vinyl.
Some distributors sell coupons for free downloads and a CD version along with the vinyl record as a sort of all-inclusive entertainment package.
"There is definitely a market for it," Donaldson said.
Donaldson's love of records runs deep. She used to search through records as a kid, and got a job in radio after graduating from Valdosta State University with a degree in mass media—what she called her "nine to five" that wasn't for her, she said—and decided to open Red Door because Valdosta lacked a record store.
The store has undergone a recent restructuring, drawing more attention to the records as well as other vintage items. The first version of the store featured a lunch counter with hot dogs, but Donaldson no longer serves food to save money and put retail in the spotlight.
"I tried to combine a record shop with food, but the lunch counter put the records on the back burner," Donaldson said. "Lots of people thought the records were just for decoration."
Featuring refurbished bicycles and vintage clothing has turned out to be a good idea since the store re-opened Jan. 3. The bikes in the front window draw customers, and the clothing is well-organized and selling.
"It shows people are interested in a custom bike with personality," Donaldson said. "These are things we love, so it makes sense to sell them."
She is also experimenting with a magazine counter featuring back issues of Rolling Stone, comic books and other memorabilia. In light of all these changes, previous clients who enjoyed going to the shop for food have been understanding about the business's revamp, and "the response has been great" from a record sales perspective, Donaldson said.
As a downtown business owner, Donaldson has distinguished herself as a community leader with heart, and encourages others interested in owning a small business to do so.
"My friends sometimes say, 'I wish I had the guts to do something like that,' and I tell them, 'Do it! Go out on a limb!'" Donaldson said.
She didn't attend business school, and as a result it confuses her, she said, why corporate-minded businessmen make it a priority to maximize profits.
"All I want is to keep the place open," Donaldson said.
She also wants to see the downtown area thrive. The VSU campus is less than three-quarters of a mile away from downtown—well within walking and biking distance—and Donaldson hopes others will rent out vacant space to help build and support the downtown area.
Donaldson has come to the forefront to develop other community installations that have become part of Valdosta's pop culture. She founded the VSU Film Festival in 2005 during her last year in college, and she continues to publish the Glass Onion, a free local arts and entertainment publication that supports itself and provides a service that has become critical to informing the public about entertainment opportunities in the area.
Red Door Records, 136 North Ashley, is open every day but Sunday, from noon to 7 p.m.