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Arkansas record shop faces end of 4-decade run

Retiring owner has yet to find buyer

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Photographs by Staton Breidenthal

Caleb Oakley of White Hall shops Wednesday at the Record Rack in Pine Bluff.

PINE BLUFF -- Pat Strachota's office is unnavigable.

The tile floor mirrors the towers of magazines, vinyl records and paperwork on every desk, windowsill and chair.

There is nowhere to step without disrupting the mass.

Strachota, 67, swivels in a ripped office chair strategically placed in front of a barely visible sliver of glass -- mostly blocked by more magazines, more vinyl and more paper.

The window offers a view of the showroom of The Record Rack, an eclectic Pine Bluff icon that Strachota has owned for more than 40 years.

It's an icon set to close in the coming months unless the right buyer comes along in time. After four decades dedicated to the store on every day of the week except Sunday, Strachota is ready to retire.

"We started in a room a little bit bigger than this on 28th Street," Strachota said, hands raised in the air, sweeping in the small office. He's well over 6 feet tall, bald with a long beard disrupting a youthful face.

Strachota and his friend James Williams, both Pine Bluff natives, established the business in 1976. Both men were in their 20s with an addiction to all types of vinyl:

1960s and '70s rock.

R&B.

Jazz.

Blues.

"Only some country," Strachota said with a laugh.

Williams worked for a distributor at the time, a setup that afforded the new business owners an avenue for getting music cheaply.

The business grew and expanded into larger spaces until the move 12 years ago to its current location at 2801 S. Olive St. in the Jefferson Square shopping center. Williams sold his share to Strachota early on, allowing Strachota to quit his railroad job and be at the store full time.

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Strachota looks out the piece of window that is still visible. Every nook, cranny and wall space of the 7,000-square-foot store was full of merchandise -- biker leather at the front door, swords and martial arts items along the left wall, skateboards and T-shirts on the back right wall.

And music -- vinyl, eight-track tapes, cassettes and compact discs -- row after row.

"All my dad kept telling me was, 'Don't try to get rich quick,'" Strachota said.

His own advice to the next person to carry on The Record Rack tradition?

"Diversify."

Strachota's long-time girlfriend, Seshe Ressin-Brewer, 55, stands behind a glass counter on the right side of the store. Like the rest of the space, every inch is utilized.

Ressin-Brewer -- long black and gray hair flowing down her back -- rolls a Himalayan salt crystal in her palm. She reaches for a velvet-lined tray on the top shelf of the glass display case.

"All our stones are hand-picked," she said. "I dig them up myself. I have to feel them."

Ressin-Brewer turns to the wall behind her and gingerly slides out a Nag Champa incense stick.

"They burn these in Hindu temples," she said.

The wall and glass-case displays progress from new-age crystals to essential oils, wands, tarot cards and poison rings.

Ressin-Brewer flips through her ring of keys, then leads the way to the other side of the store, through an open doorway. Floor-to-ceiling shelves contain vinyl records, categorized and ticketed. On the floor, boxes of records fill the middle of the room with a narrow walkway to reach the shelves.

"We've got another 40-foot-by-80-foot warehouse with more records and 17,000 DVDs," she said. "All of it goes with the store."

Next to the vinyl room is a solid white door. Ressin-Brewer knocks once, then unlocks the door and enters.

Racks of lingerie "in every size" take up the middle of the room while glass cases and walls are packed with sex toys, accessories and X-rated videos.

In the far left corner is the smoke shop. Glass pipes dot the shelves next to vaping paraphernalia.

The eclectic store has seen Strachota through grueling chemotherapy treatments for cancer caused by Hepatitis C and through the 2012 death of his son Michael Strachota in Afghanistan. Lifelong friends have been made, and the store has given Strachota and Ressin-Brewer an excuse to travel.

"You make a living at it," Strachota said.

Ressin-Brewer remembers the $10,000 days of the past.

"It's about a third of that now," she said.

No doubt the dawn of digital music avenues have put a dent in the business, but Strachota said he has loyal customers who prefer the hands-on customer service and the variety he offers.

Ross Allen, a customer since the store first opened 41 years ago, doesn't buy his music anywhere else.

"They've got a great selection that covers everything. Country, Motown and rock 'n'roll," Allen said. "I hope they find someone to buy that place and keep it open. It's a landmark here."

Metro on 07/17/2017

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