Born Late Records & Tattoos
2920 Race St.
Fort Worth 76111
Opening a record store in today’s download-and-digital-media culture might seem a fool’s errand, but a Fort Worth business is defying the odds.
Tucked within a modest storefront on Race Street just north of downtown, Born Late Records & Tattoos greets customers and racks up sales.
“There are no other record stores, especially niche record stores, within the vicinity, so that kind of gives us an edge,” says John Perez, who helps run the business.
Reasons why co-owners Henry Vasquez and Brittany Elliott leased the 1,600-square-foot space at 2920 Race and Retta streets are simple: cheap rent and a chance to succeed in what’s known as the Six Points intersection where Race, East Belknap Street and Riverside Drive meet.
“Sales are good, especially since we’ve only been open since April,” said Perez, who is no stranger to record sales and rock music.
After selling vinyl at the former Pipe Dream Records in Arlington and Forever Young Records in Grand Prairie, not to mention gaining a worldwide following as guitarist for underground metal act Solitude Aeturnus, Perez founded the now-defunct Brainticket Records. He tapped an international market for obscure metal and out-of-the-mainstream music that continues to this day.
Meanwhile, Vasquez, a musician in his own right for St. Vitus and Blood of the Sun, built a following at a now-shuttered Haltom City record shop. Years after Perez launched Brainticket in 1995, the longtime friends joined forces in selling records, compact discs and other music merchandise online.
Pleased but not satisfied, the duo, joined by tattoo artist Brittany Elliott, sought space for a new business. Not only would it offer vinyl records – a medium making a comeback, albeit small in the grand scheme of things – but it also would provide professional tattoo service.
Just one problem: City zoning regulations prohibited such establishments, although a tattoo operation was already doing business just blocks away on the same street (it was grandfathered in before a 2006 zoning change prohibited that use).
Undaunted, Elliott and Vasquez asked that Fort Worth rezone their space to allow a tattoo studio. While awaiting a city hearing, Elliott launched a GoFundMe campaign to offset the estimated $500 lost for every day she was unable to do business. Merely applying for rezoning cost $1,000, with no guarantee of success.
Elliott’s fundraising succeeded, providing the young entrepreneur some assurance until the city heard her case. Then on Aug. 4, the City Council approved the request, which many had thought unlikely since a tattoo shop hardly fit the vision of those planning Six Points Urban Village.
But some thought otherwise.
“In first looking at this request, we recognized that the area aspires to be an arts district and is an urban village. It would seem there should be a fit there,” said District 9 Councilwoman Ann Zadeh.
“Tattooing is becoming more commonplace and socially acceptable, so in this instance we took a close look at how we classify this use in regulations that were written decades ago and utilized a tool currently available in our zoning ordinance,” Zadeh said.
That “tool,” or PD (planned development district), allows greater flexibility and discretion in considering uses such as a tattoo studio with a retail establishment, for example, Zadeh explained.
Council approval came with little, if any, debate in what Zadeh called “a fairly easy decision.”
“That was a huge relief,” said Perez.
These days he is scouring eBay for new store inventory, which is also fed by walk-in visitors, touring bands playing locally and online sellers. Replenishing store stock is an endless game of buy and sell.
“We get stock from all over,” said Perez, who works with national distributors and local customers alike. “We pick up inventory from bands that come through town, too. ‘We’ll take 10 of your records and 10 of your shirts.’ We do that online, too.”
Walking into Born Late is a trip back in time. Van Halen, KISS and Pantera posters cover the walls, with vintage toys, magazines and T-shirts also drawing attention. But it’s the record albums and CDs that provide the focus and have customers spending hours flipping through the inventory.
The store may specialize in heavier rock, but it embraces all rock genres. Metal, punk and other styles are mixed together, not segregated in separate bins. Men At Work can be found behind Metallica, Seals and Crofts with Scorpions, Kajagoogoo with KISS. It’s part of a mindset that music is music and one that seems to appeal to customers who keep discovering the store.
Since April, two part-timers have joined Vasquez, Elliott and Perez in operating what’s a tiny part of a larger enterprise.
“We do well outside the brick-and-mortar shop already,” Perez said. “What we sell here is just extra sauce and cream on top of the cake.”
It’s the physical location of an otherwise online operation that does steady business. But it’s more. Born Late is a local business, one of a handful that record buyers keep afloat.
From Doc’s Records & Vintage in West Fort Worth to Good Records in Dallas and beyond, retailers are selling records. According to Nielsen, U.S. vinyl album sales have risen 260 percent since 2009. Still, that’s far fewer than in the 1980s.
“No, it’s not the ‘80s anymore,” said Perez, who remembers when major acts would achieve platinum sales by selling more than a million albums. But the availability of music online has changed things. Many consumers download music either legally or without paying as CD sales continue to plummet, making record stores an anachronism to some and a lifeline to others.
When Vasquez and Elliott plunked down $10,000 of their own money to launch the Race Street shop, they knew it was a gamble. But $1,600 in monthly rent and a five-year lease proved tempting.
“It turned out well. We’re seeing more customers all the time,” said Perez.
With business off to a strong start, the next step is a publicity campaign. And what could be more fitting for an old-school record store than old-school word-of-mouth?
“We plan to increase our visibility by any means necessary,” said Perez, pointing to meeting prospective customers at concerts and old-school flier distribution as ways to spread the word.