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'This place is church:' Well-loved Double Decker Records shop to close its doors

Double Decker Records shop
Julian Abraham
A vinyl turntable sits empty in the last weeks of Double Decker's 27-year run. Owners say they're ending on a high note.

ALLENTOWN, Pa.— When the Double Decker Record Shop announced onFacebook it was shutting down, hundreds of people showed up the very same day, and hundreds more the next day — and hundreds more expected until it shuts its doors forever Dec. 2.

Open for 27 years, the shop sold vinyl records, CDs, cassettes and other merchandise, without being restricted to one genre or audio format. It also curated an entire James Brown section, which is one of the most popular parts of the store. It is marked by a giant, blushing, airbrush-style painting of James Brown's face.

Throughout Wednesday morning, well over a hundred people came and went through the shop. Many of them were introduced to the record store as kids, and some of them are even old enough to have kids of their own today — some of these young kids came along for a final trip to the record store.

Chris Vickert at Double Decker Records
Julian Abraham
Chris Vickert (left) takes a selfie with two longtime customers of the record shop. "I'm probably gonna do a big photo dump with these online," he said. He was taking the odd selfie with friends of the store all of Wednesday morning.

"Hey, you guys have been coming here a long time, mind if we take a selfie?" Chris Vickert, who's been a manager at Double Decker for about a decade, said as he grabbed a group of guys who just bought records.

'A flashback to your youth'

In the atmosphere in the shop Wednesday, there was an overt sense of nostalgia — people shook hands with the owner, said "thanks for the memories," etc. — but in at least some customers, there was also a slight expression of panic. There are serious record collectors who relied on the shop for decades and are now suddenly left with nowhere to get their records — or at least, nowhere that feels as familiar as Double Decker.

In an attempt to soften the blow, some chose to use the last weeks of the shop's existence wisely and stock up.

"Oh it's just the feeling, the vibe of the music, when you put that needle on the platter, and you play it — the sound is, it's just so full."
Jerry Miles, longtime Double Decker customer and record collector

One of these customers who decided to do so is Jerry Miles. He's an avid and serious record collector and has been coming to the shop for decades. On Wednesday, he spent nearly $100 on records and was the first to admit that it won't be his last time back before the shop closes in 2 1/2 weeks.

Miles said from his perspective, vinyl is a special and immersive way to listen to music.

"Oh it's just the feeling, the vibe of the music, when you put that needle on the platter, and you play it — the sound is, it's just so full," Miles said

"And you know, growing up with records, like my parents did, there's nothing better than to sit with an album cover in your lap as the music's playing and read the liner notes. To learn who the people that played on the album are. It's a history lesson in every album, and that's what an album brings to most of the people that have them.

"And that's why this store is packed when people heard it was going to close."

Part of his purchase was a Rolling Stones record. It appears to have been a "for old time's sake" purchase, as later he mentioned that one of his very first records was "Out of our Heads" by the same band.

Customers in Double Decker records
Julian Abraham
Customers in Double Decker Records on Wednesday. In the span of about an hour, well over a hundred people came through the doors.

"That was given that to me when I was 9 years old, in the mid-1960s," Miles said. "And it's in mono, and I still have it. I still play it today."

On top of the Rolling Stones album, he also reminisced about "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," by a certain four-member British band you may have heard of.

"In this place," Miles said, pointing to the emptying stacks of records in the shop's neon-lit storefront window, "Every time I walk through the door, you spent hours in there, and you pull an album out, and you have a flashback to your youth."

'It looked like we were in a closet'

A funny moment happened in the store Wednesday. A well-put-together fellow came in, made a purchase, thanked the owner for all the joy he's brought him, then took his phone out and said "l wanna show you something," with a cheeky smirk.

Behind the cash register, Jamie Holmes responded with curiosity and came out to take a look.

On the man's phone screen was a grainy, early-2000s camcorder video of a loud, thrashy-sounding punk band, playing a song in what, on first glance, looked like a closet.

Jon Billet's 2000 music video
Julian Abraham (video displayed is from Jon Billett)
Jon Billet shows his music video, shot in Double Decker in the year 2000. He is on the left playing bass in the video, and the band was called "racerman56."

The clothing rack that looked like a closet, turned out to be T-shirts in the old Double Decker location from 23 years ago. And the man playing the bass, with sideburns and a loose bling-era necklace turned out to be the clean-cut man standing in front of the register today.

"It looked like we were in a closet," the man said. He was Jon Billett, 42, a successful software engineer with a family. He grew up in Nazareth and spent some time living in Philadelphia as an adult. A few years ago, he moved back to the valley "to be closer to my roots," he said.

Jamie Holmes and Jon Billett
Julian Abraham
Jamie Holmes (left) and Jon Billett, watching a 19-year-old Jon's pop-punk music video shot in the old Double Decker location.

While showing the video, Holmes accurately pointed out several decade-specific clothing brands. "Is that a Kappa jacket?" he asked.

The answer, according to Billett was yes, and that actually led Holmes to identify the person wearing it as someone named "PeeWee," who Holmes apparently knew from childhood, and he drove a small Toyota sportscar that would blast Kriss Kross with the windows down.

That all came up in in the span of about three minutes, among customers ringing up their record sales. Nobody appeared rushed or bothered in the slightest, and at one point, a random customer came over pop his head up between the two and watch the video too for a moment.

"Oh, you wanna share the cringe?" Billett joked to the other customer who poked his head in to watch. It got a laugh.

'You know what? I'll figure it out.'

Despite what people tend to assume when stores close their doors, Double Decker is not "going out of business" as the story usually goes, owner Jamie Holmes said.

Holmes said the past two years have been its highest-grossing in the history of the store. And the strategy behind closing was essentially the same one stock traders use, to sell during an all-time high instead of a low. For Double Decker, it meant a high in numbers, as well as spirit.

"I didn't want to be, you know, like a lot of stores where you go in and you can tell the guy 'quit' 10 years ago, and he doesn't want to be there," Holmes said. "And the store is like — you're not finding much. It's like the glory days are over. I wanted to be in the position where I'm like 'you know what? Everything's strong, I'm gonna shift gears.'"

Double Decker records for sale
Julian Abraham
There were a couple of discounted sections on Wednesday. Customers said the prices are typically reasonable even without a liquidation in progress.

Holmes is 49, and been thinking about his age. He admited that's a factor in the decision, too. When asked about what he's thinking about for next steps, he said he wasn't sure, but knew that he better figure it out soon.

"If it was like a job or a business partner or whatever, nobody's gonna be like, 'Oh yeah, I want that guy who's nearing retirement, to do something new with,'" Holmes said.

Jamie Holmes
Julian Abraham
Jamie Holmes, manning the cash register at Double Decker for one of the last times. He has owned it for 27 years.

Holmes has owned Double Decker since it opened and said highlights include a couple of bands coming through the store. On at least one occasion, he didn't even know at the time.

"There was the one bass player for the Avett Brothers," Holmes said, "but I guess they have two bass players, so we were looking for the wrong guy. Because he left, and then I heard through a friend that he was coming here, and apparently thought the shop was cool."

"Twenty-seven years, you know, that's a career in one field," he said with a chuckle. "I'll do something different, I'll figure it out," he added, with an optimistic tone — but not afraid to admit that he's taking a bit of a leap.

Customers at Double Decker
Julian Abraham
In its 27 years of business, Double Decker has seen generations grow up, getting their music from the Allentown store.

"It's a scary decision because it's comfortable. I mean last year and this year, are my best years ever. So to step out when you're on top is a lot harder to do than when you're forced out," Holmes said.

"Because, you know, I'm going from my best years ever, to, like, I have zero income. So that is what it is. There's been times where I almost had like a panic attack, like, 'What am I going to do?' Then I realized, you know what? I'll figure it out."

Double Decker Records is set to stay open until Dec. 2, following its regular hours.