When we imagine the classic record stores of the ’70s and ’80s, we picture plenty of vinyl, cassettes, stereo equipment and band posters – a gathering place for the musically obsessed and fringe artists of the time. While several of those stores endured – some by adapting to the times and selling CDs, DVDs and collectibles, others on the sheer will of the ownership and dedicated patrons – many disappeared from the American retail landscape altogether.

In the blink of an eye, we had moved into the digital age and all but forgotten our rich culture of physical music media. Enter the vinyl resurgence of the mid-2000s, which birthed a whole new generation of wax-loving collectors, some of who went on to create their own versions of the iconic record store from the past. Jonathan Napier and Molly, co-owners of Nail City Record (NCR) in downtown Wheeling, are part of this revival, and they are doing a lot more than just selling records.

  • Packaging for King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Europe '19 released by Nail City Record. Original Cover Art: Jason Galea, Re-imagined Cover Art : Tha Mellowed Yello, Alternative Cover: Matt Decker Tracks Compiled and Arranged by Jonathan Napier at Nail City Record Studios, Package Design: Jonathan Napier

Beginning as collectors during their time at West Liberty University, Jonathan and Molly eventually took the leap and opened Nail City Record in its initial Elm Grove location in 2017. When the opportunity arose to move into the third floor of the McLain Building on 12th Street in Downtown Wheeling later in 2018, they went for it, expanding the store to over 3,000 square feet. The new space features multiple browsing rooms, a dedicated listening area, and a performance space for live music.

As touring bands start hitting the road more frequently, Nail City Record aims to provide a welcoming environment to host them. Napier laments that prior to the COVID-19 shutdown they had musical acts from as far away as New York and Chicago scheduled to perform. “We’re really excited to pick that up again. We just announced a full slate of shows for April, and we’re working on May and into the summer months as well,” he says. He also expressed a desire to collaborate with the city on some outdoor music events in the future.

A venue isn’t the only exciting addition to Nail City Record since moving downtown. Many record stores have also grown into independent record labels, using their unique position to create, press, and market releases under one banner. NCR is following in the tradition of record-stores-turned-labels like Memphis garage rock stalwart Goner Records and others.

“We want our store to integrate forward and backwards into the music industry. So we want to do something similar, for example, to what Jack White (of Nashville’s Third Man Records, The White Stripes, etc.) does. We want to provide as much of the business as possible in-house,” says Napier.

The newly-formed label’s first vinyl release was initially inspired by a name. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard jumped off the order sheet pages to Jon and Molly, who became quick fans of the Australian psychedelic rock band. What makes King Gizzard especially enticing to a budding label is their Bootlegger series, which allows anyone the opportunity to download live audio recordings from concerts and release them any way they choose.

Nail City Record: A Brief History
Nail City Record has come a long way since opening in 2017. Here is a quick look at their history so far.

Nail City would collaborate with Pittsburgh-based Lunaris Records on a King Gizzard release, and eventually oversee their own in-house production of the triple live LP, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard Europe ‘19. Napier would oversee every aspect of the project, from curating the track list and commissioning artwork to handling the impressive layout and packaging. Multiple colors and versions were released and are available from the Nail City Record webstore. Napier says they hope to sign some regional bands to the label in the near future, which aligns with their goals of expanding their business into different aspects of the music industry.

Molly points out that Halloween 2022 will be Nail City Record’s five year anniversary. While they have plans to highlight this milestone throughout the year, it all begins on Saturday, April 23 with Record Store Day – an annual event to “celebrate the culture of the independently owned record store”. Record Store Day brings out collectors far and wide for a chance to grab an exclusive release only available at select indie record stores throughout the country, Nail City Record being among them.

As an event, Record Store Day embodies the spirit of old school record stores by nurturing community and increasing awareness about these truly unique spaces. “People drive from up to two or three hours away, so not just local, and on the day people will start lining up in front of the record store at five in the morning. We’re expecting that line to be even bigger this year,” says Molly. NCR has also recruited Midge’s Kitchen to have bagels and coffee available that day for patrons.

With events like Record Store Day bringing record stores and vinyl collecting to a whole new audience, it only further cements the importance of shops like Nail City Record within a music community.

“When I think of Wheeling and what we could be, I think of towns like Asheville. I think of towns like Boulder, Colorado. I think of trendy mountain towns with a great music scene, and I don’t think Wheeling is too far off from that vision,” says Napier. “I hope one day people will look on a map and they’re like, oh yeah, Wheeling – Music City.”

Tucker Riggleman is a writer and musician currently living in Wheeling. When he’s not working his day job as the Digital Media Coordinator for Youth Services System, you might find him trout fishing or performing with his rock band Tucker Riggleman & The Cheap Dates. He is also a certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist, a published poet, and an AmeriCorps alum.

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