Vinyl and plastic
Bloomingdale record and toy store sells nostalgia, connection
BLOOMINGDALE — A new store opened up in Bloomingdale earlier this month, and it’s become a haven for music lovers, people looking to get in touch with their inner child and collectors around the area.
The proprietor, Tim Branfalt — he goes by “Timmy B” — is an energetic music lover, conversationalist and “curator” of the vinyl and toy museum, Black Dog Records, that he established on state Route 3.
On any given day, Branfalt can be found pacing around his store, flipping through the 4,000-or-so records, eyeing the Masters of the Universe toy collection in a glass case and reveling in the nostalgic space he’s created.
The eponymous black dog of Black Dog Records is a boxador named Griffey Richard, after Seattle Mariners player Ken Griffey Jr., though he’s sometimes introduced as Griffey Richard, Esquire.
“He’s my legal counsel,” Branfalt said.
Branfalt himself is punk anarchist who sang, or screamed, vocals in the punk band Nixon’s Spirit for a decade in Albany. On his arms and legs are tattoos of the bands he’s influenced by.
Branfalt started collecting albums at 16 years old, growing up in Herkimer. He’s 37 now and has considered opening a collectibles shop for several years.
“When the pandemic hit, I just got bored,” he said.
He already had a large stock of vinyl, collector’s toys and ephemera. In March, he began amassing an even larger collection. Friends and family went around picking for him — his mom in Maine, his sister in Connecticut. He joined Mike Jensen, who owns LakeShore Candy and Licks in Plattsburgh, on vinyl picking outings.
He’s also opened his own collection to other people. He’s owned some of the records and toys there for years.
One wall holds his WWE collection.
“I’m a mark, man,” Branfalt said. “I’m a pro wrestling mark.”
It’s all for sale. Everything. But some of it hurts to part with.
What is ephemera? Basically, anything that was not intended to stick around, but because of sentimental value, nostalgia and rarity, becomes valuable. This includes wrestling magazines, My Little Pony stickers from the 1990s or Star Wars Pez dispensers.
Inside a glass case at Black Dog Records there is the booklet for the “worst video game ever made” — “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” for Atari. The game sold so poorly that Atari buried hundreds of thousands of the cartridges in a landfill in the deserts of New Mexico.
One of the first questions people have for Branfalt is, “Why open a record store in Bloomingdale?”
The hamlet does not have a convenience store or a gas station, but he opened a shop for rare collectibles and a retro music format.
“Why not?” he says. “Find me another one.”
He asks, where else around here can you find Elton John and DMX vinyl, first generation Transformers and old editions of Nintendo Power?
He acknowledges it’s a little crazy, but his goals are a bit crazy, too. His wife — Olga Voronel, a physician at Adirondack Medical Center — tells him, on his list of priorities, money comes third.
“The cost-benefit analysis, for me, included my happiness,” Branfalt said. “I sold Pogs the other day! That made it all worth it.”
Since Black Dog Records opened on Aug. 1, the store has had a steady stream of pickers, hunters, browsers and collectors come through it. In one hour on Wednesday afternoon, there were seasoned vinyl collectors, high school graduates and neighbors popping in.
Branfalt said he set his expectations low when he opened Black Dog; he’s not trying to build a business empire.
“It’s far exceeded my expectations, whatever those weren’t,” he said.
He mostly listens to punk, blues, stoner metal and hip hop, but he carries all sorts of genres in the shop — Misfits, Arlo Guthrie, the Rolling Stones, Run DMC and Olivia Rodrigo.
He seeks out rare, popular and unconventional records.
Each record is cleaned with his “proprietary blend” of cleaning agent. He researches them so he knows what’s on the album and grades the disk’s quality.
Branfalt initially looked at opening in Saranac Lake. That didn’t work out. Branfalt was disappointed, until one day, he noticed an empty house eight doors down from where he lives in Bloomingdale. He said he “fell in love” with it. It’s an 100-year-old farmhouse.
“As a collector of old things, a 100-year-old building fits right in,” he said.
St. Armand town Supervisor Davina Winemiller was very supportive, he said.
The location on the main road through town suits him well. People slam on their brakes to stop in and flip through the records. He just asks that people park in the back, off the main road.
Branfalt likes physical things. Things he can hold.
“Digital is dead,” he declared. “Music is vibrations. Records have grooves for those vibrations.”
He said he’s even sold 50 cassette tapes in his first month being open.
Vinyl outsold CDs in 2020 for the first time in decades, and though streaming is now the most common mode of listening to music, full-album sales of vinyl now outpace full-album digital purchases.
Branfalt said some of his best customers are recent high-school graduates, coming in to buy modern albums and pick through the decades of music recorded before they were born.
The shop’s hours are limited by Branfalt’s job as a professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, where he teaches media studies. The store is open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from noon to 6 p.m. But he’s also “on-call.”
When no one is shopping, Branfalt might put a Nirvana or Buffalo Springfield record on, sit out on the porch with Griffey or just enjoy looking at his wares, a collection of all things he grew up with.
Nostalgia is a strong emotion, and he tries to elicit that in his shop. Looking around, shoppers are bound to see a toy, album or piece of equipment that they’ve forgotten about, buried in the recesses of their memory years ago. Seeing it again, “brings them back.”
Branfalt said he loves hearing feedback.
“To me, that’s worth more than money,” he said.
When the coronavirus pandemic is over, there are two societal changes Branfalt wants to see; one he’s certain will happen, and another he hopes will happen.
He knows people will want to shop local and stop giving large corporations all their money. He hopes they’ll be looking for more physical connection, and he knows he can offer that at Black Dog Records.