Vinyl Cup and Marv’s are two of the most well-known vinyl stores in the Des Moines area, but few know that these popular stores started off in a basement. Luke Dickens’ passion for music grew from a side hustle in his basement to now opening stores across the Midwest.
Dickens’ passion began when he was just 8 years old when he bought his first vinyl and turntable. “Kim Carnes and Oliva Newton-John. My mom thought I was nuts. It was terrible music, but it was vinyl that amazed me.” From then on, his collection grew and grew.
His journey into opening his first store all started with a Facebook Group, Vinyl Cup. The group started with 40 members in September of 2017 and was centered around sharing what they were listening to and what they were drinking on Saturdays. This was something Dickens loved to take part in. It created an online community for him and his music. Dickens became sober after leaving the army so having something he had to look forward to every week was very meaningful to him.
Making Something Bigger
Meanwhile outside the group, Dickens was in between jobs and his wife wanted his vinyl collection out of the house. So, his solution for the two? Facebook Marketplace. He began posting vinyl to the marketplace and the group, posting pictures of vinyl lined up on his staircase for $20 a piece. After a few weeks, Dickens was selling vinyl like hotcakes. People would come to pick them up at his house, on the back porch. “And they’d be like, oh, since I’m here, can I see what else you have? It got crazy. We would have ten people in the basement sometimes,” Dickens said. He realized this could be more of a business and began buying collections. In a matter of months, the Facebook group went from 40 members to 2,000 members and 20,000 records.
On August 18, 2018, this Facebook marketplace venture became a real brick-and-mortar store. Dickens finally opened his first store, Vinyl Cup. “We want people to feel like you’re in a home still, so we offer them a beverage, just like you would in a house. We say hello, we greet them, we made it very user-friendly,” Dickens said about how the store was set up. He wanted to take inspiration from what started it all. Dickens had been in the army, then a manager at Starbucks opening a Noodles and Company but nothing stuck. The new store owner had finally found a job that made him feel at home and one with who he was.
He thanks music for keeping him tied down during the good times and bad before Vinyl Cup. Dicken’s godfather paved his way to music. His godfather became his father figure after not knowing who his birth father was. He was one of the few stable role models Dickens had in his life. “When I got sober in 2008, he said, I’m glad you’re finally doing this, man. I’ve been sober for 20 years. I’m like, ‘What?’ No idea. He never told me. So, we had a lot more in common than I thought,” Dickens said. His Godfather took him to his first John Prine concert, Dicken’s biggest musical influence, in 1992. “I think I’m less of a John Prine fan and more of a product of his music,” said Dickens.
Getting Exclusive Music
One of the things Dickens is most proud of from Vinyl Cup is his connections and his ability to get exclusive vinyl. This especially speaks to the company’s relationship with Oh, Boy Records. Oh, Boy Records was started by Dicken’s hero, John Prine. The Prine Family now owns and works for the record company. “If you had told me five years ago that someday I was going to be friends with John Prine’s family and partner with his record label, I’d call you crazy,” Dickens said.
Dickens now owns and manages three vinyl records stores, two Vinyl Cup stores including one in Omaha, NE, and Marv’s Records in East Village. He continues to have vinyl booths at Hinterland and keeps the Facebook group running. Dickens is soon to announce a store in Nashville after having just drawn up the papers.
You can feel the passion that Dickens has for music when you walk into the store. From the way, the music is organized to the care that goes into the store. The vinyl is constantly rotating with what was just added compared to what’s on its way out. Nothing is sorted by genres like most vinyl stores because as Dickens said, “What even counts as Jazz?”
The owner has tailored the business to what he wants to see in a vinyl store. Dickens and his wife try to visit at least one vinyl store in every city they visit. He said that after a while he had a whole list of dos and don’ts for his own business. Customers are greeted and then offered a drink as soon as they walk in. Dickens has created a listening room equipped with comfy sitting places and music memorabilia including a framed photograph of when his Godfather met John Prine. He says that his store is everything he was always looking for in a vinyl store Vinyl Cup has become Dickens a pipedream out of his own passion.