Trolley Stop Record Shop brings vinyl records and live music to the Classen Ten Penn neighborhood 

click to enlarge Trolley Stop Record Shop owner John Dunning keeps thousands of vinyl records in stock at his new store location in the old Penn Theater. (Photo Ben Luschen)
  • Photo Ben Luschen
  • Trolley Stop Record Shop owner John Dunning keeps thousands of vinyl records in stock at his new store location in the old Penn Theater.

Modern record collecting often involves flipping through racks in nook corner shops, searching for hidden gems. These stores range in age and size, but it can be rare to find a local shop as large and open as Trolley Stop Record Shop.

The locally owned record store recently moved from its small former location near NW 16th Street and Classen Boulevard to the old Penn Theater in the burgeoning Classen Ten Penn neighborhood. Trolley Stop, 1212 N. Pennsylvania Ave., uses its spacious interior to host concerts and other events. But the space is otherwise completely dedicated to selling and housing owner John Dunning’s massive record inventory.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Dunning said, gesturing toward Trolley Stop’s many racks and boxes of vinyl records and CDs, which easily number in the thousands. “I’ve got like three warehouses full of records, plus we buy records almost every day. There’s hardly a day where we don’t buy records.”

Dunning needs a large collection to support his healthy flow of business. Next door to Trolley Stop is Current Studio, which currently houses Factory Obscura art collective’s wildly popular Shift immersive art installation. Shift has been a boon to many of the nearby businesses as it continually draws in new guests and tourists who otherwise might not have visited the Classen Ten Penn area.

Trolley Stop is certainly among the biggest beneficiaries of that boost, but the shop is building a name in its own right — partly due to the resurgent popularity of record collecting among younger audiences. Dunning said Trolley Stop has no target demographic.

“Probably 10-12 would be the low end, and 77 would be the high end,” he said. “And it’s every age in between.”

The shop is open for business every day of the week: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and usually around 1-6 p.m. Sundays. Nearly every genre of music imaginable can be found between its brick walls, but it puts an emphasis on vintage records.

Trolley Stop is also growing in popularity as a venue. Dunning built a large wood stage and green room against the shop’s east wall. The shop hosts an open mic most Saturdays and a jazz jam the third Sunday of each month. Trolley Stop has held concerts for acts like Clint Hardesty’s blues band The Cake Eaters and acclaimed Illinois folk musician Pokey LaFarge.

Dunning said the space can be booked for private events and has already hosted birthday parties and high school reunions. When Dunning moved into Penn Theater, he envisioned his shop as a neighborhood meeting place.

“Everything we’ve had here, people love it,” he said. “It’s just a fun place to have a party.”

Miner mentality

In addition to Trolley Stop, Dunning owned former antiques and Route 66-style collectibles shop Western Trail Trading Post, 9100 N. Western Ave. He has been in the antiques business since the 1970s.

Before he ever dreamed of owning his own record shop, Dunning got a call one day at Western Trail from someone who wanted him to come out and look at his large collection of books and to give him a quote.

Dunning drove out to see the books, which turned out to be mostly crummy. But while in the man’s house, he saw he had several shelves full of records. Dunning told him that Western Trail also buys records.

The man’s face lit up when he heard this. He led Dunning back behind the house and into a backhouse full of thousands of records. And the man owned several more sheds packed with vinyl in the same way. Dunning saw an opportunity to turn a large chunk of the man’s collection into his own.

“I spent 30 days from morning to dark every evening just mining it,” Dunning said.

With his newly acquired stock, he opened Trolley Stop in 2012 on Classen Boulevard. Dunning said they would host shows in the small storefront, but it soon became clear to him that he would need more space.

Trolley Stop moved into the old Penn Theater shortly after Dunning saw a sign posted about the space’s availability. The record shop has been open in its new location since July.

The space is currently flooded with colorful records, pieces of music memorabilia and a handsome hand-built stage. But when Dunning moved into the space, there was nothing but the brick walls and cement floor.

As soon as he stepped inside, though, Dunning knew what the future could hold.

“I could see everything just like it is now,” he said. “It was like boom, it was in my head.”

‘We’re the boss’

One winter day, several customers entering Trolley Stop were greeted by a sweet and quiet gray schnauzer who mingled among the patrons. When the dog grew tired of socializing, it returned to a large, plush pillow under a table of new arrivals. The schnauzer is not the only dog frequently seen at the record shop.

“I guess I have a knack for finding dogs, or they find me,” Dunning said. “We’ve always had dogs at the Trolley Stop. Some of them get kind of famous. They get their picture taken and it’s all over the internet. People like them.”

Dunning runs the shop each day with the help of only a couple other staffers. He is still in the process of moving out of the old Classen storefront. Once that is finished, he will be able to focus all his time on Trolley Stop and bolstering its event offerings.

The shop does not have any set goals or plans for what it will do with its stage in the future. Dunning is open to bringing in anything that sounds like a good idea. He does not want Trolley Stop to limit itself.

“There’s not a bunch we can’t do,” he said. “People say, ‘Well, can you do this?’ And I say, ‘Well heck, we’re the boss. We can do anything we want to do.’”

Print headline: Tables turned; Trolley Stop Record Shop brings vinyl records and live music to the Classen Ten Penn neighborhood

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