There is a deceptively small store wedged between Food Way and City View Pizza on Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Its modest storefront does it little justice. Phenomenal Records is one of the best underground record stores in Philly.
The store has been in operation since June 2003 and carries a diverse collection of old school albums.
The store also doubles as a recording studio, which is tucked in a back room of the building. A visit to the shop reveals a noticeable niche in hip-hop, rap and R&B. But owner Jay Lanski emphasized that he can and will acquire any record that a customer comes looking for.
“We carry anything and everything,” Lanski said.
Used records start at $9, while the newer ones cost upwards of $12.99. Time in the recording studio goes for $30 an hour. But since the store has a deal with Universal, established artists occupy most of the studio time.
The store gets most of its business from Temple students.
“The kids see people walking in and out and just head over here at night and hang out,” Lanski said.
But Lanski chose to set up shop at Temple’s campus randomly. “It was a shot in the dark, but being here has definitely helped,” he said.
Despite the location, Lanski credits the local people, rather than Temple students, as being his most loyal customers. This is understandable, given the fact that Phenomenal Records seems to be a well-kept campus secret.
During the summer, when most of the student population returns home, it’s those who live in the neighborhood who go to the store. People from New Jersey and Delaware also frequent it.
What makes Phenomenal Records so phenomenal? Lanski recognizes that customer loyalty is what keeps him in business and respects that. If a customer comes in looking for a Pink Floyd album that the store doesn’t have in stock, he or she can make a $5 down payment and get it the next day.
“Best Buy won’t do that for you,” Lanski said.
Phenomenal Records builds its success on being customer-oriented. There is an easy rapport with old customers and friends who stop by just to hang out. “There really aren’t too many places like this around anymore,” he said.
Another huge component of the store’s success is Lanski’s business connections. Phenomenal Records has seen a lot of celebrities come through its doors, and it has a wall of fame to prove it. Bubba Sparxx, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Mario, Ludacris, G-Unit and plenty of others have been to the store when passing through Philly.
There are several walls devoted to pictures of Lanski with various artists, though he says most of the pictures haven’t even been hung up yet. Many of those same artists, including Method Man and State Property, also used the store’s recording studio.
What makes Phenomenal Records different from other stores is that its celebrity visits are just that: visits, much like you’d swing by an old friend’s house if you were in their neighborhood.
“You can stop into this place on any given day, and, I don’t know, State Property will just be sitting in here hanging out, ” Lanski said.
Though Lanski is not phased by his countless celebrity connections, many others are justifiably impressed. When Ludacris’ album Release Therapy first hit stores, the hip-hop artist came to Phenomenal Records for a signing session. The line of people waiting to see him went out the store and around the block onto Oxford Street.
Lanski remembers it as one of the craziest days in the store’s four-year existence. Another time, police shut down the entire block for a visit from G-Unit. Most people, including the police, were expecting 50 Cent to come. He didn’t, but Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo and Young Buck did. On the day of our interview, Lanski met up with Q-Tip at a club in Old City.
“We gotta wine and dine him,” Lanski said.
Future plans for Phenomenal Records include signing on to a major record deal. Their contract with Universal resulted in a well-received mix tape, which is what Lanski wants to build on. He hopes to work with some of the biggest artists, producers and promoters in the business.
Judging from the connections he’s already made and the success he’s had thus far, it’s not an impossible goal.
Mary Elizabeth Coyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.