If you ask Google Maps to take you to Relove Records, you will end up at a soap refill store in downtown New West.
Much like a hidden speakeasy, the record store remains nestled at the back of The Refill Stop that houses a variety of products including essential oils, bath bombs and counter cleaners.
“Whenever people come in, we always say that we have the best-smelling record store,” said Ken Wylie, founder of Relove Records, with a laugh.
The record store occupies a small section of The Refill Stop along the back wall. Vinyls of Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye and Frank Sinatra sit drenched in the smell of orange cocoa, menthol, and mulberry at the store.
The collection of new and used records, curated by Wylie, is stored in wooden bins and shelves — also built by Wylie.
A carpenter by day, Wylie works full-time in construction; his evenings, weekends, and 40-minute commute to work are spent in buying records and managing the store’s vinyl collection, he said.
How records came to be in a re-fillery
Though a serious business now, the record store began as an afterthought.
When Wylie built The Refill Stop store — owned by his wife, Jessica Brown — the original plan was to include a bulk food section at the back. No space was allocated for records.
But at the time, since they still hadn’t figured out the logistics of buying, storing and selling bulk food, Wylie suggested they place some records in the available space instead and see how it went.
Wylie had experience buying and selling records online and at flea markets, and decided to feature a few vinyls from the huge collection he had stacked up at his home.
The idea was a hit, as per Wylie. So much so that the space allocated to the records has doubled in size since it first opened in November 2019.
But it's no dream-come-true moment for Wylie. “I never had a plan to get into records, it sort of just happened.”
In fact, he was "dead against" buying records even just a few years before he started a store that sold them.
So, what changed?
Love for records
Wylie had started collecting records when he was just a teenager. “I didn't have a lot of money then. A lot of times, I just bought seven-inch singles and stuff like 45s (record inserts). When I was a kid, you could buy one for like $2.”
The first record he ever bought was that by the rock band The Police.
He recollects hanging around the records section of the department store that his mom worked at, and of a certain Christmas season when he “begged" his parents to get him the Lord of the Rings music album.
“And gradually, I started to make enough money when I was younger by taking up summer jobs, and could actually buy full albums,” he said.
Wylie then got a job as a head buyer at Virgin Megastore; but this time, his job involved buying CDs. By the time he left the company, he said, records were coming back in style again.
But Wylie's personal collection of CDs and records had grown so much that he promised himself he wouldn’t buy any more. And he did keep the promise for a while — browsing through the record stores on King and Queen Streets in Toronto where he lived then, and going home empty handed.
It all changed when he got back to the west coast in 2012. A friend “forced” him to get a record player — “and then it just kind of snowballed from there.”
“So, sooner or later, I had a lot of stuff (records).”
Wylie had fallen in love with records for the second time — but this time he decided to make a business out of it.
He scoured the internet (vinyl auctions, Discogs marketplace, etc.) to find rare and unique titles, traded with other record collectors, and spent hours hunting down specific records for people.
“I found a record for a guy who was looking for something that he couldn't find anywhere. But I found it in Italy last week. He was super happy...really excited about it.”
It was a record of the '60s band The Little Boys Blues. “You can't find it (their record) anywhere. It's really difficult,” said Wylie.
At the store, his collection includes “harder to find” Britpop from the 90s, Japanese albums that are out of print, African and Brazilian music, and more.
While Wylie wants to fill his store with records that people don't find in other record stores, he admits that it's not an easy task.
“There’s not a lot of stuff on the market, especially in Canada."
"And ever since the pandemic, people have begun to see the value in it — both the monetary value and just the appreciation of the music value. So more people are starting to get interested, and the market is getting tighter,” he added.
Since the time Wylie began selling records, a few other record stores that were in the area like Redrum Records have shut their doors, he noted.
But as far as the business at Relove Records goes, Wylie said, “We get lots of local people coming in."
Many come in without knowing that the soap store also sells records, he said. And then there are those who come in without knowing that the record store also sells soaps, he added.
But what neither groups might know is that this might be the only music store where when you buy a funky record, you build store credit to buy some perfumed soap.
Relove Records and The Refill Stop are "storemates" and share the same location: 865 Carnarvon St.