In 1976, John Harton started out with a few vinyl records and cassettes, a small room on Church Street in West Chester, and a dream: to open a record shop in his college town. “For fun.”
Harton opened The Mad Platter originally with a college friend in 1976, but a year later moved the store to a larger room on Gay Street and reopened for business with a different friend: Debbie Rich. Since then, the two have worked together at The Mad Platter for the last 36 years.
“This is a lot bigger than the first store,” said Rich. The place on Church Street was small - good for a starter, but once the records started piling up there wasn’t enough room for everything Harton wanted to be able to offer his customers.
Rich said that in the mid-1980s, the two added CDs to their collection of records, cassettes, and posters. “We’re back to a lot of vinyl now though,” she said, explaining that records have “made a comeback.”
The store, which is known by locals for its large collection of collectable records and cassettes from the 1970’s and 1980’s, also carries CD’s as well as records of more recent bands such as Iron and Wine and Mumford and Sons.
That’s not to say you won’t find the walls adorned with posters of The Beatles, Woodstock, and Led Zeppelin as well though.
“We have a huge variety of customers,” said Rich after chatting with an excited woman who had just purchased a stack of CD’s she found in the back of the store. The woman hadn’t had a chance to buy any new music in a while, and told Rich she couldn’t wait to spend the next few days listening to her new finds.
“Mostly, we have a lot of rock and indie rock music,” said Rich. “But we try to have a little of everything, so that anybody can find something they like in our store.”
This hodgepodge of musical options that Rick talks about is self-evident from before you even step foot inside The Mad Platter. Outside, a sign advertises vinyl record releases from newer bands, like The Postal Service along with older finds like The White Album.
Inside, the store is divided: with newer music resting up front, and music from the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s closer to the back and along the walls throughout the store.
Records line the walls, along with t-shirts, posters and other band paraphernalia. CD’s are stacked in boxes, 5 for 10$ - both used and unopened. There are boxes stacked with unorganized records for just a couple dollars each, and DVD’s on a shelf by the register for movie buffs.
The Mad Platter has not been entirely without its bumps in the road, though. Rich admitted that the store experienced a slight problem in the mid-2000s with so many people able to download music either for free, or using sites like iTunes. “We lost a lot of customers then,” she said.
“We made a comeback though, and people are coming back to buying CD’s and vinyls,” she said, gesturing to the customers wandering in and out of the store while we talked.
The reason for this comeback? Rich believes that you don’t get to really experience a band or musician without the full CD or record. It’s an experience, she explained. “A lot of times there’s a story or a theme to an album. Online, people only buy one or two songs and they don’t get that.”
In a half hour period, ten or so men and women found themselves in The Mad Platter, wandering around the store and exploring the vast array of music available. The store is never full, but it is never empty either, always playing host to a middle-aged father, somebody’s grandmother, or a curious student from the university.
If you find yourself in The Mad Platter with no idea where to start, Rich is available for a recommendation on everything and anything in the store.
“I like working with the public, but I think my favorite part is making recommendations,” she said. “I like to ask people what they listen to, and give them some suggestions going off of that.”
And if you don’t trust her opinion, Rich said she and Harton almost always have a record playing throughout the store that often piques somebody’s interest. “A lot of people will like what we have playing, and we’ll be able to sell them that,” said Rich.
Next to Rich’s place at the register is a new addition as well: the option to listen to a CD before you buy it, so that maybe you can make a decision based on that if you’re not sure where else to start.
In a store so varied, one thing is clear: whatever you decide to do, The Mad Platter has something for everyone.
Whether you’re a die-hard Bruce Springsteen fan, love anything that may have been played at Woodstock, or spend your days listening to whatever you hear on WMMR during your morning commute, chances are that Harton and Rich have your next favorite band’s record sitting on a shelf waiting for you.
“We’ve really changed with the times,” said Rich, explaining that even though there’s plenty of music from the last 30 years - like Queen and Pink Floyd, she and Harton try to keep up with what’s playing on the radio too.
“It’s not just older people looking for records that come in here,” she said. “We have a lot of college students here, too. We really have a big variety of customers come in here every day.”
And don’t worry if you find yourself unable to pick your favorite record out of the stack one day. Harton and Rich try to update their collection as often as possible, always getting new CDs and records in for customers to dig through. If you don’t find what you want on Monday, chances are they’ll have
it by next week - or at least something similar.
The Mad Platter has found a niche in West Chester, a town with an ever-changing customer base as students filter in and out each year. With some loyal customers who come back again and again, Rich said she and Harton also see plenty of new faces every day.
Sitting on Gay Street just across from Kildare’s Irish Pub, The Mad Platter has found the perfect home, and doesn’t plan to move any time soon.