The Music Man
Music aficionado has been bringing tunes to The Dalles since 1989
By Rodger Nichols
Record store owner Mark Thomas may not be the biggest Beatles fan in the world, but he could be in the top 10.
The first record he owned was “Meet the Beatles,” gifted to him on his 10th birthday, just three weeks after The Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
He still has the record, as well as countless pieces of Beatles-related media.
Mark has collected albums issued in different countries just to get the different covers issued. One thing he doesn’t have yet is one of the group’s records originally issued in a 78 RPM format to be sold in India. He and another collector have been chasing a copy for years.
“If you can find one, it will set you back $3,500 or more,” he says.
Although Mark has been a Beatles fan for nearly 60 years, he hasn’t always been a record store owner. After high school, he worked at an aluminum plant. When it shut down, he went to a trade school to learn to be an upholsterer, but the only upholstery he was interested in working on was automotive. There wasn’t enough demand to make a business.
In a way, he says, his family prepared him for a life in the music business.
“I had two older sisters that were both into music, and there were three record stores in The Dalles at that time,” Mark says. “One of my sisters would go to one of them at least every Saturday. She always bought 45s, and they kind of intrigued me. From that point on, when I’d walk into a record store, I felt right at home.”
Mark opened his first store in 1989, selling new and used records. It was only natural that he named it Yesterday & Today, after the 1966 Beatles album featuring “Yesterday,” “Daytripper” and “We Can Work it Out.”
Things have changed a lot in the music business since then. Mark has sold 8-tracks, cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, 45s, albums, and CDs.
For a while, it looked like CDs were going to displace records. In recent years, however, vinyl has gained a certain cachet from people who prefer analog to digital.
Though you won’t find any 8-tracks in the store these days, Mark still stocks cassettes, 45s, albums, and CDs.
Much of his stock comes from people cleaning out their collections.
“Those are happy days when I look up and see somebody bringing a crate full of albums to sell,” Mark says. “I’ve been really lucky the last three months. I have stumbled onto some incredible collections.”
He doesn’t buy everything people bring in. When he does, he pays a fair price.
“I had a woman bringing some Blue Note jazz albums one day,” Mark says. “These were original pressings from the early 1950s to the early 1960s. She had shopped them around Portland, and the best offer she got was $20 for the pile. I think I ended up giving her about $400 and I still made money on it. She was happy, and I made some decent money.”
These days, Mark primarily buys music in rock, jazz or blues genres. He also carries some country, but local demand for music genres is a shifting field.
“I had a really nice section of collectible classical LPs,” he says. “In the early 1990s, I was getting $30 or $40 a piece for them. Then they stopped moving, even when I dropped them to $3. Finally, a lady came in one day and asked if we had any classical albums. I said, ‘You win. I have 175 sitting there.’ She asked how much, and I told her, ‘If you’ll help me carry them out, you can have them.’ There was just no point in keeping them anymore.”
Though the original focus of the store was audio, Mark later added video.
“A friend of mine came in one day and asked if I bought videos,” he says. “I told her no, but she said she needed money for Christmas. She had a number of Disney VHS tapes. I gave it a try, and they did really well until DVDs started hitting the market.”
Mark now stocks hundreds of movie and TV series DVDs and Blu-Ray discs.
He also helps buyers find rarer recordings. He has a network of dealers and collectors he consults with, and is happy to order anything from catalogs.
The store is at 414 East Second St.— Mark’s sixth and, he says, hopefully final— location in The Dalles. He has been there since Labor Day 2014, when he moved from across the street.
“Eleven of my buddies showed up at 6 a.m.,” he says. “By noon, we were done and eating pizza. I offered them a chance to pick a free album or CD, but they all declined. Great friends.”
Mark has many longtime customers.
“I have people who are now 45, 50 years old, who started coming in my shop when they were kids,” he says. “A really good friend of mine started coming in with his brother before they had driver’s licenses. Their parents had to bring them from Hood River. I still talk to him two or three times a week.”
Mark says store closures during the pandemic taught him something.
“I just can’t be one of these guys that retires and has nothing to do,” he says. “I’m gonna keep this going as long as I can, as long as my health holds out. The shop has been good to me. I’ve been to England twice because of my shop, and I’m going to Japan as soon as they lift the visitor restrictions. In fact, I met my wife, Vicki, through the shop. We’ve been married 31 years now. A lot of cool things have happened to me because of this place.”