Raoul Benavides wants to sell you on the idea of community as much as he’d like to sell you some records.
The 44-year-old owner of Flashlight Vinyl in northeast Minneapolis opened the store a year ago in search of a self-described “lifestyle change. I kind of wanted to slow my life down, and give it more structure.”
He brought a welcome source of new and used LPs to a neighborhood that was in desperate need of an independent record store. But Benavides is also providing a communal gathering place to bond and forge connections over a shared love of music.
“The whole vinyl upsurge thing is expensive,” Benavides admits. “It’s so expensive that you might lose the fun if you don’t literally make an effort to try and make it accessible to people.”
To foster that accessibility, Flashlight is stocked with over 5,000 records priced at $3.
“I have kids come into the store that want to buy a new record, and I’m like, ‘You can buy it, but why not buy 10 $3 records that you don’t know anything about, just based off the cover. You’ll have more fun,’” Benavides says. “Record collecting doesn’t have to be this fancy, bougie thing meant for other people. I want it to be for everybody. Music is the connector. You can be from all different walks of life, and everybody knows the first couple licks of a Johnny Cash song. It’s a thing that connects people.”
The two-story shop has a sleek, intimate look that’s more art gallery than dusty store of yore. “I wanted it to be a gallery to showcase things that I consider personally important, but also a gallery of accessibility.”
Benavides filled the racks with his own collection of over 4,000 records, as well as hundreds of thousands of albums culled from big collections he purchased throughout the United States.
While Flashlight is still carving out a distinctive niche in Nordeast, Benavides has other ideas. “I would love to do a rock ’n’ roll farmers market, where people would sell used guitars and jelly and pastries,” he says. “I’d love to do something like that in my parking lot. I haven’t got it figured out when, or how, but it’s something that excites me. I want to use the record store as a platform to invite other people to share what they do.
“I care about not making vinyl exclusive for only the people who can afford it. That’s what worries me about the future of records and record stores. If you price out the fun, you lose the whole thing.”