By Will Rubin / The Weekender
Olympia resident Todd Carlson has been a collector for as long as he can remember.
From collecting bottle caps on camping trips as a kid to scouring estate and garage sales for anything related to the hair metal bands of the 1980s, he’s made it his life’s mission to amass a stash of memorabilia that, to him, never goes out of style.
Carlson took a step towards making his hobby into his life’s work when he opened Rockstar Records in June. His outpost in the back of the Ayala Brothers building at 305 N. Tower Ave. in downtown Centralia is stacked with records ranging from a decade’s worth of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to Stan the Man’s Hit Record, featuring hitting instructions from baseball legend Stan Musial.
Customers can also purchase items such as CDs, DVDs and entertainment industry collectibles within the Rockstar Records storefront. Carlson also deals in sports and beer memorabilia such as jerseys and neon signs, but nothing gets his motor spinning like a vinyl record.
“The way music is right now, it’s all singles,” Carlson said. “You put a song on a playlist and it’s all you listen to. Over time, I’ve learned if I buy an album, there’s always going to be a song on there I didn’t know I’d like and I was happy I found that song. When you buy one song for 99 cents on iTunes, you don’t get that same experience.”
Music has always been a component of Carlson’s daily life. He can recall his father playing records by the Beach Boys and Kenny Rogers at home and using a portable cassette player when he rode in the backseat of the family car.
These days, his personal catalog consists mainly of classic rock from the 1960s through the 1980s. Bands like Def Leppard, The Scorpions and Van Halen get a lot of play when he drops in to check on his merchandise and restock the shelves.
As his collection grew and he started becoming more involved in hobbyist events and trade shows, Carlson started looking for a location to base his side hustle.
“I used to come down to Centralia to walk through the shops,” he said. “Centralia has a reputation of having great antique and collection stores, and there aren’t a lot of record stores down in the South Sound area around here, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”
For the time being, Carlson fits his music and memorabilia business around his day job working for Pierce County. His schedule consists of either three or four 12-hour shifts per week, giving him enough flexibility to pursue his other interests.
The long-term goal is for Rockstar Records to be successful enough to support Carlson and his family once he retires from Pierce County. The timeframe for that to happen depends largely on how quickly and sustainably he can grow his business.
More than the financial aspect of wheeling and dealing, Carlson says it’s the human side of the industry that gives him the most satisfaction. His oldest son has taken an interest in the business and recently helped him haul 32 boxes of records they bought out of someone’s basement into storage. Carlson’s younger children enjoy helping their dad sift through new boxes of merchandise, always in search of a diamond in the rough.
“You hear stories about the first album someone bought or how when they were moving and lost a collection of records that meant a lot to them,” Carlson said. “Then of course, finding those records where it’s a real gem for someone is always exciting. The experiences these people had with bands, that’s what makes it fun. It’s like triggering someone’s nostalgia.”