County Sales announces imminent closure

County Sales, the venerable mail order retail music outlet located in Floyd, VA, has announced that they will be closing for good on April 30.

Since 1965, County Sales has offered recorded bluegrass and old time music, starting primarily on vinyl LPs, and then on cassette tapes, eight tracks, and CDs, after being launched by the late Dave Freeman while he still lived in New York. Freeman, of course, went on to own both the County and Rebel Records labels, and operated County Sales in New York until he moved his family to Floyd in 1973. There the business remained until Dave retired in 2017, and failing to find a buyer, it went out of business.

But a scant few months later County Sales sprung back to life, purchased by Floyd entrepreneurs and owners of the Floyd Country Store, Dylan and Heather Locke. Their intentions was not only to retain the mail order business, but expand into retail sales as well from the building next to the Country Store.

This morning it is announced that after 50 years of operation, County Sales will be shutting down. The Board that oversees the business and the Music School there in Floyd voted that continuing as a brick and mortar retailer was no longer viable. From now until their final day at the end of April, all inventory is being offered at a 30% discount, both online and in person.

It truly is the end of an era, another marker of the changes in the way music is consumed and curated by listeners. I am among the many who recall the thrill of seeing the postman approach with an LP-sized box in his bag, back in the mid-1970s, knowing that some new records, which were unavailable from area retailers and unheard on local radio, were about to be in my hands. Younger bluegrass lovers won’t recall how much of an island of opportunity County Sales provided, especially for anyone who lived in bluegrass isolation.

But times and habits change, as Locke told us this morning when we spoke about this sad news.

“The main thing for me is that we had wanted to preserve Dave Freeman and his son, Mark’s, legacy. I’m just sorry I couldn’t honor it in an ongoing way, but can do so through the Country Store.

People still consume music, of course, but in a different way. I don’t see it as being a death of anything. It’s just an evolution. We have 95 students and 20 teachers today at our Handmade Music School, which took over ownership of County Sales in 2018. Every week 55 kids between 7-18 show up for lessons. Plus we have live music multiple days each week at the Country Store.

With all the ways we’re thriving, people’s connection to the music is changing.

We had hoped to find a business model that could make selling recorded bluegrass and old time music profitable, but that part of the model has collapsed.”

Locke also mentioned that he had a dream team in Jesse Smathers and Corbin Hayslett running County Sales, and that both of them will be absorbed into other roles at the school and/or the Country Store.

“We are in a day when Dave’s legacy lives on, but in different ways. This is sad in a way, but it doesn’t outweigh the optimism I feel about the music. His legacy should be celebrated, especially the way Dave invited all the labels to sell their records through his company in the ’60s, plus his honesty in all his dealings.

People are hungry for real music, that’s thriving. We don’t see anything slowing down, but the model of County Sales no longer works. Our mission is still to connect people through music, and that remains strong within our community, and our local traditions.”

On the optimistic side, Dylan also mentioned that the big Friday Night Jamboree at the Country Store is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Every Friday night, save in the intrusion of blizzard, hurricane or pandemic, people have gotten together there to jam and socialize.

“Some of those people have been coming all four decades. That’s what I want to think about on a day like today.”

He also mentioned the Floyd Country Store TV venture, which uses the same technology that has crushed the recorded music market to share live concerts with people all over the world by subscription. And the Handmade Music School is looking into offering more digital music teaching content for students far from southwestern Virginia.

So as we bid a tearful farewell to an institution in our musical community, let’s share Dylan’s hopefulness and positivity about the future for old time and bluegrass music.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.