County Sales comes back to life!

When County Sales announced their dissolution late last year, a collective sigh went up within the bluegrass and old time music community. The venerable mail order business based in Floyd, VA had supplied first LPs, then tapes, and finally compact disc recordings to fans all over the world who enjoyed traditional American string music.

 In 1965 when County Sales first launched, such items were nearly impossible to find in a majority of the United States and Canada. But through the detailed newsletter that founder Dave Freeman sent out each month, bluegrass lovers could learn about new releases, and have them shipped right to their door in a matter of days. Younger consumers won’t find that particularly noteworthy in today’s Amazon and download-centered music market, but in the ’60s and ’70s, County Sales was a lifeline that kept us all in touch with the music.

The company thrived through the ’80s and ’90s as well, even after the Freeman family moved from Floyd  to Roanoke and then Charlottesville. As he moved into retirement, and a number of his long time employees in Floyd either passed away or moved on, Dave looked into selling the business and dedicating his time to grandchildren and the other hobbies he had hoped to focus on during his golden years. But with the various pressures on the retail music business, he was unable to find a suitable buyer, and County Sales was closed in January of 2018.

The basement office and warehouse near the corner of Routes 8 and 221 in the center of Floyd – at the lone stoplight, in fact – sat vacant, even as the town continues to grow. But today comes news that County Sales is back, with a new owner, and a renewed energy to move forward in a changed, contemporary environment.

Heather and Dylan Locke

Dylan and Heather Locke are well known in Floyd, and in the wider music community of southwestern Virginia. They have been involved in numerous projects involving the arts, and folk arts preservation, and are part of an entrepreneurial generation that are remaking the town of Floyd. Dylan has been an active musician in the region, and spent several years as the artistic director of The Jefferson Center in Roanoke, as well as running his own entertainment and booking agency. More recently, he served as manager for the old time and folk duo, Anna & Elizabeth, as was involved in the production of their radio show, The Floyd Radio Show.

A few years ago Heather took over management of the Floyd Country Store when the couple purchased it from its previous owners, and it has long been a central meeting place for the community. It is a true country store, stocking all sorts of items of use for rural living, plus a wide selection of foodstuffs, and pieces of interest to the newfound tourist trade that frequents Floyd while traveling along Virginia’s Crooked Road.

The Store also hosts the Handmade Music School with all manner of lessons and classes in traditional mountain music and dance, plus workshops and children’s educational efforts. They are aligned with the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program and hold weekly classes for students in the 4th through 8th grade interested in learning bluegrass and old time music. It is also the site of the famous Friday Night Jamboree and Saturday Night Jam, legendary in the region, where pickers from many miles around gravitate to Floyd to enjoy great music, and pick and sing with friends.

The Lockes will now also assume ownership and management of County Sales, which they will move a few doors from its previous location to a building attached to the Country Store within the next few months. There they will not only continue to ship CDs to fans worldwide, but also establish a retail storefront where both locals and visitors can browse the many offerings on hand.

Dylan told us last week that he and Dave Freeman had been in discussions about them purchasing the business last year, but with all the variables to be considered, weren’t able to consummate a deal by the time that Dave wanted to be out. 

But Locke feels certain that the sort of personal attention and deep knowledge of the genre that Freeman had provided is still valuable in today’s music market.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for County Sales, and I didn’t want to see it end. It’s not time for it to go yet. 

You’ve got an older generation who still depend on a service like this, and a younger generation that is just falling in love with the music. I believe we can combine what they both need, and provide something to our Floyd community and the wider music audience for bluegrass and old time.”

A new web site is up and running now, still at the familiar address. The URL may be the same, but the site has been completely revamped with a fresh look and modern functionality. As much as possible, former user accounts have been preserved so existing users should be able to log in with the same name and password they had used in the past.

Dylan is also keeping Dave’s familiar newsletter in email form, with new product reviews from noted experts like Gary Reid and Art Menius, plus others with established credibility in old time and bluegrass circles. Those already subscribed will be getting it soon, and others interested in receiving it can sign up online.

He is also adding a new feature, The County Sales Radio Hour, a periodic podcast hosted by Kinney Rorer which will showcase music from new releases, all available from County Sales, of course. Listeners can access the podcasts from the County Sales web site, or subscribe via the many podcast apps available for iOS and Android devices. It is structured like a radio program, and will be a welcome return for those who enjoyed Kinney’s Back To The Blue Ridge show which aired for many years on WVTF in Virginia.

Like Dave Freeman before him, Dylan approaches the music business from the standpoint of the artists and musicians who make it possible. He sees the movement of online distribution to streaming as a devastating move for creators.

“The streaming industry is a terrible thing for artists. For the consumers it’s very convenient, but artists receive only a fraction of the compensation that they would get from CD or download sales. I feel that it is important to keep this avenue of revenue open for people who want to sell their music, and for consumers who wish to support them.”

He said that all the labels he has spoken with have also been very supportive, and he feels like he can maintain the same pricing structure that was in place before County Sales closed down. CDs will sell for $13.50, and they will continue the buy six, get one free program that the company had honored for years.

At this point, they are only selling CDs, but are looking into adding vinyl at some point in the future.

So welcome back, County Sales, and hats off to Dylan and Heather for keeping the tradition alive.

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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.