On a brisk fall afternoon in late November, a sign outside the sprawling new home of Peaches Records at 4318 Magazine St. advertised an upcoming “Metallica Listening Party.” I stepped inside to learn more, explaining to a salesperson that I couldn’t make the party but had experienced a little thrill over the brief daydream of checking out “Hardwired … To Self Destruct” with like-minded music fans in my not-so-rock’n’roll neighborhood.
The woman behind the counter promptly grabbed a copy of the new release off a shelf, turned off the music on the store sound system and played the entire double album for me.
As it played, I browsed for Christmas gifts, picking up Todd Mouton’s book, “Way Down in Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop Music;” stickers bearing artist renderings of Freddie Mercury and Nicki Minaj; a “Fresh Prince” Christmas card; and a Prince candle. I made a mental note to come back for some new jazz releases I hadn’t seen on vinyl and a vintage Allen Toussaint record I didn’t own. The store’s owner, Shirani Rae, invited me back for a performance by the Urban Cellist later that afternoon. A local designer shared some swag from his pop-up booth at the front of the store. And though I decided against the Metallica album, an employee suggested my friends and I visit them on Black Friday for their special edition pressings sale and free beer. Not bad for a one-stop shop a few blocks from home, I thought at the time.
A few weeks later, Rae’s son, Lee, who helps run the store with his mom and sister Lillie, explained that the friendly neighborhood vibe and unexpected selection of goodies I noticed that day have been fundamental to Peaches’ business approach since they first opened in Carrollton in 1975.
“There were eight Peaches in New Orleans at one time back in the late ’70s early ’80s, so we kind of cut our teeth in neighborhood locations,” Lee says. “And we’re all music geeks — we always have been.”
The company moved to Magazine Street near Ms. Mae’s this year, opening first in one of two large, side-by-side antique stores that previously sat on the block before taking over both to amass some 15,000 square feet of retail space. Prior to that, Peaches had been in the old Tower Records location since 2008, although many New Orleanians most strongly associate the brand name with its hip-hop-centric Gentilly store, which operated for more than 30 years. The original Peaches was located near Cooter Brown’s.
Lee explains that the family devoted a lot of time to designing the setup of the new store, which currently houses gifty items like sunglasses, cards, candles, toys, T-shirts, and accessories up front. Over by the still-intact Woolworth’s lunch counter Peaches hopes to one day reopen sits a diverse collection of music and regional, culture-themed books. There’s also a smattering of record players, melodicas, and other music-making devices. Aisles and aisles of vinyl albums and CDs occupy most of the rest of the store.
“The goal here was from day one how to turn this into an emotional experience [for visitors],” Lee says. “We get emotional in here but that’s because we live in here, you know?”
His sister, Lillie, later recalled having more or less grown up in previous store locations, having spent her afternoons there most days after school. Today, the Raes seem pleased to see other young people making generational connections out of the music they sell.
“There was a young girl who just bought a Prince album, and she was saying it was the same album her mom played in the morning with breakfast when she was getting ready,” Lee says of a recent customer. “She’s going to go put that album on and go back in time. So she had an emotional experience, and that’s what we’re trying to get together here.”
The family also prides themselves on offering a unique selection, from the music to the gifts to the special events they’ve been hosting with increasing regularity. In addition to a wide genre range of new and vintage albums and CDs, Peaches is currently building out a section of rare and out-of-print collectibles that can be viewed by appointment or on their website.
Upcoming Events at Peaches Records
As of Dec. 21, plans were underway for a book signing and music trivia game with “World’s Hardest Music Trivia” author John Grantham (Jan. 7); a vinyl release party for Honey Island Swamp Band (Jan. 14) and an in-store performance by Ben Hunter (Jan. 28).
At least one “only in New Orleans”-style event was in the works, too.
“You know you bring the kids over to Macy’s to meet Santa Claus at Christmastime?” says Lee, with a smile. “Well, that wouldn’t be us. On the eve of Christmas Eve [Dec. 23], we want you to come in and meet a famous New Orleans artist and take your picture with him. So Mannie Fresh is going to be the first guy championing this for us, and some people are definitely going to end up doing their Christmas cards that way.”
The Mannie Fresh Christmas party will also feature a tarot card reader and free beer.
“Mannie wants everyone to wear ugly sweaters,” Lee says before adding, New Orleans-native-music-fan-style, “Do what you want to.”