Y&T Records: 30 years of music in one room

By | July 13th, 2011 | 10 Comments
Yesterday & Today Records store

Sandwiched between a lingerie boutique and a headshop lies Yesterday & Today Records, a treasure trove of vinyl. -- photo by Jamie Preira

You can find anything you need — or want — on Florida State Road 976, locally known as Bird Road, an approximately eight-mile column of shadeless traffic connecting US-1 to the Turnpike near FIU’s main campus. Banks, auto repair shops, infinite diners, cafeterias, hot dog stands and seafood joints, a discreet edifice with a bold sign declaring “Best Oriental Massage”, guns, ammo, Bird Bowl, Simbad’s Bird House, and multiple exotic aquariums are a small fraction of the establishments I noted on my way to Yesterday & Today Records, which is located in a two-story plaza adjacent to both a lingerie boutique and a headshop.

“You get sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll,” quips Evan Chern, Y&T’s owner, and half of its staff. The Dad-humor notwithstanding, Chern is soft-spoken and humble. At various points of arranging and conducting an interview with him regarding his shop’s 30th anniversary, he did everything he could to take the focus off of himself, offering the weekend clerk, regular customers, and previous articles on the store as substitute points of departure. When I mentioned I would like to take some pictures to run with the piece, Chern half-joked that it was a “terrible time [for a photoshoot] because there are records everywhere.”

There are records everywhere. All of the bins are packed to capacity, leaving just enough room for browsing. The spillover starts in crates below the regular sections, and continues into piles and containers arranged for maximum efficiency all over the store. Stacks of LPs tower above your head. Even the bathroom is fair game for storage.

This bounty hints at the once mighty Yesterday and Today empire, which, at its height, boasted three separate South Florida locations, including a South Beach branch in the ‘90s called “Y&T Dance”, which specialized in techno and DJ singles.

Evan Chern, Y&T Records Owner

Evan Chern, Y&T Records owner -- photo by Jamie Preira

Rich Ulloa opened the first Yesterday and Today in June of 1981. After a decade of expansion and relocating up and down Bird Road, Ulloa teamed up with Chern, who had been involved with the shop since its inception, to split into two storefronts with distinct focuses: yesterday and today. Ulloa would man the “today” store, a source for new music and local artists, while Chern, who says his specialty is “obscure ‘60s and ‘70s stuff”, would run the oldies-focused “yesterday” location.

A native of Coral Gables, Chern started out as a pupil in his older brother’s school of rock, “but quickly surpassed him” when it came to buying records.

“The first album I ever bought was from a clearance rack outside of a store,” Chern says. “My mom bought it for me. It was More of The Monkees in mono.”

Monkees LPs eventually gave way to Frank Zappa concerts, and soon Chern was photographing bands like blues rockers Hot Tuna and prog ensemble Renaissance at Pirate’s World, a swashbuckling-themed amusement park in Dania, the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall, and other South Florida venues.

Before joining the Yesterday & Today team, Chern landed a gig as a DJ on community station WDNA, a position he pursued at the suggestion of Bob Perry, owner of the now-closed Blue Note Records in North Miami, and held for 13 years. The program was called “Notes From The Underground” and showcased oddball, mod-era garage rock that beat psychedelic rock to the punch before anyone in the U.S. had heard of Jimi Hendrix and blared like punk a decade before Iggy first dumped his mic in peanut butter.

When Ulloa decided to split the shop in two, Chern’s subterranean expertise was a perfect fit for the idiosyncratic Yesterday & Today.

“We were a little different than your mainstream record shop,” he explains.

In addition to the inexhaustible inventory of standards and classics, the store could — and still can — be counted on for exotic represses, elusive imports, and holy grail original copies. Chern adds, “Bands would play too. They had the Ramones signing records. Yesterday & Today, back in the ‘80s, was an ‘indie record store’.”

Today, Sweat Records, opened in 2005, is widely acknowledged as Miami’s “indie record store”, a title earned because of its contemporary selection, non-music inventory (collectibles, vegan treats), and the hip, Biscayne-and-Wynwood demographic that utilizes the shop as a multipurpose space for concerts, film screenings, and activist meetings.

Even so, Chern doesn’t view Sweat as the competition. “I don’t mind sending people to Sweat for new artists,” he says.

When pressed to describe Yesterday & Today’s demographic, Chern champions the internet-savvy youth that, in addition to old heads and lifelong diggers, are a major part of his clientele. Where some business models — like the absurdly overpriced CD stores of the 90s — have been practically eviscerated by downloading, Chern encourages pirating on the grounds of knowledge.

“We have a younger crowd that buys classic stuff like The Doors, Zeppelin, and the Beatles,” he says. “Then they read online about who influenced [those bands] and come back for more.

“The coolest thing is, if I’ve got something in the store and it’s sealed they can go online and see if they like it.”

It’s the kind of statement that outs Chern as a music lover first, business man second.

A photo inside of Yesterday & Today Records

Standing around the piles of albums, the majority of which are used and unsealed, I wondered what the total running time would be if you dumped Y&T’s entire inventory into iTunes. But Yesterday & Today is not a valve in today’s instant hype-and-gratification machine. Having amassed an incredible volume of merchandise — diverse enough, perhaps, to stump even a Steve Jobs algorithm — the store looks like what it is: 30 years of records in one room.

The bulk of its inventory is a veritable library of rock, jazz, and pop classics, with robust sections of Female Jazz and Blues Vocalists, Surf Instrumentals, and Poetry/Narrative/Sound Effects, among many others. Yesterday & Today has records you may dismiss as Herb Alpert-like detritus. But those same records are housed in fresh slip-cases and cost about as much as some of the popular psych titles — because somewhere out there is a collector looking for this particular ‘40s lounge compilation in Mint condition.

Meanwhile, Chern has put his own crate-diving days behind him.

“You can’t be successful [running a record store] being a collector,” he says.

These days, Chern barely has a chance to listen to music anyway, with his inexhaustible drive to keep Yesterday & Today’s reserves stocked and new material out on the floor precluding much tune-in, drop-out time.

“I’m just overwhelmed with vinyl,” he says.

Matt Preira runs Roofless Records, a label specializing in vinyl and cassette releases from Florida artists. All photos by Jamie Preira.

*

Follow Beached Miami on Twitter (@beachedmiami) and Facebook and email and RSS.


10 Comments on “Y&T Records: 30 years of music in one room”

  1. 1 Steve said at 9:50 am on July 13th, 2011:

    Great article. I really like this place. Herb Alpert is cool to me though.

  2. 2 Gabe said at 9:59 am on July 13th, 2011:

    Definitely checking this spot out this weekend.

  3. 3 William said at 10:12 am on July 13th, 2011:

    Great piece. That store really is a treasure. It’s where I found my Live: Take No Prisoners by Lou Reed. I’ll be forever grateful for that.

  4. 4 Leah Weston said at 10:22 am on July 13th, 2011:

    Very nice profile! Makes me wish I had a turntable.

  5. 5 mike said at 10:23 am on July 13th, 2011:

    Sweet! Owner looks a little like Tommy Lee Jones in that photo

  6. 6 Johnny said at 12:30 pm on July 13th, 2011:

    Great article. Knew of it but am definitely going to check it out now. Heh he does kinda look like TLJ and i too enjoy some herb albert (heavy on the vibrato thankyou) but I get the point being made haha!

  7. 7 Noel said at 1:07 pm on July 13th, 2011:

    Amazing post. Can’t believe ive never been to this store! Blowing my money here on Friday.

  8. 8 Eric said at 9:16 pm on July 13th, 2011:

    so cool! I’d forgotten about this place, but I remember now visiting it a few years ago, right after I moved to Miami. I picked up an old garage rock comp there.

  9. 9 Angulo said at 10:04 am on July 14th, 2011:

    Nice!
    Visited the store after a 12 year hiatus last April on Record Store Day…and so glad I did.!..Even though
    at times I found myself almost tripping over crates!
    I was a fairly frequent customer of Yesterday and Today
    at their various locations in the city going back to the earliest days..Besides the import and obscure vinyl,those stores always were in the vanguard of promoting the local artists and events of the time..something you don’t see much of lately.(Sweat Records is an exception).
    It’s so sad that there is an entire generation of music consumers who are growing up without the opportunity or the disposition to go into an actual place that sells actual solid tangible stuff that you actually own and see and listen to.(alliteration intentional)…and go through bins and wood crates of LP’s(Or CD’s too)and suddenly..right there in front of you is an album or 45 that wasn’t necessarily in
    your train of consciousness at the time but that you were
    aware of that you wanted to have…and then you go:
    HOLY CRAP!..LOOK WHAT’S HERE!!
    Internet shopping while convenient and in most cases
    more economical,just can’t match the excitement of the actual experience of becoming attached to your music
    by finding it yourself like as a hidden treasure.
    Call me an old geezer and a luddite…but to this day it
    still bothers me to pay money for a blip of electronic something that passes for music(MP3 and similar)that could dissappear in an instant with a badly timed hard drive crash or upsurge..I want liner notes,artwork,etc.
    that won’t force me to squint to read on a PDF document

  10. 10 WeissFace said at 12:45 pm on July 14th, 2011:

    Yesterday and Today Records in a gem! As I get older, I find myself regularly calling Evan when I need to recall the names of various groups and musicans. Evan’s brain ( as well as his store) contains a stockpile of music history! The art value of each record is priceless. Evan, I think you should raise your prices..but alasI know he wont, as Evan likes to keep things fairly priced. He wants everyone to have access to his treasures:)

    If you want a walk down memory lane…visit this haven for day dreaming….


Leave a Reply