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.
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.
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.