On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, days before Record Store Day, childhood friends Evan Chern and Rich Ulloa convene over a mutual, decades-long love: vinyl. Sporting a baseball cap and plaid flannel
Chern is settled in behind the front desk, a spot he's occupied for the better part of 21 years. The two first bonded at Kinloch Park Junior High (Chern was a grade ahead of Ulloa), and their paths haven't strayed too far since.
"We used to play football outside on the streets," says Chern, the more soft-spoken of the pair. Now they share a history as two of Miami's stalwart pioneers of underground music and the men behind the city's longest-running indie music shop, Yesterday & Today Records.
At its peak, Yesterday & Today (affectionately called Y&T) comprised three outposts around the city and a shop in Gainesville. The largest store sold mainly alternative music, a Miami Beach location catered to dance records for DJs, and the third, run by Chern, carried more niche, vintage, and collectible items.
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Much has changed since the '80s and '90s heyday of alternative music, before the dawn of digital. Back then, there was room to specialize, and there also weren't many shops stocking primarily used records. After saving enough cash from selling rare and valuable used collectors' items by mail order and at record shows, Ulloa opened the first Yesterday & Today in 1981, when he was 26 years old.
"Evan was there the first day. He was my best customer," Ulloa remembers.
When the first Y&T shop opened, there was only a handful of independent record stores, Ulloa says. Magic Minstrel, Twin Sounds, and Happy Note were known for imported punk releases and underground American slabs. Peaches and Specs were commercial shops selling new.
"You really were one of the first to get into the used record store business in Miami and do it big," Chern nods to Ulloa.
Soon, student DJs from the nearby University of Miami radio station caught on. Ulloa would loan out stacks of records for a night, the DJs would get to play their pick of Y&T's massive alternative collection, and then they'd return the records the next day. "They would plug our store: 'Music provided by Yesterday & Today Records.' We built a great following," Ulloa says.
Over the years, Y&T garnered a reputation for high-quality products, good prices, and unmatched service. Chern himself was a radio DJ at the community station WDNA, which is still around today playing mostly jazz. But back then, Chern says, "they were really cool, alternative." Introducing local listeners to a range of obscure sounds, his program, Notes From the Underground, ran for nearly 15 years.
"When you come in to see Evan, you know you're gonna be turned on to some great stuff," Ulloa says. "He's got his ears to the ground and, you know, that's a big part of it too."
Apart from the sheer longevity of Yesterday & Today, Ulloa and Chern's passion for music has manifested in other ways. For Ulloa, it was Y&T Records, the label and artist management business he launched in 1991 with his first signing: local alt-country quartet the Mavericks. The group went on to do big things, signing with MCA and earning a Grammy.
For Chern, the focus has always been the vinyl. After officially partnering with Ulloa in the mid-'90s, Chern eventually bought him out and became sole owner of Yesterday & Today in 1998. When CDs took over, Chern still pushed records. Engaging in long conversations with customers about the vinyl, he'd explain its origins and merits. He doesn't want to quote an exact number, but Chern estimates his personal collection approaches 30,000 records. Even Ulloa is taken aback. "Let's move this store, open a big location, and put 'em all in there," he jokes.
At its various locations, Y&T has seen some of alternative music's luminaries come through its doors. Before becoming famous, Marilyn Manson played an in-store gig. Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Ramones made two autograph-signing appearances. Natalie Merchant, Henry Rollins, Fishbone, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and others have shown up. New Year's Eve 1991 was one of Y&T's biggest events: an autograph-signing with Chris Cornell and Soundgarden.
The glory days couldn't last, though. With the 2000s came the mega-disruptors of the music industry: internet downloads and streaming. By then, Ulloa had already shifted his focus to the label, and only Chern's modest Y&T store remained. Still, they were never deterred.
"There was a change, but we always believed in vinyl. We believed in analog recordings — I did," Chern says. "Just to play a record — the warmth, the sound. There was a shift; there was a change. But right now, it's vinyl."
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Chern says he's noticed more young people getting into vinyl, especially since the first Record Store Day 11 years ago. "The artwork, the sound, it's a more personal listening experience," he says. "I have kids buying Frank Sinatra records. Some of these artists are timeless."
Most days, Chern can be found manning his Y&T shop on Bird Road, and things are still running smoothly. On this Tuesday afternoon, he fields multiple phone calls about the upcoming Record Store Day. Ulloa's Y&T Records label slowed down, and he eventually took a job at the post office in 2004. Recently retired, he's picked music up again and is collaborating with some of the artists he used to work with, including the Mavericks for a special RSD release. The guys are both 64 years old, and this June, Yesterday & Today will turn 38.
Has retirement crossed Chern's mind? "My wife kind of would like me to so we could travel," he says. "I enjoy it, you know. Eventually, it's a possibility." He trails off.
Record Store Day at Yesterday & Today. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at 9274 Bird Rd., Miami; 305-554-1020; vintagerecords.com. The shop will raffle off rare and vintage vinyl throughout the day and offer free soda.