Located on Wood Street in Wilkinsburg for 15 years, Upbeat Records has been fulfilling the melodic needs of music lovers throughout the region. Withstanding the decline on the block for years and finally outgrowing the small space, proprietor Matt Lemon has relocated his business down the street to 801 Penn Ave.
“Wow, man what a difference.” “Man this looks good,” are the comments of his customers as they enter the new site for the first time. Patrons are amazed at the brightness of the store and the variety of products. In the mist of getting organized and adjusting to the reality that he can do much more, Lemon is excited about the possibilities. “Ideas of activities of what I can do here haven’t even surfaced yet,” he says as thoughts come to him during the interview.
|IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR—Staff and nephew Daniel Hamlin, left, with proprietor Matt Lemon of Upbeat Records shows off the latest release dropped by brother S-Class, just one of many local releases sold in the store.
Upbeat Records, specializing in all urban music started out selling tapes and compact discs, primarily rap and R&B with jazz and gospel growing through time. “Rap is more popular even now, next is pop,” said Lemon. “When the jazz station existed jazz was popular.” With that station and WAMO radio gone he says he is working harder to keep his customers up on current music of all styles. “I hope the next radio station that enters this market plays more of a mix.” He is equipped to accommodate all tastes with selections consisting of oldies, jazz, gospel, reggae, R&B, rap and soundtracks.
In his new location, Lemon plans to continue what he started 15 years ago but looks to doing things better. Keeping up with the times his cassette and video tape selection is bring phased out and his inventory now consists of CDs, DVDs, movies, magazines, incense and accessories. Some 12 inch vinyls and albums are sold mostly for emcees and deejays and the brightly lit store is equipped with a big screen television normally showing music videos or movies.
“Through the years this industry has changed,” said Lemon, identifying the Internet and digital capabilities as taking down the value of music. He explained that today you can download music on iPods and cell phones at a very low cost. He also identified bootlegging and competition from what he calls big box stores like Target and Best Buy as affecting the music retail business. “Stores like that having the capabilities to sell items at a lower price killed national chains like the National Record Mart and Sam Goody’s. In 1994 you had to go to record stores like them and me to buy music.”
Unlike the box stores, Upbeat Records sells releases from local artists and mixed CDs. “We are expanding our local section,” he says with the goal to provide a venue for young artists to sell music and receive exposure. “We have the space now to do release parties and signings.”
Currently selling music-oriented magazines; Lemon is looking to expand his reading material to African-American books and literature. He says he hopes to sell local and national authors offering book signings and readings as well.
Always wanting to be an entrepreneur, Lemon said he enjoys operating his business in the Wilkinsburg community. “Fifteen years ago when looking for locations I was interested in East Liberty and Downtown,” he said, remembering that rent was fairly expensive. Living in the East End at the time he chose Wilkinsburg and has not regretted it. “This is my ministry. It’s a way to talk to young men in pain.” Feeling that the community appreciates his presence he said he has always been treated well by the people. “I’ve never been robbed and always have been treated with respect. People are glad to see a Black business and not Asian in the community. I feel safe here, and plan to be here as long as the neighborhood wants me,” he said.
While growing up in East Hills the youngest of five, Lemon said his mother and sisters loved music. “All my memories are linked to songs,” he said, admitting that he opened his business out of love for music. Also possessing a passion for music Lemon’s 17-year-old nephew Daniel Hamlin works in the shop.
“I like working with music and enjoy all types of sounds,” said Hamlin. The Perry High School senior says he has plans to go to college to focus on art. His 22-year-old brother S-Class, who recently dropped a CD, works in the shop on the weekends.
Serving as an example for his own family, Lemon says he provides the same advice to others. “If you have an interest in starting a business ask yourself what do you love and then decide if it should be service or retail,” he says. “Put energy in what you want to do and don’t focus on the negative.” Stressing the importance of having good credit, he advises to maintain a good line of credit as a way to control your own money and destiny.
Upbeat Records hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday.