If there’s an older record store in the United States, John George hasn’t heard of it.

Thousands of used and new 45s and LPs line the walls and shelves at George’s Song Shop in downtown Johnstown, PA, some 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.

“I didn’t expect it to come back the way it has today,” said George, between phone calls on a recent visit. “CDs are out; records are what people want.”

Opened in 1932 by brothers Eugene and Bernie, John George took over in 1962 at age 19, following the sudden death of his father, Eugene, from a stroke. (John’s uncle Bernie had already sold his share of the business to Eugene before leaving to pursue a musical career in New York.)

The store has “been in my blood all my life,” he told Parade Magazine in a 2018 interview. Today, in addition to new and used 33s, 45s and 78s, there’s a sizable collection of CDs, some 8-tracks, even a small “Steelers” section. 

“Most people coming from Pittsburgh are looking for jazz,” he told the Pittsburgh Independent.

George says he rebuilt after a 1977 flood–not that Johnstown flood–nearly wiped out the Song Shop for good. There was previously a second location in nearby Westwood Plaza, but today it’s just the Market Street storefront, across from Johnstown City Hall.

A customer browses new releases at George's Song Shop in Johnstown, Pa. Photo by Brian Conway.

The slogan, “If We Don’t Have It, Nobody Does,” was probably more accurate in the store's heyday. Today, George’s specializes in used 45s, but while most genres are represented, the used vinyl felt picked over and wasn’t especially priced to move.

Continuing the tradition of Pittsburgh folks looking for jazz, we sought out Ahmad Jamal, to no avail. Instead of paying $15 for Harold Betters, we went with a $10 copy of Jimmy Smith’s “Stay Loose.”

In recent years, another contender for the nation's oldest record store has emerged. Rinehart's Music and Video, located in Kirksville, Missouri, claims to date back to 1897. According to the website “Vinyl Lives,” Rinehart’s started selling phonographs as early as 1901, but their lineage is more convoluted, with a century’s worth of mergers and acquisitions that don’t appear to have been independently verified. (Complicating matters further, Rinehart’s doesn’t list a phone number, and their Facebook page doesn't have a “message” button set up.)

In Johnstown, the legacy is established: “I do it for the love of the music and the store,” George, age 81, told the Pittsburgh Independent. “I still enjoy coming to work every day.”

And the people still respond: Last month, George’s was voted the “best place to buy music” in Johnstown Magazine’s readers’ poll.

George’s Song Shop is located at 128 Market St, Johnstown, PA 15901. Hours are 10-5:30 Mon-Fri; 10-4 Sat.