Richway and Kmart Record Departments

The roofs were built with giant, almost pyramid-like skylights in which you could look up to see the weather while you were shopping.

Richway in Roswell, Georgia was a central and important location in my early record universe. My Father shopped there, and it was fairly close to my school. They also had a well-stocked and interesting record department for someone who was new to the vinyl collecting hobby like me.

The first two Richway stores opened on March 4th, 1970, one in Decatur, and one in Smyrna. They were a discount off-shoot of Rich’s Department Store. Richway would eventually expand to 31 locations in the southeastern united states. Richway was unique from other discount stores, in that it had the atmosphere of an up-scale department store. The color scheme of the stores was bright orange and neon green. The roofs were built with giant, almost pyramid-like skylights in which you could look up to see the weather while you were shopping. The Richway Foods department would even deliver your groceries out to your car via conveyor belt in their drive through pick-up lane. The Roswell location opened in 1974 as the anchor store of Roswell Mall.

Since I rode a Marta Bus to school, I eventually realized that that I could ride it for several more stops and be at the Roswell Richway. Richway then became my main source for record hunting because it was the only location that I could go to without having to rely on somebody else who drove a car. In February of 1979, my father and I moved even closer to Roswell, and that gave me the option to make the journey by foot or hop the bus. I discovered that if I walked the four mile stretch up Roswell Road, I could explore other places to look for records along the way. Sometimes one of my friends would even tag along with me.

In addition to an artist’s latest LP, the Roswell Richway store had a good sampling of the back-catalog of albums by the current Top 40 hit-makers of the time, such as Elton John, Abba, Aerosmith, Earth Wind & Fire, Wings, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Abba, Donna Summer, Kiss, Bee Gees, Kenny Rogers, and others that were on that sales level. It was a good place to physically hold and check out an artist’s works instead of just seeing them on a list of titles printed on a record sleeve.

When entering the Roswell Richway record department, you stepped off the floor of the main aisle onto soft carpeting. There was a cahier kiosk to the left, and just beyond that was their display of the top-selling 45’s. If you entered and looked immediately to your right, there was a display of Oldies 45’s which were carded and shrink-wrapped on colorful backers.

These were my first exposure to reissue 45’s. At $1.29, they were a little bit more costly than the current singles, but usually worth it, especially since most of the time, the single was re-pressed to feature a second hit on the flip side. My first purchase of one of these Oldies was “SOS” by Abba. My very first Paul McCartney record, “Jet,” was also purchased from this Oldies display. Paul would soon be getting the largest portion of my record money.

I made my first LP purchase at Roswell Richway, and being a collector of 45’s, the choice was obvious. It was the K-tel album “Music Express” compiled from twenty hit singles. It was budget priced at $3.99, which was the most I had spent on a record at that point. Richway also had a top-sellers flyer that one could pick up in the store, listing all the hot singles and LP’s and also their featured album of the month.

In 1978, another Richway branch opened nearby in Sandy Springs (Richway #17). I began to shop at this one in addition to the Roswell location. It would eventually turn out to be my first place of employment too.

Richway stores also always had an excellent inventory of cut-out and budget LP’s and tapes. There were always titles by The Beach Boys, Steve Miller Band, Diana Ross, Parliament, Willie Nelson, The Kinks, The Jackson 5, K-tel collections, and many more. These were usually priced between .97 cents and $3.99.

Over time, I picked up many records and tapes from the Richway cut-out bin, including my very first LP’s by The Move, Rick James, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, and Brick. I also found picture discs by Parliament, Boston, Steve Miller, Rush, and Elton John and 8-track tapes by The Jackson 5, Hall & Oates, The Supremes, The Partridge Family and The Beatles.

The other discount department store that was prime for snagging the latest 45 R.P.M. singles was Kmart. The location nearest me was the Sandy Springs store, located at the corner of Roswell Road and Hammond Drive.

Kmart’s roots go all the back to 1899 when Sebastian Spering Kresge began his chain of five and dime stores under the name of S.S. Kresge. In 1962, the Kresge Company opened a discount store division in Garden City (a suburb of Detroit). This was the first Kmart. These new stores were instantly successful and by 1965, had expanded to 122 stores. The Sandy Springs location was opened in July of 1966, and was the fourth Kmart in the Atlanta area.

The Kmart record department did not have an artist back-catalog as quite as deep as Richway. They did not carry the Oldies 45’s either, but they were still an excellent source to obtain the current 45’s, the latest best- selling LP’s and a nice selection of cut-outs and bargain releases. Like the other department stores we have looked at (Sears, JC Penny and Richway), Kmart’s music inventory was also handled by regional rack jobbers.

The display cases for the 8-track tapes at Kmart, had plexiglass covers with circular holes that allowed the shopper to hold the tape for inspection but not remove it. If one wanted to purchase a tape, a salesclerk had to be notified to come with a key to release it to the buyer, who then would take it to the checkout register.

The Sandy Springs Kmart store originally housed a cafeteria at the rear of the store, and a snack bar/ candy counter near the front. Shoppers were always greeted by the aroma of popcorn, pretzels and cotton candy at the front door. Now if I ever smell that scent in a department store, I immediately flash back to the excitement of racing off to go hunt the latest 45’s at Kmart.

In November of 1979, Kmart opened a new store at the other end of Roswell Mall opposite of Richway. Now the mall had two discount anchor stores. This gave me even more options for record hunting. I would walk inside the mall from Richway over to Kmart and sometimes have a stop to browse at the Radio Shack or Waldenbooks which were located between the two.

Some of the first records that I purchased on those early visits to Sandy Springs Kmart’s record department were “Boogie Child” (Bee Gees), “Everybody Be Dancin'” (Starbuck) and “Long Time” (Boston).

By the 1990’s, Kmart no longer stocked vinyl records in their music department. The very last music item I purchased from Kmart was the cassette tape version of The Beatles’ “Anthology 3” (which came packaged in this very nice long-box) at the Buford Highway location.

Since 1976, the Richway chain had been owned by Federated Department Stores. Federated sold the stores in 1986 which eventually led to most of the Atlanta stores becoming Target stores.

At one time, Sears and Kmart were the two biggest retailers in the U.S. In 2004, Sears merged with Kmart and by 2018, had filed for Chapter 11. This has now led to almost every Kmart location to be closed down.

Some things I bought home from Richway

Records I purchased from Richway. Richway price stickers are still on some of them. The Richway department code for records was 841.

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