PRINCETON — At the age of 22, Wyatt Lilly didn’t know how successful his music store would be. After opening in Princeton he quickly expanded to a second store in Beckley. Twenty years later, Cheap Thrills Records is still going strong and is a familiar fixture in the community.
Shortly after graduating from Davidson College in North Carolina, Lilly wasn’t sure what he wanted to do as a career and decided to open a music store in 1995. At the time he was in his early 20s and didn’t have a family to support. He said it wasn’t a big gamble to open a business.
The first home of Cheap Thrills Records was a 1,200 square feet store in Pine Plaza. Lilly worked 45-50 hours a week, running the store by himself. After six months he was able to expand the store hours and hire employees.
“I had no idea I’d still be doing this 20 years later,” Lilly said.
He was pleasantly surprised by how business took off. In 1999, Cheap Thrills Records expanded to a second store in Beckley.
Cassettes, records and merchandise like T-shirts and decals were the main items sold in the early days of the store.
Lilly has since added movies and video games. In 2011 he added a cash for gold service.
“That’s something unique not a lot of places offer,” he said.
Lilly has always had a passion for music. He especially enjoys classic rock, but listens to a variety of genres. He has also played guitar for more than 15 years.
As a business owner, Lilly said it is rewarding to be able to work for himself.
“There is flexibility, but it also comes with responsibility,” he said. “I’ve been able to provide jobs for employees; some have been with me for several years.”
Cheap Thrills Records sees a lot of repeat business from regular customers, for which Lilly is grateful.
“It’s satisfying to hear positive remarks from the customers,” he said.
The store also holds special events including CD release parties and Record Store Day — the third Saturday in April — when the store offers a limited number of specialty items that can only be found at independent music stores.
There has been a lot of changes in music formats in the past 20 years. Though downloading music online instead of buying something off a shelf has become more popular, Lilly said it’s still hard to beat having a physical copy of the album.
“You not only have a physical format, but you remember how you got it,” he said, adding those memories can be more important than a file on a computer.
Lilly splits his time during the week between the 2,000 square feet store on Stafford Drive in Princeton and the 3,000 square feet store in Beckley. In his spare time he enjoys playing basketball, running 5Ks and spending time with his children, ages 11 and 13.
Lilly is has lived in Princeton a majority of his life. He is a 1990 Princeton Senior High School graduate and served as class president.
— Contact Jackie Puglisi at email@example.com