The aroma of fresh coffee beans pours out a single window. A white door hangs wide open, welcoming the next person that takes the six steps down to the Vinyl Cafe. Blake Delaney is sitting on the stool that is typically occupied by a customer chatting him up. A regular named Matt steps inside the basement shop. Delaney sings to the customer and hugs him before taking his reusable cup and making him a pour over coffee. As the caffeinated beverage is dripping, he’s picking on a small plastic-stringed ukulele marked with a black “B” sticker that he keeps behind the counter. “Sara Smile” by Daryl Hall & John Oates plays in the background.
As a middle schooler, Delaney was required to journal in school. He grew up in Arizona and then moved to Colorado. He was outdoors a lot, doing things like fishing, golfing and hiking. But also, he would journal about his dream of opening a record store. He loves records. He’s been collecting them all his life and has a personal quota of about 1,500 vinyl tracks.
Delaney said he never thought he would amount to his dream, thinking he would either be a golfer or a salesman for a career. Delaney did contracting for a long time, but after a few surgeries and injuries, he knew he needed to find a new profession. He said he got lucky with his shop.
When the old owner of Vinyl was around, Delaney joked with him and teased that he was going to buy his shop. The place had only been open two weeks when Delaney began hanging around, so when the time came that the old owner was moving out of state, he said he was either shutting the door forever or selling it to Delaney. Well, Delaney took the offer and the shop belonged to him ever since.
For Delaney, Vinyl Cafe is a shop about more than just good music and good coffee. He knows almost every single face that walks through his door. And when a new customer drops in, he takes the time to get to know them.
“It’s just a very safe, friendly community place,” Delaney said. “We don’t put limits on how long you can use the internet. We don’t want you to leave if you don’t want to leave. I feel like we’ve created a place that if you don’t feel like you belong somewhere, this is your place.”
Regular customer and friend, Kim Poston said he is a “rockstar behind the counter.” Some customers see him as more than a barista.
“You feel more like you’re walking in and ordering coffee from a bartender rather than a barista,” Bryon Dudley, another regular-turned-friend, said.
For most people that regularly go to this hidden gem, it’s more about the man behind the espresso machine than the coffee dripping out.
“The coffee’s great, the tea’s good, the vinyl’s awesome,” Melissa Asklof, a customer at Vinyl Cafe, said. “But, I feel the real reason people go in there is because of Blake. He just has one of those contagious personalities.” Many of the customers that frequent the shop agree that they go in to Vinyl for not only a [cup of] coffee, but a chat as well.
The shop brings happiness to the people that frequent it and to newcomers as well. But, it wasn’t always this simple or this easy for Delaney.
Six months into opening the shop, Delaney went through a divorce. Now at 52 years old, he then wanted to take the easy route — sell the shop and blame it for his problems. But, there was something pulling him towards it. He did not want to give up on himself that easily.
Every time Delaney thought about selling, he said he just could not do it. So, he kept the shop, but what was ahead was only more hardship.
The first few years he owned Vinyl Cafe, he worked six days per week. On his days off, he was hunting for more records, ordering supplies, doing inventory –– the works. Delaney says that everyone thinks being your own boss is glamorous and full of freedom. But, this was not his reality. “I know that I’ve gotten at least two warnings from every bill collector, and you have to think when you’re a small business ‘okay, what bills can I put off’ sometimes,” Delaney said. Recently, he spent $2,000 fixing his espresso machine–money he didn’t have lying around.
He might be just a friendly face or a “silver fox,” as referred to by the Starbucks baristas up the street, but, he’s a businessman as well. Delaney said running a small business is hard and he had to learn how to calm his anxieties on slow days. Days where there was little business used to freak him out. Now, he has learned to be patient and realized that there won’t constantly be a line out the door.
“Take your pro’s and con’s list,” Delaney said. “Take the pro’s list and throw it away for a few years and work on your con’s list. Write down everything you think can go wrong, because it will.”
Eventually, Delaney said he was able to afford to employ a few people to help him run the shop. One of his employees, Aaron Alcott, offered to help Delaney on the weekends and Delaney took him up on the offer.
Most people would not describe their boss the way Alcott describes Delaney as “the type of guy that’ll do anything for you.” The two have become friends outside of the shop, helping each other through personal and professional struggles. Delaney said when he found out that Alcott was having some personal struggles, he went right over to his house and offered to help in any way he could — financially, emotionally or even as someone to drink a beer with.
The friendship goes both ways. Delaney said when his storage unit that holds all of his records was broken into last year, Alcott was there to help him get back on track.
A similar shop, Vinyl Cup Records in Des Moines, heard what had happened with Delaney’s storage unit. They offered to help him restock what was taken from him, selling him albums at wholesale. Alcott joined Delaney to Des Moines to pick through the records.
Delaney said running a small business is different as opposed to a larger one.
“You have to learn how to adjust to not having a paycheck every two weeks,” Delaney said.
Delaney said he sometimes envies the simplicity of a nine to five job and leaving at a consistent time. For Delaney, the work-day never ends; the shop is his life.
The Vinyl Cafe is what pulled Delaney out of his personal struggles for a few years, and he is now financially stable. He has two workers and is able to take some days off and have time to himself.
The shop is constantly evolving and so is Delaney.
Vinyl Cafe often features local art and music for the community to observe and listen to. Delaney also works with Maximum Ames, the record label in town. On some nights, the tables are removed and chairs are set up for a band or show. His shop is embedded into the culture of the community.
“You need a place that’s safe, a place that people will understand,” Delaney said. “I never had to say anything to anybody. They knew. This place allowed me to fake it ‘til I made it, ya know? And pretty soon I was smiling at customers and it wasn’t fake. It was real. This place really served as a core place for me to survive and to heal and to become whole again.”
Delaney said Vinyl Cafe was what got him back on his feet; literal music and the shop itself. Listening to vinyl is an entire experience for him. Delaney said he has been collecting vinyls all of his life. For over 20 years, his mother saved his records for him and until one day she dropped off all his childhood vinyl tracks.
Delaney said his experience with vinyl is extremely sensory– describing the moment the needle hit the grooves of an old Mr. Rogers album as him sitting at his Aunt Dee Dee’s house listening to it.
“All of a sudden I could smell the eucalyptus, I could smell the stuff cooking in the kitchen,” Delaney said. “I could remember the color of the carpet. I hadn’t thought about that house for 35 years. And then everything was just in perfect view to me.”
Delaney said music on vinyl is different for him. He intakes it differently than he does with a CD. He said the experience of listening to vinyl brings a rush of emotions.
“What I love about music on vinyl is it’s not lazy, it’s tactile,” Delaney said. “You have to pick it up, turn it over. It is interactive. I love everything about vinyl.”
At the end of the day, he’s more than a barista and Vinyl Cafe is more than a coffee shop. Keiva Delaney, his ex-wife, said Blake Delaney is a great person and a wonderful father.
Although the two are not in a relationship anymore, they both have said they are on good terms. Keiva Delaney said customers often go to Vinyl Cafe to talk to Blake Delaney.
“People don’t go in there necessarily to to buy the coffee, though the coffee is damn good," Keiva Delaney said. "They go in there to chat with Blake. That’s what vinyl cafe is."
Delaney said he loves talking to his customers. He loves talking to others in general. He used to talk so much as a child that his mother would ground him—outside of the house—so she could get some peace and quiet. However, his mother was the one who taught him to be this social, as she’s a sit down and ask how you are type-of-woman.
He chats everyone up. People want his opinion. He holds their secrets. Really, it’s coffee therapy.
“If someone comes in with a bad mood, I want them to leave with a smile. Everything starts with a good smile, everything starts with a good gesture.” He loves giving away a free coffee to change someone’s day. He wants people to be happy when they’re in the shop.
Delaney said he wants Vinyl Cafe to not only be his safe place, but a safe place for everyone that walks through the door. Delaney said he is not in the coffee business rather he is in the business of happiness.
“To have so many people that love me enough to just ask for my advice — I’m just a barista,” Delaney said. “It was clear to me after the first few years that we’re much more than just a coffee shop. We are a safe haven.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story included outdated photos of Vinyl Cafe. The story has been updated to reflect the cafe's current look. The Daily regrets this error.