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Better Days Ahead

Ben Jones is a local legend, especially to music lovers. He’s the proprietor of Better Days Records and its two stores, one at 26th and Broadway and one on Barrett Avenue in the Highlands. For almost 44 years, music fans have counted on Jones to hook them up with the tunes they love.

A music lover and astute business owner, Jones has guided Better Days to success for over four decades, while his competitors fell by the wayside. In all that time, he’s helped fans find records, tapes, CDs, digital music and concert tickets. And he’s made the business work while serving different audiences.

Ben Jones, owner of Better Days Records, in the West End location at Lyle's Mall.
Ben Jones, owner of Better Days Records, in the West End location at Lyle's Mall.

“The West End store is the Black store – no Beatles, no Zeppelin, no Stones. In 40 years I’ve had maybe three people ask for a Beatles record,” he said with a laugh. The East End store is the opposite, he said. “Do I need to stock Shirley Murdoch there? No – just the top twenty and the classics.”

Decades of success didn’t keep businesses immune from Covid and Better Days was no exception. When the pandemic shut down local businesses, Jones found out about LHOME.

A couple of loans from LHOME helped him survive the pandemic and keep his stores running by providing desperately needed cash flow. What impressed Jones the most about LHOME was the willingness to listen and understand Better Days’ unique business model and its value to the community.

“LHOME listened to me. Instead of dismissing me, they listened to my story. You have to understand the history and understand the difference in cash flow,” he said. Jones explained that LHOME’s Jamie Keith and Marisa Tribble took the time to learn about how his business works. “They understood the splitting of hairs between the different communities under a sole proprietor – and to see that the Black store needs the help,” he said.

Throwback: Ben Jones poses with vinyl at Better Days Records in 2000

Despite his decades of success, Jones has never had access to capital from traditional banks. “I’ve had trouble with banks my whole life and have had to go with predatory lenders,” he said. “You get caught up in that just because you need some cash flow. Traditional banking doesn’t understand a nontraditional store. Before LHOME, I’ve never been able to talk to anybody to help keep me alive,” he said.

Jones also appreciated that LHOME understands the value of small businesses like his to the community. “This is the type of business we’ve got to recognize and keep helping. We need more retail. We need what Nulu does. We need Black retail,” he said.

“The Black community is 15-20 years behind economically and it’s hard to catch up. There are a lot of brothers and sisters who can’t open stores because they don’t have access to capital,” he said.

Jones admits it can be hard to seek help, especially when you’ve been successful for so long. “LHOME didn’t give up on me. Jamie and Marisa took the time to listen and learn about my business and understood you got to help the West End out. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in business. Hey, I finally got some help. I’m not ashamed of it. I got some help.”

Store entrance at Better Days West

Better Days prides itself on its personal service, even going so far as to help people without computers gain access to digital music on Jones’ personal iTunes account. “You can’t get on the Internet, you don’t want to listen through your phone? We gonna find a way for you to get your song,” he said.

The irony of surviving all these years while competitors have gone under is not lost on Jones. He once learned from a white business owner that he routinely got credit every year. “Every Christmas you get a line of credit?” he said. “Every Christmas? And I can’t even get a thousand bucks? And they’re all out of business but I’m still going.”

“They’re just businessmen,” he said. “I’ll die for my place.”

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