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The Other Repo Man: A look at the life of Repo Records owner Dan Matherson

Dan Matherson, owner of South Street music institution Repo Records | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com
Dan Matherson, owner of South Street music institution Repo Records | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

“We’ve been open, what, 26 years now?” His voice goes up at the end as if he’s asking me. Of course, Dan Matherson is aware of how long his store has been open. He’s just being modest, which is impressive given that he owns and operates a record store, selling music in a physical format even as the industry trends digital.

The first Repo Records opened in 1986 in the main line suburb of Wayne. The side street it was located on was the best location Matherson could find given his tight budget. “The rent was so cheap, like, $400 a month,” he says. The slab of real estate wasn’t the best, but Matherson was able to draw in customers by advertising on train stops and fliers posted around the locality. As his business expanded, he relocated to a second site in Bryn Mawr, where business took off. Eventually, he was able to open a second store on the 500 block of South Street in Philadelphia – the main hub for Repo since the Bryn Mawr location closed in the mid-aughts.

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LPs ranging from Iron Maiden to The Front Bottoms line the Repo Records walls | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

Matherson grew up in Devon, an area in which the few existing record stores were chains, which typically sold whatever was at the top of the charts that week. However, New York was his home away from home, and it was there that he would frequent record stores of a different type. The record stores in New York didn’t care about what was popular. They sold what was good. Knowing there was nothing like this in his Pennsylvania suburb, Matherson found his calling.

He nicked the store’s name from the 1984 movie, Repo Man. Given the movie’s punk rock soundtrack featuring artists like Iggy Pop and Circle Jerks, he figured it would make a good name for his store, which specializes in punk and underground records.

Matherson is a huge fan of punk; he loves bands like Joy Division and The Buzzcocks. In 1981, he traveled to New York to see The Clash play at Bond’s Casino, which he described as “one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.”

As he lists some of his favorite bands, it’s clear he’s quite the rock and roll connoisseur. He gravitates towards lots of new wave bands from the late 70s and early 80s such as Wire, The Teardrop Explodes, and especially The Chameleons. In fact, Matherson helped organize a Chameleons concert at J.C. Dobbs when he found out the band had no Philadelphia dates on its 2006 American tour. Continue reading →