The PopCulteer
March 1, 2024

Melanie and I ran to Budget Tapes & Records yesterday after she got off work. We sort of had to.

Budget, a Charleston landmark and icon for 52 years suddenly announced the “retirement” of the store…and owners, Dave Pope and Priscella Pope, late Tuesday night. Most folks heard about it Wednesday morning, and while we couldn’t make it up that day, tons of folks showed up to bid farewell to one of the coolest retail establishments to ever exist in the Capitol City.

PopCult has mentioned Budget countless times. Seriously, if you go to the search window on this page and type in “Budget Tapes & Records” it’ll bring up seven pages worth of posts, dating back to our second month as a blog. I’d plug them for Record Store Day, recommend them in The PopCult Gift Guide, and back in 2012, we even recorded host segments and the band, Farnsworth, performing at their forthieth anniversary for an episode of the Radio FreeCharleston video show…

Hell, I even recorded a remarkably bizarre radio commercial for them back in 1989…


Budget has been a huge part of my life, Melanie’s too. Pretty much anybody who grew up or spent time in Charleston has fond memories of the place.

We popped in to discover a crammed parking lot, and a store that was jammed with more people than we’ve ever seen there, even on Record Store Day. Much of the inventory is already gone, but there were still some good deals to be found. And they’re getting in one last shipment today.

John Nelson, in his natural environment.

So we felt that we had to go back one last time. We got to see John Nelson, who’s worked at the store for 48 years, and who sold me my first DEVO, Kate Bush, Stranglers, Monty Python, Lene Lovich, Clash, Elvis Costello and YES albums. John was swamped, dealing with the massive line of customers who’d come for one last visit.

John has the uncanny ability to remember the musical tastes of every single person who ever walked into Budget. You could walk in after having been away five or ten years, and he’d greet you with “Hey, bro, have you heard the new (your favorite band) album?” I’m going to miss that. I may have to go bug him at home.

I felt a little sadness, but more than that, I felt a sense of gratitude that I had such a wonderful place in my life. There was something joyous about seeing the store so busy and thriving, at least for a few more days.

To be honest, I have been a little surprised that they lasted this long. We simply live in a different world now.

My first visit to Budget was 51 years ago. I was ten, and I wanted a Monty Python album that I’d seen advertised in National Lampoon (I was pretty hip for a ten-year-old). I’d been a rabid fan since they’d run the show on WMUL two years earlier (don’t believe the official timeline…Python aired in the US before 1973), and hadn’t been able to find the album at Hecks.

So I managed to talk my dad into taking me to Budget, and not only did I find the Python album, it was in the cutout bin, so it didn’t cost as much as I thought it would.

That is the first of many memories of Budget that are key to what made me who I am.

I discovered Undergound Comix at Budget, and until they stopped selling them, I picked up The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Zap, Yellow Dog and other titles that somehow managed to infuse a counter-culture sensibility into my brain without ever fostering within me the desire to drink or do drugs.

I bought my first rock album there (Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe), I bought The Rutles album there, and that led to me becoming a rabid Beatles fan. I started out as a comedy nerd, and got the Zappa album because of “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow,” but the music on The Rutles converted me into a music nerd, and that, as they say, is all she wrote.

At one point Budget had three locations, in Kanawha City, of course, but also in the Daniel Boone Hotel on Capitol Street, and in Cross Lanes. John was managing the Cross Lanes shop when I learned to drive, and he tracked down the debut albums by DEVO and Kate Bush for me there back in 1978.

I went to the Capitol Steet location so often that, once in the span of about two years, I ran into the band, Molly Hatchet, about six times when they were doing signings. They’d recognize me, and assumed I was a fan (which, I wasn’t. I was never into the whole Southern Rock thing), but to kill time we’d sit around and talk about the Frank Frazetta paintings they used as album covers and stuff like old EC comics. That might have been where I gained my immunity to being starstruck. They were just guys who played music and liked cool stuff.

One of my best friends, the late Johnny Rock, worked at Budget back in the 90s. In 2017, just days after Lee Harrah’s mother passed away, I’d arranged to take Lee out to lunch, just to see how he was doing. That morning Johnny, who had been in very poor health for sometime himself,  posted on Facebook that he wanted to go out and just do something. I messaged him immediately and asked if he wanted to join me and Lee for lunch.

The timing was perfect. I picked up Johnny and he was decked out head-to-toe in brand-new gear from his favorite football team, Chelsea. Johnny was a bigger anglophile than I am, to the point of watching soccer regularly. He was beaming. We were going out and he was going to help Lee. Lee was delighted to see Johnny, and helping Johnny made Lee feel better. After lunch at the China Buffet in Kanawha City we made a stop at Budget Tapes & Records. It was glorious. We all got to see our old friend John Nelson and everybody there treated Johnny like the rock star that he was born to be.

This was just a very special day, and Budget was a big part of that.

Like I said, the world has changed. Vinyl records and cassettes gave way to CDs, Budget diversified into clothing, smoking accessories and later, adult recreational items, and then the internet happened.

Before the recent and surprising resurgence of vinyl, I’m sure that Budget relied more on the non-music segments of the store to stay in business. While vinyl probably helped revive their music sales, folks going online to buy clothes, adult videos, various and sundry dildewy implements and smoking accessories cannot have been good for business.

Recent developments in Kanawha City, with cannabis dispenaries that sell smoking accessories opening every two or four blocks, and with the perpetual construction and deconstruction of MacCorkle Avenue making it vastly more difficult to patronize the businesses there, something had to give.

And sadly, it was Budget Tapes & Records.

It’s a shame that a business that managed to survive the Reagan-era headshop crackdown, the Clinton-era music censorship, a water crisis, digital music downloads and four years of Trump was finally done in by piss-poor city planning that saw MacCorkle trapped in what now appears to be a permanent cycle of “pave the road, dig up the road, repeat.”

I hope that, when the remainder of Budget gets auctioned off after they close their doors on Sunday, that somebody rescues that recently-restored sign and donates it to the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

It was fitting that, as we prepared to check out, John ran over and asked Mel, “Hey, have you heard the new Ann Wilson album? You can have the CD for five bucks!” It was vintage John Nelson, and of course, Mel wanted that CD.

Thank you John, and Dave and Priscella and Mike and everyone who was ever part of Budget Tapes & Records.

Here’s some photos…

One last time entering Budget.

There was something sort of uplifting seeing so many people show up to bid their farewells.

John Nelson, Elvis, and Dave Pope, behind the counter.

That bulletin board that was vital to the local music scene.

Here there be monster…ous dildos.

My mom thought these were ‘fancy coffepots.”

I don’t indulge,but this even impressed me.

If only it had been like this every day.

One last desturated glance back. Mr. Marley looks on. 

And that is this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for all our regular features, with fresh content every day.