In the summer of 1981, Marc Taras went out for breakfast with his good friend Paul Joseph Ryder. After steak and eggs, the two took a stroll and passed a vacant shop in the 600 block of Packard St. “Wouldn’t this be a great place for a record store?” Taras asked offhandedly. Ryder said immediately, “Let’s do it!”

Ryder wasn’t kidding. That fall, they teamed with Marc’s brother Jeff and two investors, Don Easterbrook and Dave Haffey, to open PJ’s Records. In addition to being Ryder’s initials, Marc points out, “PJ’s rhymes with deejay–and everyone loves to be in their PJs.”

Today, Haffey is an accountant in Ann Arbor, Easterbrook a civil engineer in Venezuela, and Ryder the owner of the popular music venue PJ’s Lager House, in Detroit. But the Taras brothers have been selling and buying music in various formats ever since.

Their well-worn hideaway is upstairs from the Pastry Peddler. On a recent Saturday, a speaker over the door beckons shoppers upward with Sam and Dave’s Soul Man. The walls are decorated with gifts from customers, an “unofficial” Grateful Dead Frisbee, an autographed picture of the old late-night TV host the Ghoul; and a piece of concrete broken off the West Park band shell during the August 1967 Grateful Dead concert there.

At fifty-nine, Jeff has a full head of wild gray hair and a beard. Marc, sixty, has short, thinning hair and a well-trimmed beard and mustache. Both favor jeans and button-up shirts; Marc, rainbow-colored suspenders. Both have engaging demeanors and smile a lot, especially when they’re talking about music.

“People who shop our store are broadly interested in music,” Marc says. One customer, Christine, says that whenever a little spare cash comes her way, she rides the bus from Ypsilanti–and “if I had more money, I’d be here every day.” A small-framed woman, she pulls a handful of CDs out of a wooden crate and recalls, “The first record I got here was Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan.” Today, she’s looking for discs by Megadeth, Eminem, and Cypress Hill, among others. Another customer, Jackie Rowry, is big into jazz, “but sometimes I go just to talk.” He’s known Marc since he worked at the long-gone Discount Records store on State and says that by now the brothers are “like family.”

In most parts of the country, record stores are about as common as functioning eight-track tape players. But Ann Arbor has four. The brothers don’t appear competitive but, when pushed, emphasize their strong collections in jazz and soul. Jeff says he and Marc are “startlingly condition conscious,” examining each CD, record, or cassette tape very carefully before buying.

The brothers take turns presiding over their music empire–three days a week each, alternating on Sundays. Jeff, a U-M math grad, generally handles the bookkeeping and banking, while Marc (English major) usually prices the merchandise.

Though they also sell tapes and CDs, vinyl is their passion–Jeff, who minored in particle physics, compares the record grooves to “sound sculptures,” assuming the shapes (in relief) of the concussion wave of music through the air. While most of their sales are in single digits, occasionally they strike gold. “We once sold a red vinyl copy of Aladdin [Records’] Party After Hours sampler [a classic early 1950s R&B collectible] for a thousand dollars,” Jeff recalls. “I cherish having had and sold the Brigitte Bardot Girl in the Bikini soundtrack.” Their best-sellers these days are Sixties and Seventies rock, jazz, and blues by artists like Frank Zappa, the Kinks, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Muddy Waters, and the Grateful Dead. As for buyers, the store has seen a spike in patronage from students as kids raised on iPods and digital streaming discover the tactile pleasures of vinyl.

Despite that modest resurgence, they’re doing this for love, not money. Since the debut of the music-sharing program Napster in 1999, Marc says, “we’re making what amounts to eight dollars an hour.”

It helps a bit that Marc’s been on the payroll at WEMU since 1994, currently as host of the “Cuban Fantasy” radio show on Saturday evenings. Jeff’s wife, Stephanie Kadel Taras, also brings in a second income writing biographies and institutional histories (and occasional articles for the Observer). Both brothers live in Ann Arbor, Jeff in a home on the south side and Marc, unmarried, in an apartment near the Big House.

The Taras brothers grew up in suburban Detroit near the intersection of Fourteen Mile and Woodward. Both loved music. Marc was partial to British Invasion artists like John Mayall, Cream, and Savoy Brown. Jeff was more into Herman’s Hermits and the Kinks, music where “you can hear what is intended without a lot of analysis … I was a shallow-water fish.”

Both were weaned on rock and roll, Marc gathering their collection of rock LPs, including several first editions. Then, during his sophomore year of high school, he began plying the deep waters of jazz, listening to players like Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis. “I became a jazz snob,” he admits. “If it wasn’t jazz, I wasn’t interested.”

Then, at a friend’s urging, Marc reluctantly listened to a few cuts from the 1976 Joni Mitchell album Hejira. He was floored to hear music “as stretched-out as the stuff by Ornette Coleman.” When Jeff handed him a ticket to see the Grateful Dead, he became a born-again Deadhead. His interests broadened further working at Discount Records and Schoolkids’, where he became the go-to guy for questions about music.

Running a business with a sibling seems almost as tough as keeping a store filled with records alive. The brothers say they don’t really fight over the business, but they know how to push each other’s buttons. When tensions run high, Jeff admits, they may leave little “nasty grams” for one another around the shop “like land mines.” But Jeff also says that he knows he can rely on his brother’s love more than anybody’s aside from his wife’s–and it goes both ways.

Back at work, Jeff settles in for another shift. First, he loads the CD player and dials up an edgy blues tune spiced with a wailing harmonica. He then starts filing records from a crate of recently acquired vinyl. As the conversation turns to the future, he remarks, “I plan on being here as long as my health holds out.”

Just then, a few customers file in to the store, and friendly waves are exchanged. Jeff’s smile broadens. Some are there to buy, others to sell, and some are happy to just while away an afternoon among kindred spirits–people who love music.

This article has been edited since it was published in the July 2015 Ann Arbor Observer. It was Jeff, not Marc, who minored in particle physics and compared record grooves to “sound sculptures.”