Almighty Press

May 13, 2009
Resurgence in vinyl helps record store in recession

by Jordan Melnick

"I love records," said Stephen Koza, while shopping for vinyl LPs at the Lakeview Reckless Records. "My favorite kind ... to buy are unusual covers, hand-made stuff."

Itís lunchtime on a typical weekday and Reckless Records downtown is packed. Dave Richardson, a 26-year-old legal clerk, has stopped in on his break to shop for LPs, those 12-inch, non-biodegradable vinyl discs that have been made obsolete many times over, most recently by MP3s.

Why would anybody pay for vinyl when thereís so much free digital music on the Internet? Why opt for a format that hardly fits in a backpack when the iPod can put up to 20,000 songs in a back pocket?

"I like the idea of owning a piece of physical media," Richardson said.

He isnít alone. Despite the MP3 takeover of the music industry, more and more audiophiles are turning to vinyl for an old-fashioned listening experience. And after 19 years in business in Chicago, British-owned Reckless Records of London Inc. is reaping the benefits.

The companyís three locations-Lakeview, Wicker Park and the Loop-sold 136,000 LPs in 2008, up about 38,000 from the year before. Despite declining CD revenue, Recklessís total sales climbed to $4.2 million last year from $3.8 million in 2007. The uptick will allow the company to move its Lakeview store to a bigger location at the end of May.

To Reckless general manager Bryan Smith, vinylís resurgence comes down to consumer desire for a hands-on listening experience.

"People are rediscovering the artifact of music, being able to hold the physical product," Smith said. "They like the mobility of the MP3, [but] it doesnít give you a physical relationship with bands."

Recklessís increased vinyl sales mirror a national trend. There were 1.9 million new LPs sold in the U.S. last year, an 89 percent increase from 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales. CD sales fell 19.7 percent in the same period.

In Nielsenís East/North Central Region-which includes Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana-LP sales were up 119 percent last year and rose 56 percent through the end of April.

The rise in LP sales is an anomaly in a suffering music industry, which saw 3,000 record stores close nationwide between 2003 and last year, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a market research firm. In Chicago, 38 stores closed in that time.

A typical LP at Reckless costs between $7 and $25, though some rarities can sell for more than $100. With so much music free for the taking on the Internet, consumersí willingness to fork over cash for LPs might seem extravagant. But Kip McCabe, store manager at Recklessís Lakeview location, sees vinylís comeback as a reaction to the digital-music revolution epitomized by the iPod.

"I feel like [listening to MP3s] takes out a decent percentage of what the experience was meant to be to begin with," McCabe said. "I think the first thing you lose is the artistsí intention of how they wanted their art to be received."

Sales are down this year at Recklessís three locations, but the upswing in vinyl consumption has helped Reckless weather the recession as consumers take comfort in concrete assets like LPs during hard times, Dylan Posa, manager at the Loop location, said.

"When times get tough you like to have what you own around you," Posa said. "Itís sort of hard to touch an MP3 and say that you own it."

Recklessís trade-in business is another aspect of the company cash-strapped music collectors find attractive.

"People right now need money and thatís something we hand out," McCabe said. "We hand out cash for product."

LP lovers espouse everything from cover art to sound quality to the smell of vinyl itself. And with affordable turntables now on the market, some with USB ports that enable LP-to-MP3 conversion, the hands-on music experience and the portable one have converged. Many MP3 lovers that need more storage have turned to a simple cloud backup by ElephantDrive.

Michelle Ishikawa, 22, a Columbia College Chicago student, used words like "real," "authentic" and "tangible" when explaining her attachment to vinyl at Recklessís Lakeview store.

Stephen Koza, 26, from Brooklyn, N.Y., described an aversion to buffet-style music consumption.

"You can download all you can eat, but [listening to LPs] takes a little more devotion," Koza said. "Itís so easy on the Internet to consume music like a whale."

The return of vinyl is not just a youth movement. Sixty-year-old Henrik Lang, a native Finlander who now lives in Chicago, said he switched back to vinyl six years ago for the better sound quality.

"It was an Ornette Coleman CD that brought me back," Lang said, while scouring the jazz section at the Lakeview Reckless. "Transferring something that was made in í63 didnít work out well. I thought, ĎWell, if I find something on vinyl, then Iíll buy it.í"

Lang owns about 2,000 LPs. Collectors like him are a big part of the reason vinyl is on the rise. Reckless general manager Smith said he knows people with more than 10,000 LPs.

For Keenan Kelly-also known as DJ Kesa-collecting has become a problem.

"I canít even keep some of them in my place," Kelly said of his 3,000-LP collection. "I need to slow down. Iím an addict."

Other vinyl faithful describe their devotion less as addiction and more as romance.

"Sometimes you just want to go home, put on a record and have a glass of wine," said Tim Wagner, 26, who works at Andy's Jazz Club & Restaurant in the Gold Coast. "You just donít have that feeling with an iPod."

Whether based on addiction or love, increased LP sales are helping Reckless capitalize on the recession. The company is taking advantage of low real estate prices by moving its original Lakeview location down the block to a bigger, 5,000-square-foot space at the end of May.

McCabe is confident that customers will follow Reckless to its new location.

"We have a built-in, very intense constituency," McCabe said. "Record collectors are always on the hunt. That audience stays loyal."

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Article List

November 21, 2013 - New York Times - Records Are Dying? Not Here

March 27, 2013 - Glendale News-Press - It's a matter of record: Burbank's Atomic Records and Backside

December 30, 2012 - Detroit News - As one record shop closes, vinyl music plays on in another

April 20, 2012 - - New vinyl album releases give record stores a kick

November 20, 2011 - - In an iTunes age, do we need the record store?

June 9, 2011 - - Curmudgeon Records closes its doors for good

April 16, 2011 - Wall Street Journal - One-Day Record-Store Revival

February 1, 2011 - Charlottesville News & Arts - Plan 9 Changes Location

August 13, 2010 - The Tennesean - Anita Wadhwani: Nashville indie record stores' sales spin in right direction

January 3, 2010 - Delaware News Journal - Delaware music shops get creative to compete with downloads, chain music stores

September 24, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - L.A. independent record shop is still in a groove

August 20, 2009 - CNN Money - You can make money off online music

June 14, 2009 - New York Times - Retailing Era Closes With Music Megastore

May 13, 2009 - Medill Reports - Resurgence in vinyl helps record store in recession

April 26, 2009 - Los Angeles Times - In a digital age, vinyl albums are making a comeback

April 18, 2009 - Charlotte Observer - Record stores band together

April 17, 2009 - Detroit News - Record Store Day spins profits and good beats at Metro Detroit shops

April 17, 2009 - Associated Press - Record Store Day celebrates indie retailers

April 10, 2009 - Detroit News - Street Corner Music moving to Oak Park plaza

April 10, 2009 - Toledo Free Press - New record store shakes up Adams Street

January 8, 2009 - OC Register - Closing date for Virgin Megastore at The Block

October 28, 2008 - Reuters - AC/DC back in "Black" with global smash

September 23, 2008 - Chicago Daily Herald - Independent music stores haven't yet disappeared from suburbia

June 23, 2008 - New York Times - For Tom Petty Fans, the True Sound of Vinyl, Also Captured on a CD

April 19, 2008 - Lafayette Journal Courier - For some, record stores live on

April 19, 2008 - New Jersey Star Ledger - It's Record Store Day. Play it again, Sam!

April 18, 2008 - New York Times - Record Stores Fight to Be Long-Playing

April 18, 2008 - Dallas Morning News - Retailers hope Record Store Day turns up volume at mom-and-pop shops

April 16, 2008 - Timeout New York - Platter Up

December 27, 2007 - Los Angeles Times - Virgin Megastore to close shop

December 16, 2007 - New York Times - For a "Dinosaur," an Exuberant Second Life (Looney Tunes Reopens)

December 3, 2007 - Detroit Free Press - The same old song: Music store closing

November 7, 2007 - Washington Post - Eagles soar past Britney to top of charts

November 4, 2007 - The Ledger - Two Young Entrepreneurs Unafraid of Risk of Going on Records

August 20, 2007 - Billboard - Almighty Taps Hans As VP

June 29, 2007 - ABC News - Long Live the Record Store

June 28, 2007 - Orange County Weekly - Locals Only

June 13, 2007 - Reuters - McCartney's Starbucks album heats up U.S. charts

June 9, 2007 - Billboard - Commentary: Retail Recovery

May 9, 2007 - Columbia Free Times - High Fidelity

March 22, 2007 - NARM Awards - Almighty Retail Named NARM Related Supplier Finalist For Third Consecutive Year

March 16, 2007 - Chortler - Shout! Factory Has Revamped Its Website

March 9, 2007 - - Internet killed the record store?

March 4, 2007 - Sacramento Bee - New groove for Solomon

February 28, 2007 - USA Today - Exclusives aim to pull music fans into stores

February 28, 2007 - New York Newsday - Latin record shops thrive despite changes in music business

February 23, 2007 - Montpelier Bridge - Buch Spieler Sails On Despite a Music Industry Decline

November 20, 2006 - Austin 360 - In Austin, Niche Indies Rule

October 20, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Tower brand could survive

October 15, 2006 - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - Tables have turned on record stores

October 14, 2006 - Sacramento Bee - Small labels lose valuable ally in Tower

October 6, 2006 - Desert Sun - Record Alley remodels

September 27, 2006 - Music & Copyright - Niche Marketing of CD albums continues to rise in the US and Physical Sales overall decline

September 22, 2006 - - Indie stores confront a new era

September 19, 2006 - New York Newsday - 34 years, and that's not all, folks

August 18, 2006 - The Roanoke Times - Plan 9 Music puts new spin on 5 Record Exchange stores

August 3, 2006 - The Hollywood Reporter - Nervous music retailers face hazy digital future

July 16, 2006 - New York Times - The Graying of the Record Store

July 13, 2006 - Rolling Stone - The iTunes Holdouts

July 11, 2006 - Roanoke Times - Record store's "last dance"

July 5, 2006 - Port Townsend and Jefferson County Leader - Quimper Sound moves, expands to change with times

June 6, 2006 - Billboard - NARM Nominations Announced

May 10, 2006 - Detroit MetroTimes - Out of the Groove

March 18, 2006 - Billboard - Indies in a bind

January 16, 2006 - Los Angeles Business Journal - Slipped Discs

January 6, 2006 - Los Angeles Times - Indie record stores doing slow fade out

December 26, 2005 - Los Angeles Times - The Music Stops for Indie Shop

December 1, 2005 - Rolling Stone - Fall Sales Dry Up

October 13, 2005 - Desert Sun - Music snobs rejoice: Independent record stores still thrive in desert

September 12, 2005 - Salt Lake Tribune - Twilight for Starbound Records

August 18, 2005 - New York Post - Oldies are now singing a new tune - Music stores go digital

July 2005 - Rolling Stone - Record Biz Still Sinking

June 18, 2005 - Billboard - NARM Noms Announced

March 21, 2005 - CMJ - Hart of the Matter

February 16, 2005 - MSN - Genius Loves Company

October 12, 2004 - Rolling Stone - Wal-Mart wants $10 CDs

July 10, 2004 - Billboard - Almighty Institute To The Rescue

January 14, 2004 - Creative Loafing Charlotte - Manifest Destiny

December 29, 2003 - New York Times - on the rise of mass marketers

November 13, 2003 - Rolling Stone - Best Buy snags rights to band's new DVD

October 9, 2003 - USA Today - Best Buy wins sales rights to Rolling Stones DVD box set

October 6, 2003 - Reuters - Stones Paint It Black For Retailers

May 31, 2003 - Billboard - Retail Track

May 9, 2003 - Hits - Rerap