Almighty Press

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


The hole-in-the-wall specialty shops that have long made Lower Manhattan a destination for a particular kind of shopper have never made a great deal of money. But in recent years they have been hit hard by the usual music-industry woes - piracy, downloading - as well as rising real estate prices, leading to the sad but familiar scene of the emptied store with a note taped to the door.

Some 3,100 record stores around the country have closed since 2003, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a market research firm. And that's not just the big boxes like the 89 Tower Records outlets that closed at the end of 2006; nearly half were independent shops. In Manhattan and Brooklyn at least 80 stores have shut down in the last five years.

But the survivors aren't giving up just yet. Saturday is Record Store Day, presented by a consortium of independent stores and trade groups, with hundreds of retailers in the United States and some overseas cranking up the volume a bit to draw back customers and to celebrate the culture of buying, selling and debating CDs and vinyl.

Among the highlights: Metallica will be greeting fans at Rasputin Music in Mountain View, Calif., and Regina Spektor is to perform at Sound Fix, a four-year-old shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that like many has learned to get creative, regularly offering free performances. At Other Music, a capital of underground music on East Fourth Street in Manhattan that faces a shuttered Tower Records, a roster of indie-rock stars will be playing D.J. all afternoon, including members of Tapes 'n Tapes, Grizzly Bear and Deerhunter.

One-day-only record releases will also be part of the event. Vinyl singles by R.E.M., Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend, Stephen Malkmus and others are being sold on Saturday, and labels big and small are contributing sampler discs and other goodies. (Schedule and information:

"Record stores as we know them are dying," said Josh Madell of Other Music. "On the other hand, there is still a space in the culture for what a record store does, being a hub of the music community and a place to find out about new music."

Some retailers are hoping that the effort is not too late. Jammyland and the Downtown Music Gallery, two East Village institutions Jammyland, on Third Street, specializes in rare reggae, and Downtown, on the Bowery, in avant-garde jazz and new music are facing untenable rent increases and are looking for new homes.

Jammyland is "the model of what a great record store can be," said Vivien Goldman, the author of "The Book of Exodus: The Making and Meaning of Bob Marley and the Wailers' Album of the Century" and other books. "D.J.'s congregate there from all over and exchange ideas. It's a crucible of music knowledge."

For a local music shopper with a memory of even just a few years, the East Village and the Lower East Side are quickly becoming a record-store graveyard. Across from Jammyland is the former home of Dance Tracks, a premier dance and electronic outlet, which closed late last year, as did Finyl Vinyl, on Sixth Street. Stooz on Seventh Street, Sonic Groove on Avenue B, Accidental on Avenue A, Wowsville on Second Avenue and Bate, an essential Latin store on Delancey Street all gone, to say nothing of stores in other neighborhoods, like Midnight Records in Chelsea and NYCD on the Upper West Side.

"Rent is up, and sales are down," Malcolm Allen of Jammyland said as he sold a few Jamaican-made 45s to a customer last weekend. "Not a good combination."

Like many longtime clerks, Mr. Allen is frighteningly knowledgeable. Testing out a random single on the store turntable, he discerned in a few seconds that it had the wrong label: it wasn't "Good Morning Dub," he said, but rather U-Roy's "Music Addict," from around 1987, itself a response to Horace Ferguson's "Sensi Addict." That earned him a quick sale, and later research confirmed that he was right on the money.

Casually dispensed expert knowledge like that is exactly what Record Store Day is looking to celebrate. Ms. Spektor, who started off selling homemade CDs and is now signed to a major label, Sire, said that independent stores had been the first to carry her music, and that their support helped her career take off. And though she said she now feels contrite that for years her music collection was made up mainly of items copied from friends "I just had no money" she is supporting the stores out of gratitude.

"I'm the record label-slash-store nightmare," Ms. Spektor said. "Everything I had was a mixtape or a burned CD. But I don't like the idea of all the record stores where people actually know what they're talking about going out of business. They have their own art form."

Every year consumers buy less of their music in stores. According to Nielsen SoundScan, retail outlets accounted for 42 percent of album sales last year, down from 68 percent in 2001.

To adapt, many stores are devoting more space to DVDs, clothes and electronics. That's the case even with the biggest retailers, including Virgin Megastore, which has 10 outlets in the United States. (It has closed 17 since 1999.) The company reported that last year its sales were up 11.5 percent. But nonmusic purchases accounted for the jump; music sales were flat. Simon Wright, chief executive of the Virgin Entertainment Group North America, said that over the last four or five years music sales had gone from being 70 percent of the stores' total to less than 40 percent.

"The sheer drop-off in the physical music market is going to inevitably cause the space allotted to music to come down," Mr. Wright said. "That will obviously contribute to further decline." He added that the future of Virgin's Union Square location was up in the air; though profitable, he said, the store is just too big for the current market.

Whatever people buy there, the store is doing a brisk business. It buzzed with shoppers on Sunday afternoon. Some of them, like Kim Zeller, a 37-year-old clothing designer pushing a baby carriage, said that buying music on the Internet just can't compare to the experience of browsing in a store and getting out of the house.

"It kind of gets boring when you're trapped inside listening to music from your computer," said Ms. Zeller, who had bought new CDs by Erykah Badu and the Black Keys. "I still like coming to the store."

Although many have been shuttered, more than 2,400 independent shops still exist around the country. And even in the most gentrified parts of Manhattan, some are carrying on the same as ever. A-1 Records, on East Sixth Street, which has Polaroids out front of the D.J.'s who shop there, is still a popular trove of rare vinyl, as are the Academy outlet on East 12th Street, Record Runner and Strider on Jones Street, and the venerable House of Oldies on Carmine Street. The Academy store on West 18th Street has one of the most picked-over CD inventories in the city.

Products that aren't fundamentally made up of ones and zeros vinyl records, for instance, which have a habit of turning casual fans into collectors have proved a salvation for many retailers. Eric Levin, the owner of Criminal Records in Atlanta and one of the organizers of Record Store Day, said vinyl accounted for a quarter of his music sales.

"That may only be a niche as we go forward," Mr. Levin said, "but it'll be a giant niche you can make a lot of money on."

For many New York shops, however, the real estate crunch is making survival difficult. The Downtown Music Gallery, which sells about $60,000 in CDs, DVDs and other items every month, has been searching for a new home for six months, said Bruce Lee Gallanter, its founder. So far it hasn't been able to find anything affordable in its namesake area in Lower Manhattan and is considering moving to Queens, Brooklyn or Washington Heights.

"We would love to stay downtown," Mr. Gallanter said. "That's what we're all about. But we have to be realistic."

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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