Almighty Press

The Roanoke Times

August 18, 2006
Plan 9 Music puts new spin on 5 Record Exchange stores

Plan 9 will move into the former Record Exchange spot on the upper level of Towers Shopping Center in Roanoke.

By Jenny Kincaid Boone

This is the day the music was revived.

In a turnaround tale for the struggling independent music industry, Plan 9 Music, a record store company based in Richmond, has purchased five of the former Record Exchange stores, including one in Roanoke at Towers Shopping Center.

Plan 9's general manager and marketing director, Kelly Wilkes, said the company had wanted to expand into the Roanoke Valley for some time.

In its 25th year, Plan 9 operates five Virginia stores, including one in Harrisonburg. And its business model is similar to The Record Exchange's.

Plan 9 sells used and new CDs, DVDs and vinyl records, along with used video games.

Its stores have a focus on rock music, but they carry other genres, such as bluegrass, jazz and hip-hop, according to the company's Web site.

Native Roanoker Don Rosenberg launched The Record Exchange in 1979, expanding the chain to 15 locations in Virginia and North Carolina. But later, its sales began to slide because of competition from big-box retailers and people illegally downloading music from the Internet. That's a trend largely responsible for the demise of independent record stores across the country.

In June, Rosenberg, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., said he planned to close his remaining five stores, including the Roanoke Towers location. The Record Exchange in Blacksburg closed in February.

Plan 9 will move into the former Record Exchange spot on the upper level of Towers. It's also taking over the former store in Lynchburg and three North Carolina locations in Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Charlotte, Wilkes said.

She would not disclose the purchase amount of the sales deal.

The new Plan 9 stores will keep The Record Exchange name for a short time before switching over to Plan 9 exclusively.

"It's a great way for us to enter into a market where a branded location already exists," Wilkes said.

The company does not know the exact opening date for its Roanoke store, though Wilkes said it would like to open in the next two weeks.

Plan 9 will rebuild its new stores with "more healthy offerings," she explained. It will retain a minimal amount of inventory left from The Record Exchange, but the majority of its stock will be Plan 9 music and related merchandise.

Its merchandise includes T-shirts, posters and other memorabilia.

Selling these kinds of products, in addition to music, is one reason that some independent or "indie" music retailers are surviving, said Joel Oberstein, president of the Almighty Institute of Music Retail in California. Many also create a community environment in stores, he said.

"A lot of the stores that are doing well and holding firm are stores that have diversified a little bit and have become sort of a hot-bed, to-go place for their community," he said. "That's what a music store is now. It's a pop culture store. People can't survive selling just music now."

According to a database that Oberstein's company uses to track independent record stores nationally, there are more than 2,900 in business.

Still, 889 independent record stores and chains have closed since the database began in September 2003, he said.

Despite the industry's survival trends, Wilkes said she's confident that Plan 9's concept will stay afloat.

The company will bring its same promotions and sales to the new stores. Those include buy-back offers on movies, music and video games.

Plan 9 also has a Sound Rewards club through which customers get store discounts and receive weekly e-mails about sales and invitations to events, such as in-store concerts by music artists.

Wilkes said competition from big-box retailers has helped stores such as Plan 9 to "raise your level of play."

She said Plan 9 stores try to provide a more hands-on approach to music sales with knowledgeable employees and an interactive customer and employee environment.

"We obviously still feel that the record store is viable," she said. "There's still plenty of people who like the culture of the record store."

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