Almighty Press

September 22, 2006
Indie stores confront a new era

By Catherine Andrews - CNN

(CNN) -- Late last year, a strip mall opened near Little Five Points, a hip neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia, and home to an eclectic mix of independent stores, restaurants and pubs.

The mall, which features Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Target stores, is located about a half-mile from Criminal Records, an independent record store that has been a focal point in the city's arts landscape for nearly two decades.

"I thought a lot about that strip before it opened and after it opened. It was doom and gloom and everybody was full of fear," said Eric Levin, owner of Criminal Records. "The ironic thing is that I can't say we've done better, but I can't say we've done worse."

The same cannot be said for many independent stores across the country that have closed over the last few years.

There are about 800 fewer independent music stores now than in 2003, according to Clark Benson, founder of Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a market research group that maintains a database of retail music outlets.

Commercial rents in hip neighborhoods, where such stores are usually located, have risen. Retail chains, which offer cheaper pricing, have expanded. The Internet has also made it easier to find obscure books, movies, and records -- usually the niche that independent retailers fill.

Economics and migration

The problem that independent retailers are facing is two-pronged, according to Richard Layman, a Washington, D.C.-based historical preservation and urban revitalization consultant.

"The scale of retail has changed and where it's located has changed," he said.

Layman, who writes the blog Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, cited migration by the middle class to the suburbs from towns and cities as the starting point of independent stores' decline.

"In our parents' generation, somebody probably lived on the block who owned a store. That doesn't happen anymore," he said. "People have left the cities. You've lost the support and infrastructure that supports the maintenance of independent business."

Many of the 25 counties with the highest levels of decline were home to slow-growing or declining cities like Cook County, Illinois (which includes Chicago), Wayne County, Michigan (which includes Detroit), and Cuyahoga County, Ohio (which includes Cleveland), according to a Census Bureau report published in April 2006.

Meanwhile, some of the fastest growing counties are exurban or suburban areas that surround cities like Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, or Washington D.C.

The biggest problem for the stores, however, may be simple economics, said Glenn Peoples, a music industry veteran who runs the blog Coolfer.

"Big box chains often sell new releases and hit titles at a loss, and at a price that is lower than indie stores' wholesale costs from their distributors," he explained. "Consumers want and expect new releases to have low prices, so indie stores get by on a very small margin on some titles while still coming in way above big box prices."

Vince Wadhwani -- who started, a Web site that allows users to list, rate and write about independent stores in cities like Philadelphia, San Francisco and Baltimore -- says financial resources available to major chains are a major cause of the decline.

"Without exception, chains have much bigger budgets than independently owned stores," he said. "That allows them to advertise on a level not available to the indies. But more importantly, they are able and willing to either purchase property outright or sign leases that are longer than their independent counterparts."

Independent stores offer more intimate service and "I don't know if enough people think about it, if they realize that every dollar they spend is a vote for the type of service that they want," Wadhwani said.

Adjusting to a new era

Barry Solan, a co-founder of Video Americain, which has six video stores along the Eastern Seaboard, said emerging technology and changes made by the large retail chains essentially represents a new business model, one to which independent stores have to adapt to.

"I used to run my company as if it was a big fat, Eastern European, socialist country," he said. "My goal was always to give away as much of the money as possible."

The bureaucracy that runs the company is leaner, he said, and there is an increased attention to the profit motive.

Video stores have been affected by online stores like Netflix and large retail chains, but they're thriving, Solan said. He attributes it to customer loyalty and the chemistry developed between a neighborhood and its residents.

"You want to settle in with a neighborhood for the long haul and they become part of what you are...Eventually, they just love you and they love what you do," he said.

Layman, the revitalization consultant, said independent stores have to find a way to compete beyond price. "You have to have loyal customers who seek you out because the combo of what you offer and how you offer it, things they can't get elsewhere -- that's how independent stores have to do it," he said.

Criminal Records' Levin, who also runs the Alliance of Independent Media Stores, a collective of 29 stores in 21 states, said independent stores have to cleverly change to ensure their survival.

"We have to create really fun, interactive, playful environments for [customers] to come hang out in. The stores that do that, I think, have many, many years ahead of them," he said.

He bought a couple of coffeehouses in the Atlanta area last year with ambitions of offering new reasons for customers to visit his stores. The coffeehouse located next to the record store features regular performances by local acts.

He hasn't completely planned out how his media store will work in concert with the coffeehouses, but he hopes to foster a communal spirit prominently -- for example, a space where customers can spin vinyl records while having a cup of coffee. "Nobody is going to gather around an iPod," he said.

The greatest reason that indie stores will thrive, Levin says, is that they make communities more vibrant and support the arts community.

"Everybody in my store is in a band, writing a comic, is working on a novel, they're in a touring band and [sometimes ask] 'Hey, can I leave for three weeks and go rock and then come back?'" Levin said. "They ask, 'Can I use the fax machine to book my gig? Can I put up artwork in the [coffeeshop]?' -- Can you imagine even asking a question like that at Best Buy?

"We are the community. That sounds very arrogant, but I believe that heart and soul."

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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

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