Almighty Press

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

Once-venerated local music shops get creative to compete with downloads and big box stores


As independent music stores in Delaware collapse around him, the 35-year-old owner of Rainbow Records in Newark says he's not going anywhere.

In a year that saw the closure of one of the biggest indie stores in the state -- Record & Tape Traders in Rehoboth Beach -- as well as Scooter's Records, a Wilmington shop that specialized in R&B and hip-hop, Chris Avino is more determined than ever to succeed.

And he's doing so through sacrifice.

Avino is not married. He doesn't have any children. He lives in an apartment above the store. And he takes no salary.

"That's one way to survive. The other is being extremely adaptable," he says of his store on Newark's Main Street, which lost Bert's Music in 2007, but is still home to both Rainbow and Wonderland Records. "We basically set prices so I can keep the doors open."

Even though Avino's shop is the last of what was once a powerful seven-store Delaware-based chain, Avino is keeping his doors open by retooling his merchandise based on demand several times a year.

He also has embraced the Internet by retooling Rainbow's Web site into a more user-friendly blog format and using Facebook as a way to better connect with the local community, posting updates throughout the day, whether it's a note telling customers that the newest music magazines have arrived, spotlighting a favorite album of a staffer or announcing the arrival of an exclusive EP you can't find at stores like Wal-Mart.

"As we all know, this is a dying industry, but I've been able to adapt," he says. "Not many people can do it. You have to live a certain lifestyle -- one of which is not very plush."

In 2008, CD sales dropped by 19 percent, while music downloads on the Internet increased by 29 percent, according to the most recent report released by market research firm The NPD Group in March. Downloads now account for a third of all music tracks purchased in the United States, the music study found.

With just about any album or chart-topping single available with a click of a button, fewer people feel the need to visit their local music store. Since 2003, about 1,300 independent music stores closed, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a California-based industry research group. There are fewer than 2,500 stores left. And, in Delaware, you can easily count the number of stores remaining on two hands.

Brian Poehner, co-founder and vice president of merchandising for Value Music Concepts Inc., a Georgia-based company that operated the Record & Tape Traders store in Rehoboth, was blunt when explaining the store's demise after many years as Rehoboth Avenue's largest music retailer.

"We sell CDs and, as you know, most people are downloading or stealing their music these days," Poehner says. "You can't compete with free. Physical sales are dropping precipitously and the digital sales are really not increasing to make up for it because of piracy more than anything."

Newark's Rainbow Records is one of about 60 indie music stores that make up the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, a 14-year-old national organization that acts as a network for similar stores across the country, with owners exchanging business tips that seem to be working during these trying times. After all, being in a failing industry with a failing economy is tough to overcome.

"Many of these store owners across the country have been doing this for a long time and you just try to band together," Avino says. "But I have a very positive outlook for independent records stores, actually. There aren't many left and it's become a niche kind of store and there are plenty of people who love their music and love going to record stores. Is it something I'll become a millionaire from? No. It's enough to make a living."

Local connections

In Bear, Sam Vaughn is using his local connections to keep business steady at Sam's Music Connection.

As a semiretired DJ, he is heavily involved in the Delaware music scene, especially the DJs that spin in clubs and bars across the state.

His store is home base for anything and everything local musically -- flyers for upcoming concerts and DJ battles, CDs by local hip-hop acts and anything DJs need, whether it's equipment or long out-of-print music to help give them an edge over other area acts.

Vaughn's ultralocal approach, paired with an in-demand niche in an area without much competition, has allowed his one-man store in Fox Run Shopping Center to stay afloat as other stores fall.

And his Philadelphia roots, planted over years spent working at Market Street music store Funk-O-Mart, don't hurt. Philly native DJ Jazzy Jeff -- who went to the top of the charts with Will Smith, aka The Fresh Prince -- moved to Bear shortly after Vaughn and visits the store regularly. He recently used it as a set for an appearance on an Internet TV show.

In the past eight years, business for Vaughn has been steady even as the number of independent music stores across Delaware shrinks thanks to loss of sales to big box stores like Best Buyand Kmart and both legal and illegal music downloads.

"You have to get your name out there and evolve with the current trends," Vaughn says in his 1,300-square-foot shop decorated with posters of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. and filled with CDs, mix tapes, hard-to-find vinyl and DJ equipment.

In the end, Avino says it's up to the music-loving public to make a decision -- buy an album from a place that makes its money from selling TVs and washing machines or turn to the indie store, where you might hear something you like playing over the speakers or get turned onto new music from a sharp music-lover behind the counter.

"This is what I try to preach ever since I bought this store: You really have to focus on where you're purchasing your music," he says. "If saving an extra dollar is really that important to you, you can buy it online or go to Best Buy. But if you value the service that independent stores offer, then that's where you should shop."

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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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