Almighty Press

June 9, 2011
Curmudgeon records closes its doors for good

By Eugene Paik/The Star-Ledger

With vinyl record sales soaring in recent years, business should be booming for independent record shops, right?

Tell that to Curmudgeon Records.

The Somerville store shut its doors for good last month, weighed down by debt and disappointing sales.

Curmudgeon became the latest casualty in the era of digital music, a loss that leaves vinyl lovers with few places to shop in the midsection of the state. Even as vinyl becomes popular again and sales climb impressively, experts said record stores can only survive if they are willing to branch out.

"The stores are now becoming more like pop-culture hubs for the community," said Joel Oberstein, president of the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, which tracks the music industry. "Stores are seeing this as the way to survive."

Vinyl album sales have increased over the past three years, with the bulk of the purchases occurring in independent record stores, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks the music industry.

Nielsen SoundScan said 2.8 million vinyl albums were sold in 2010, a 14 percent increase over the previous year. And sales have been increasing for the past three years.

There's a catch, though: The vinyl sales only accounted for about 1 percent of total album sales -- a category that also includes CDs and digital music, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

That means stores that want to carry the vinyl have to get creative with their businesses to cover their costs.

"Record stores need to be more than a record store," said Jon Meyers, senior editor of the blog Vinyl District. "Every city has its own vibe, and record stores are at the center of that music culture."

There are now 16 independent music stores within 25 miles of Curmudgeon's former location, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail. The stores, which stretch from Trenton to Westfield, don't all sell vinyl records, but most of them provide a diverse range of goods, from stereo equipment to rock shows and designer apparel as well as music.

Meanwhile, Curmudgeon refused to be anything more than what it was intended to be -- a record store. Bill Plenge, the store's owner, said money to broaden the business wasn't there. But the reasons also went deeper -- Plenge was determined to run his shop on his terms: His dream was to sell vinyl records.

"This is what I like doing. This is what I enjoy," he said. "The other stuff just doesn't interest me."

Plenge believes his store's eventual downfall wasn't necessarily caused by a refusal to change, but by ambitious expansion plans.

Curmudgeon was one of the few shops left standing between New Jersey's two vinyl-record heavyweights -- Vintage Vinyl in Fords and the Princeton Record Exchange. Plenge originally opened his store in Edison in 1994 and became profitable enough to add a second store in Hillsborough six years later.

The new store opened at a time when Curmudgeon was hitting its peak, but sales soon began to plummet, and by 2006, both locations had to be closed. Plenge reopened Curmudgeon almost immediately in Somerville, where rent was lower and Plenge thought business would be better.

"We overextended ourselves on that loan (for the additional store)," Plenge said. "But we saw what we were making (in Edison) and we just wanted a little bit more."

Curmudgeon's fate is a lesson that resonates with new store owners hoping to beat the odds.

Consider Holdfast, an independently owned shop that opened in Asbury Park two years ago.

Co-owner Joe Koukos said vinyl records make up more than half of his merchandise, but he sells designer clothing and rock 'n' roll memorabilia. His store also doubles as an art gallery, Koukos said.

To keep the cash registers ringing, he said he has to hustle to find fresh ways to draw people in.

That means digging for hard-to-find records or finding new bands and featuring up-and-coming artists.

"A lot of stores fall into the trap of just sitting behind a counter and waiting for things to come to them," Koukos said.

Holdfast hopes to benefit from the growing number of vinyl fanatics -- a group composed mainly of young adults with disposable incomes.

It's not clear if the renewed interest is merely a fad, but Oberstein said those listeners -- raised on compressed, digital music files -- prefer the warm, full tones of vinyl. And nationwide events such as Record Store Day, an annual celebration since 2007, help by making more people aware of the vintage black discs.

"They're souvenirs of an era," said Meyers, the senior editor from Vinyl District. "Now whether they can sustain and revitalize stores remains to be seen."

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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

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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

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