Almighty Press

July 5, 2006
Quimper Sound moves, expands to change with times

by Stephen J Barry

Toward the end of the first day of business for Quimper Sound at its new location at 230 Taylor St., owner Steve Wilmart appeared pleased with the popular independent record store’s new digs.

“Between 11 and 1 you could hardly get in here,” Wilmart said. “It was great.”

Quimper Sound’s home for more than 30 years was a prime piece of downtown real estate: a shop with large windows on the corner of Water and Taylor streets. When word got out that the business was moving, four area retailers vied for the spot.

Still, Wilmart did not have to wrestle with himself over the decision to move the store off the main drag to a site less than a block away. The old location didn’t have a key ingredient many small record stores are turning to in order to stay alive amid the growing prevalence of digital music players and CD burners: space for something besides music.

Wilmart added a couch, four tables, an espresso bar and free Wi-Fi in an effort to transform Quimper Sound from a record store into “Port Townsend’s second living room.” He expanded store hours – until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday – making the store one of the few alcohol-free hangouts in the city that are open late.

He’s also hired seven new part-time employees, added inventory and built a “Murphy stage” that folds down in one corner of the store. All told, the expansion cost him more than $100,000.

“In order for small businesses owned by local people to stay alive, they’ve got to be willing to invest to change with the times,” Wilmart said.

Times have certainly been better for record stores.

According to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a California firm that provides marketing programs and database services for music retailers and record companies nationwide, more than 700 record stores have folded in the United States in the last year. Of those, 250 were independent, like Quimper Sound.

The move and the expansion are an enormous financial risk for Wilmart, but he’s confident he won’t be joining the departed. He mentioned his 18-month-old daughter and his 4-year-old son.

“I wouldn’t have mortgaged their future if I didn’t feel like Port Townsend would support this sort of thing,” he said.

Staying alive

Record stores aren’t yet a thing of the past. According to the Almighty Institute, retail still accounts for 94 percent of pre-recorded music sales. Wilmart is banking on that business.

Still, the profit margin at small record stores is smaller than large chains or big-box retailers. Wilmart needs healthy sales and regular customers in order to stay afloat, he said.

With that end in mind, he’s aiming for an element of exclusivity. He’s adding more than $50,000 of inventory during the expansion, and “a lot of that is in vinyl.”

“That’s one of the things that makes us unique,” he said. “I put a lot of effort into finding things you can’t get other places.”

Wilmart said his selection of rare vinyl albums already draws regular customers from Seattle and Tacoma, and on occasion, from as far as Portland.

The espresso stand, of course, is another approach toward boosting business. Coffee has an extremely high profit margin, but it’s also one of the key ingredients in making the new shop a hangout. Wilmart said he’s fine with the idea of someone buying a $1 drip coffee and using the Wi-Fi for hours a day on a regular basis. The longer customers are in the store, the more likely they are to buy. Also, he thinks they’ll be loyal.

“When they do buy a record, they’re going to buy it here,” he said.

The biggest obstacle to record store profit is the CD burner, which Wilmart called “the bane of our existence.” On his blog at the store’s website,, he expounds on this subject in an entry titled “CD Burning and the State of Independence.”

Wilmart writes that “nary a day goes by in the store when one of us doesn't overhear a customer say, ‘Oh, don’t buy that – I’ll burn you a copy of mine.’ Often they do this at the register! Most of the time it seems like folks don’t even realize what they’re saying in front of us. It is no different than going into the Co-op and saying, ‘Oh don’t buy those groceries – I’ll steal you some later.’”

The oldest?

Quimper bills itself as “Washington’s oldest independent record store,” yet there is another in Walla Walla that’s a few months older. However, it’s also a stereo and video outlet, and Jim McGuinn, owner of Hot Poop Stereo and Video, has no problem assigning the oldest store title to Wilmart. The name of that store, by the way, is meant to convey the fresh nature of the records for sale.

McGuinn said he has also felt the sting of the trend toward digital music and CD burning.

“It’s kind of like ice cream – now that people have refrigerators, they don’t have to go out to get ice cream,” he said.

McGuinn said Wilmart is taking the right approach.

“I do believe you’ve got to make it an experience in the store,” McGuinn said.

Wilmart is a seasoned veteran of record store ambiance. In fact, the only reason he ended up buying Quimper Sound was because he spent so much time hanging out there.

Ron McElroy, who owned the store for 27 years with his wife, Lynne, saw Wilmart around the shop so much that he thought he might as well pay him to be there.

“He just – unsolicited – called me at home and said, ‘Do you want to come work here?’” Wilmart said.

As a telecommuter, Wilmart had a flexible schedule and readily accepted the offer. Still, the thought of buying the shop didn’t cross his mind until McElroy expressed interest in selling. It became Wilmart’s on April Fools’ Day 2001.

He’s had the idea of adding an espresso stand for years, as he already had people hanging out in the store.

“Now it’ll be comfortable,” he said.

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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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