by Joe Schwab
April 19th will be the first Record Store day celebrated by independent record stores throughout the country. Here in St. Louis, Euclid Records and Vintage Vinyl will be having various promotions, sales and giveaways. Yes this is a promotional ploy to entice the music lover to put down the laptop and come back to the record store. I don’t deny the ease of downloading a song for a buck on ITunes or Amazon. Hell, I own a record store and still spend an average of 50 bucks a month for the convenience of buying CD’s or DVD’s through Amazon and other on-line syndicates. But nothing has replaced the physical store, browsing through the CD or LP racks, checking out the artwork, finding out the personnel or just smelling that wonderful musty stench of a 30 year old record.
Over the past 10 years or so, many friends of mine have shut their doors permanently and music lovers all over the country are saying goodbye to their beloved hangout, that record store where they purchased their first Beatles 45 or their first Smiths 12” single. St. Louis boasted nearly 50 record stores in the early 90’s, we’re down to a precious few today. We are lucky though, we’re doing better than most cities and we still have a number of world class stores such as Webster Records, CD Reunion, The Record Exchange, Apop, Downtown Music, Now Hear This and one last survivor of the Granddaddy of all St. Louis Indies, Streetside Records. These surviving dinosaurs exist because of a loyal following, a niche market and the fact that the owners and employees love what we do.
So what is the independent record store up against?
1- Box stores cutting prices on new releases to below wholesale cost.
2- Rising rents.
3- An entire generation of music fans that care only about songs and not a full length creation.
4- Stagnant pricing from the record labels.
The first wave of record store closings in the late 90’s were a result of impossible competition from the box stores such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart. While this is still a factor, it’s not as dire as it once was. Most independent stores have little or new use for the new Eagles or Justin Timberlake product, much as box stores have no use for Vampire Weekend or MGMT. Besides, music sales for Best Buy and Wal-Mart are minimal at best and they suffer the same types of musical indifference that the Indies do, only they have computers and clothing sales to fall back on.
One of the biggest problems for most music stores right now comes with the high overhead brought on by landlords who are catering to the large chain stores and restaurants. The end of 2007 also brought about the end of a St. Louis institution, Streetside on Delmar. This is where it all began, the first store in what became the largest Midwest chain of independently owned record stores. Though Streetside went through various ownerships (currently owned by the large FYE organization) this was quite possibly one of the finest record stores in the country in its time. But rents shot up and the outcry was heard throughout the loop, “don’t let chains invade our neighborhood!”. But how can a “Mom and Pop” store of any kind exist in this day and age, especially a startup company. A drive through the state of Missouri tells the answer. Beautiful town squares, hundreds of them throughout the state, with empty storefronts having once housed locally owned 5 & 10’s, grocery stores, clothing boutiques and yes record stores now forced out by the shadow of that Wal-Mart Super Center on the highway at the edge of town. They can’t compete with the prices and as a result, they can’t make the rent.
About a year ago, the New York Times ran an article on the “graying” of the record store. Meaning the record store was now a place for old diehards that still buy their music the old fashioned way. While I do think this article was pretty accurate at the time, things have changed in the past year. Vinyl is going through another renaissance and those stores that stuck with it are thriving or at least surviving much better. The demand for vinyl has increased 12% nation wide over the past 2 sales quarters as the CD continues to fall. This is a huge relief if it continues. A generation of album buyers was being lost as the market had turned singles driven as it was before the advent of the long playing record. College and High School kids are now realizing the beauty of the album cover art, that true vinyl sound and the sequencing of a record. The long playing record was becoming a lost art, and possibly the truest way a musician can tell his full story.
The CD biz has been dying on the vine for a number of years now. Maybe a ray of light can now be seen as the major labels might (and that’s a big might) have seen the error of their ways. The price of CD’s has never dropped, with the exception of older catalogue titles. If the classic record store is going to survive, the prices need to be slashed big time. Nobody ever chose downloading music over buying the product. Hell, music fans have been taping for years and during the days of double platinum record sales. It’s gotten to the point where eighteen or nineteen dollars for a CD is no longer feasible. If you bring the price down below ten dollars, I’m talkin’ 9.99 folks; we could be seeing gold and platinum records on those Billboard charts again.
The death of the Indy record store has been greatly exaggerated. Though the gloom and doom forecasters have been predicting rain, the sun is out and we’re ready to play. The strong have survived, the kids are starting to come back and the future is strong enough that Euclid has extended its lease in Webster for another 5 years. St. Louis, as well as everywhere else needs to support its “Mom and Pops”. The outcry can be deafening when a long standing business closes its doors for good. But we need you right now, people. Come on in.
Support your local record store on April 19th and support all your favorite independently owned businesses. We tend to take them for granted when they’re around and hang our heads when they’re gone.
Here are three guys that keep us in business:
Screaming at a wall: where have all the record stores gone?