Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Local Music retailers Find Their Groove with Help From Record Store Day

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Music lovers and the vinyl-curious alike came out in the hundreds this past weekend to celebrate the 3rd annual Record Store Day. Plan 9 Music and other record stores around Richmond celebrated the national event with in-store performances, exclusive releases, and discounted prices.

According to Jay Leavitt, owner of Deep Groove Records, it worked.

“Record store day was last Saturday the 17 and it was absolutely crazy,” Leavitt said. “People were lined up to get in and I did not look up, I don't have a register here I hand write all my receipts, I did not look up from the receipts except to say hello to the person in front of me for about 2 hours.”

Record stores enticed customers to come in with everything from in-store performances to free giveaways, but for Leavitt, limited and exclusive release vinyl seemed to spark the most interest.

“The Drive By Truckers 7 inch they put out, that went really fast. Again, whether you're going to be able to get it again or not I don't know,” Leavitt said. “Modest Mouse's 'Antarctica' reissue, that sold fast and well. Most of the stuff that I brought in, and I had to keep it certainly limited due to cost was gone within the first hour and a half, two hours, everything.”

While some came out for the sales and in store promotions, for Jon Luruy, who was among those lined up outside of Plan 9, Record Store Day is more than just another sale.

“It's important because we have a local business like this that we want to support and take care of,” Luruy said. “We want to keep it alive, keep Richmond good and local. Get rid of Tower and keep Plan 9 alive.”

This sentiment was echoed by many record store owners. It’s no secret that music sales have been on a steady decline for some time now, and business owners contend that it’s this sense of community that has led to their survival and growth during rough economic times for the retail music industry.

According to a Nielsen report on digital and vinyl sales from 2008 to 2009, vinyl sales are up 33 percent from almost 1.9 million to 2.5 million -- a seemingly favorable statistic for local vinyl dealers, but competition isn’t always local.

Considering the Internet’s competitive pricing and access to obscurity, Leavitt said that there’s something more about experiencing the in-store approach to purchasing records.

“I just try and create a nice environment for people and there’s just something about looking through racks of records that’s very communal, also and I don’t think that’s ever gonna go away,” Leavitt said.

Local owners seem to have banded together in order to support one another, promoting local business and not e-commerce. Brandon Farrell, co-owner of Vinyl Conflict says that this unique relationship has helped to sustain them, focusing on community rather than competition.

“Jay from Deep Groove and I, we kind of scratch each other’s backs a little bit, you know,” Farrell said. “I don’t think he carries as much modern punk and hardcore releases that I keep more in touch with, that’s more of the music I like and he has more of the jazz and soul that I don’t know as much about and can’t really offer people as much for those kinds of records. We gotta watch out for each other so we can stay alive, you know.”

In spite of closing four other locations, Emily Franzak, manager at Plan 9, agrees with what’s keeping the Richmond location going.

“Local support mostly. We have a huge local following of people that walk in from the area, drive in from other local places,” Franzak said.

This type of success among record stores is almost contrary to the perception that record stores are dying out. Some, like Jay Leavitt of Deep Groove, attribute the growth of vinyl in to more than a niche product to the decline of CD’s. Music buyers who aren’t buying CD’s, but still want something more tangible than an MP3, are turning to vinyl.

“Almost all the new bands now are putting their music out on vinyl, but they include an MP3 download card with them, so you have both. What it’s doing is cutting the CD out,” Leavitt said.

Still though, record stores aren’t ready to put it in neutral. Adam Hales, standing in line at Plan 9 to see an in-store performance by the band Against Me! agrees that record stores need to keep up the community involvement that has been instrumental in their resurgence.

“Well you know, Richmond's always had a nice music scene, but if there's not events like this you can't keep it up and you need to keep people interested and maybe get people interested and maybe get new people interested in Against Me! or buy their 7-inch,” Hales said.

Emily Franzak of Plan 9 says that the benefits of events such as in-store performances are numerous, and draw much needed attention to local businesses, and plans on continuing to let bands play as often as possible.

“Our sales were like six times as much yesterday as a normal Saturday and we were packed the entire day and we had lines the entire day,” Franzak said. “We had a line going down the block when we opened yesterday and this morning, but that was probably mostly for the in-store.”

Tom Gabel, lead singer of the band “Against Me!” who was scheduled to play Saturday, when a transportation problem postponed the show until the following day, says his band has been an ardent supporter of events like Record Store Day and, being a vinyl collector himself, will continue to support causes such as this one.

“We do a fair amount of this type of stuff, yeah for sure,” Gabel said. “Whenever we get a chance where it’s like a cool situation, we make the effort for sure.”

-Brad Fulton and Mark Craig

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