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Record stores fading out? 'Day' says no

This article was published in the Philadelphia Enquirer on April 15, 2010

The American record store often seems a dying breed - pushed to the side by high-profile franchises, hit hard by the easy availability of online music, and confronted by a difficult economy. Elegies for this iconic institution have become as ubiquitous as illegal downloads themselves.

While the case may look grave, there's still room for hope. Fans of crowded shops with Pavement playing on the stereo and knowledgeable clerks swapping trivia can come together Saturday to celebrate Record Store Day.

The third annual event features exclusive purchases available only in affiliated stores across the country, as well as concerts, food, sidewalk sales, T-shirts, and more.

Releases available only at participating stores include singles, CDs, and vinyl from artists such as the Beastie Boys, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis Costello.

It's not just the big names who are fans of Record Store Day. The diverse crew of artists supporting the event include Neko Case, Joan Jett, the Decemberists' Colin Meloy, and the day's official "ambassador," Queens of the Stone Age front man Josh Homme.

And since Record Store Day celebrates music an all formats, vinyl is a key focus. Popular artists such as Against Me!, Buddy Guy, and Charlotte Gainsbourg are offering limited vinyl releases at area stores.

"Vinyl has really been coming back," says Diane Knarr, assistant manager [of a record store]. "Those sales have gone up a lot in the past couple of years."

Vinyl sales reached 2.5 million albums in 2009, up 33 percent over 2008, led by Radiohead with 45,700 albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The first Record Store Day, launched in 2008 by Eric Levin, owner of Criminal Records in Atlanta, with several other American independent record store owners, was a cautiously optimistic endeavor. "We didn't really have any grandiose plans," Levin says. "We certainly didn't think it would go international. We didn't think it would take off so fast."

But now, with more than 800 stores participating in the U.S. alone, and affiliated stores in Japan, Italy, and Canada (among other places), Record Store Day is on its way to becoming an institution. Its mission: To encourage people to shop at their local record store, and do whatever it takes to preserve the store's unique contributions to the community.

Pat Feeney [a record store owner] stresses that the social environment of the record store and its knowledgeable staff make it essential. "It's about expertise," he says. "It's a place for fellow music fans to bond and turn each other on to stuff."

"Compared to chains," added Mike Hoffman [a record store buyer], "our selection is much more in-depth. We don't rely on just top-selling records and CDs."

Though chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, and online retailers including Amazon, draw customers, "for real music lovers, you've got to go to an independent store," Feeney said. "You can't count on a chain store - they don't have the individuality. It's based on the store's character."

And the news isn't uniformly dire. Princeton Record Exchange, a legendary store, plans to use Record Store Day to help celebrate its 30th anniversary. Jon Lambert, general manager at the Exchange, attributes its success not only to the number of heavily discounted CDs and resale opportunities, but, again, to the sense of community.

"If you enjoy rubbing elbows with like-minded devotees and exploring the, literally, millions of titles that have been produced," he said in an e-mail, "if you have a thirst for musical knowledge and crave being exposed to new artists, there's no place like an independent."

Levin hopes that the event continues to inspire local owners. "Maybe a store is thinking about going out of business, but they see Record Store Day and think, well, maybe I'll keep going. I've gotten calls like that before. Those things alone have been like fuel for us."

Looking toward the future of Record Store Day, Levin is optimistic: "We're going to grow and grow and grow."

 

This Article was written by Emily Tartanella and Published in the Philadelphia Enquirer on 04/15/10. We appreciate their attention to the local businesses of Princeton, and highly recommend Philadelphia Enquirer to all of our customers.

 

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