April 19, 2008
For some, record stores live on
When Von's Records held a midnight sale for albums by R.E.M., Snoop Dogg and Nirvana, hundreds of fans snapped up the releases.
It was the early '90s, an era before iPods and MySpace, and the West Lafayette store would stock 450 copies of one album to satisfy demand.
"Times have changed," said manager Mark Zamierowski. "If we did a midnight sale now, people would just trickle in. But they would come."
During the past decade Greater Lafayette's independent record stores -- JL Compact Discs, Von's and CD Land -- have survived while similar shops have shut down. Since 2003, 3,100 music retailers across the country have gone the way of the 8-track tape, said Joel Oberstein, president of Almighty Institute of Music Retail, an industry database service. Of those, 1,400 were independent stores.
Today, all across the country, independent stores are touting what's being dubbed the inaugural Record Store Day. They're inviting music fans into their funky dens of poster-covered walls to flip through dusty or new vinyl LPs and to get hip to artists by a clerk's suggestion.
"Record Store Day is a celebration to let people know that we are still out there plugging away," Oberstein said. "You find a sense of community when you walk into a record store."
Dave Samuelson, a record collector and producer in Battle Ground, remembers the social club atmosphere he found in stores long gone.
"These were places where you would go in and learn something," he said. "People were eager to share records with you."
The changes of the past decade have pitted record stores against digital downloads, increased rents, the sagging record industry and box stores such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, said Jim Pasdach, owner of JL CDs in West Lafayette.
"I wouldn't tell anyone to start a new store," he said. "But we aren't going anywhere. This isn't a hobby, it is a lifestyle."
Though Pasdach said digital downloads, legal or illegal, have not bitten too deeply into his sales, John von Erdmannsdorff, owner of Von's in West Lafayette, says his store's numbers have fallen about 10 percent each year since 2000.
Will Allison, a Jefferson High School freshman, said his fellow students typically download music through file-sharing programs and discover new sounds through MySpace -- all without leaving home.
"I still buy music at stores because I know what goes into making them," said Allison, singer/guitarist for the band Thor. "But a lot get on file sharing networks. They don't go to stores."
While Apple's iTunes Store boasts 6 million songs, there isn't a music-obsessed clerk to separate the wheat from the chaff, said von Erdmannsdorff.
"That is what makes a store special," he said. "The interaction."
Drew Davis, a Lafayette resident and one-time Memphis record store clerk, said the relationship between customer and seller at a record store can be life changing.
"It is where you can still have your mind blown by a recommendation," he said "That doesn't happen on the Internet."
Independent stores are staking their importance not by competing against downloads or Wal-Mart. Many now offer new vinyl LPs and obscure DVDs or magazines, Oberstein said.
There are still 2,450 independent stores in the United States, he said.
As part of Record Store Day, shops across the country are holding performances and giveaways. Although Von's and JL CDs are not participating in the promotions, they welcome the exposure.
"People come to my store because it is a destination," Pasdach said. "We got what you want."
Pasdach said that at 7,000 square feet, JL CDs offers what box stores can't -- rows of rare import CDs, an artist's full discography and employees who know the music.
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