Forever Spun: The Valley Vinyl Scene
There’s a particular reaction one might hear upon divulging to someone that they collect vinyl records.
“Vinyl records?” the recipient of this information might say. “What on earth do you do with those old things?”
If the record collector is at all savvy, they might offer that vinyl record sales reached a 25-year high in 2016 and it’s not so old-fashioned after all. “In fact,” they would say, “it even brought in more revenue than streaming services.”
And, indeed, they would be right.
To bring some of that business to the local record shop—think John Cusack’s store in the 2000 film “High Fidelity”—a group of record enthusiasts in Baltimore decided there should be a day that celebrated vinyl, the musicians that make it, the stores that sell it, and the fans that buy it.
The day was officially launched in 2007 and is now synonymous with special vinyl pressings for the day, extended hours for the stores, and hundreds—sometimes thousands—of fans lined up in the early morning hours for the chance to get that new, collectable piece from their favorite artists. This year, April 22 will mark a decade of celebrating indie record stores with Record Store Day. The occasion has been so successful that in 2012, a second day was added: Black Friday Record Store Day.
For Vixen Vinyl, last year’s Black Friday Record Store Day was one of the busiest its workers can remember. What made it even more amazing is this: they weren’t even technically open for business, having just relocated from Easton to Bethlehem. Where the old shop in Easton may have felt cold and impersonal, the new location on Wyandotte Street lends itself to the homier feel of archivalist stacks filled with twelve-inch wax.
“Record Store Day was huge for us,” says Brad Smith, the employee who was sitting behind Vixen Vinyl’s counter listening to the Traveling Wilburys.
With the experience of Black Friday Record Store Day fresh in their mind, the shop is gearing up for the first national celebration of the local record shop of 2017. Brad says it has generated some serious business in previous years. “We rang more deals in an hour then we would do in a month sometimes,” he says. “Record Store Day is really good for us, and the next day, we can put it all up online.”
By participating in Record Store Day, stores agree to adhere to strict event timelines by not posting the year’s special release information or selling the releases at the standard price to keep from competition on the day.
For a day designed to bring people to the stores, that’s a difficult line of logic to argue.
“After that, you can raise or lower the prices based on what you sell in the store,” Brad says.
But Double Decker in Allentown is moving to a tempo of its own rotations-per-minute, deciding to celebrate the day in its own way. For vinyl collectors, the shop is a little bit of a dream. Like Vixen Vinyl, there’s a warmth to the rows of alphabetized records. It’s the kind of place your audiophile uncle could spend hours searching for deleted Smiths singles or a UK-pressing, Japanese-import-only copy of Weezer’s Blue Album.
Where Vixen Vinyl’s collection is orderly and methodical, Double Decker’s is lived in. But, for collectors, the littlest bit of disorder is sometimes welcome: the process—digging through the stacks looking for that one gem—is a part of the fun.
For Double Decker’s owner, Jamie Holmes, the limitations and products weren’t worth the cost. So, he decided to release his own collections of used material for last year’s Black Friday Record Store Day.
“I’ve decided I’m not going to order the limited releases,” he says. “Instead, I got a couple of nice collections, saved those for that day, and unleashed about a thousand really rare LPs.”
It made things easier on the shop and didn’t hurt their business. “The same crowd was waiting outside and we were packed at 8:30 in the morning,” Jamie says. “We did more business than we did with the limited releases.”
Nick Rose, who operates the Easton Record Exchange, is also starting to curtail how much of the limited releases his store will carry on Record Store Day. He says his store took a cue from Double Decker and opted to instead emphasize a large collection of used punk records the store acquired for Black Friday and found similar success.
“I’m trying to limit the amount of stuff I’m buying,” he says. “When I first opened, I was really gung-ho about it and would order seven boxes full of stuff but I found it pretty difficult to move everything.”
Still, Nick says this last Record Store Day was the best he’d ever had, even though he’d dropped from ordering seven boxes of merchandise to just one. “I was very selective about it—it was stuff I all thought was pretty cool,” he says. “It’s all stuff I thought I would want rather than getting stuck with three copies of a Grateful Dead concert that I still have from Record Store Day 2013.”
That’s a large part of the approach regarding how Nick and his team run the store: they want to make it a shop that they themselves would want to visit. It’s a clever way to make use of the shop’s small location off the square in Easton.
Nick grew up breaking pencils drumming along to Nirvana on his desk; Tom Patterson, of the local band Slingshot Dakota, works behind the counter when he isn’t on tour. So, the idea is to carry the music they’re passionate about. Because they’re passionate about music in general, they’ve found a niche curating idiosyncratic albums on its shelves.
“This was opened by guys who buy records,” he says. “The reason we did this was because it sucked to live in Easton if you were a record guy. We’d have to go all the way to Allentown, New York, or the Princeton Record Exchange.”
For a lot of vinyl buyers, the love of the hunt and the apparent lottery regarding any given store’s inventory is part of the fun. The appreciation for unique pressings of old records and the personal relationship vinyl collecting allows audiophiles to have with their music isn’t lost on Jamie.
In fact, he knows that’s why people will line up hours before Double Decker opens its doors on April 22, 2017. “We have a lot of people that come in from far away and sit here digging all day just looking for that gem,” Jamie says. “Searching on eBay will never be as fun as rooting through crates of records.”
“I come from the digital age where we’re used to streaming music and we have a library of music right at our fingertips,” Nick says, but recognizes that breadth doesn’t always spell depth. He says says there’s a human element to be celebrated at the record store, and there’s something to be cherished in the ability to discuss your passion with like-minded people.
Perhaps the record shop is one of the last outposts for the analog experience; a place where people who spend most their days barreling down the lanes of the information superhighway can stop for a few moments and put their feet on the ground.
“We balance it,” Nick says. “If someone tells you to check out a band, you can do it that second. Hopefully, the role of the independent record store these days is to give you the opportunity to go down to the shop, talk about it, and see if it’s there. And, if it’s not, we’ll order it for you.”
Vixen Vinyl Records
417 Wyandotte St • Bethlehem
Double Decker Records
808 St John St • Allentown
Easton Record Exchange
58 Centre Sq • Easton