Vinyl record sales have been dramatically increasing over the past few years after bottoming in the early 1990s. This has led to several new stores opening up in Baton Rouge that specialize in selling vintage and new albums.
Kerry Beary’s Atomic Pop Shop opened on Government Street in spring 2011 and has seen its sales increase by at least 40 percent each year. Lagniappe Records, which opened in the summer of 2013, has seen its sales double since it moved into a new location in Beauregard Town three months ago. And Capital City Records is set to open Friday near the intersection of Perkins Road and College Drive.
The owners of the stores say a number of factors are driving the increased interest in vinyl in this age of digital downloads and music streaming services.
“It’s nice to have a tangible product,” said Dana Labat, owner of Capital City Records, which will carry nearly 10,000 used and new records. “You can have 4,000 albums on a hard drive, but there’s nothing to show anybody. And value-wise, you have no value, unless you sell the iPod that goes with it. If you have 4,000 albums, that has a monetary value.”
Tess Brunet and Patrick Hodgkins, the married couple who own Lagniappe Records at 705 St. Joseph St., said the resurgence of interest in vinyl is due to the better sound quality than currently offered on MP3 files.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, high fidelity was an important thing to consumers,” Hodgkins said. “You wanted to sound close to the bands you loved.”
Kerry Beary said the artwork is a factor for many buyers. Beary, a painter who got into selling records and vintage furniture as a way of diversifying her art career, said about 15 percent of the people who go into her store don’t have turntables and buy albums to hang on the wall.
“Records are great gifts for music lovers, and they’re a nostalgic thing if you’re over 35,” she said.
It’s not just Gen Xers and baby boomers who make up her customer base. Beary said some of her shoppers are as young as 8 or 9 years old. “This is the one place where everyone can get together and leave their attitude at the door,” she said.
In 2013, there were 6.1 million vinyl records sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales. That was a 33 percent increase over the year before. To show how much sales have increased, in 1993 there were well under 1 million vinyl records sold.
The sales gains have continued. Vinyl record sales were up 43 percent for the first half of 2014, according to a midyear sales report issued by the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group that represents much of the music industry. There’s the chance that vinyl sales could top 8 million this year. At the same time, the sale of recorded music in all physical formats was down by 14 percent. Vinyl sales now account for 16 percent of all physical music sales; CDs make up 80 percent.
A midyear report says the best-selling vinyl albums are coming from hip modern acts, such as Jack White, Arctic Monkeys and Lorde, as well as by classic artists like Bob Marley and The Beatles. Those same classic groups are popular with Baton Rouge record collectors, along with local swamp pop and soul records.
The dozen or so plants in the U.S. that press vinyl records have been working overtime to keep up with demand from record companies. United Record Pressing in Nashville, one of the oldest and largest plants in the U.S., announced plans this summer for a $5.5 million expansion that will allow it to double production. The plant’s 22 presses have been running 24 hours a day, six days a week, cranking out up to 40,000 records a day.
The rising tide of vinyl hasn’t lifted all boats. At Buddy Stewart’s Rock Shop at 1712 N. Acadian Thruway, owner Philliper “Philip” Stewart said her vinyl sales are down 90 percent from their peak.
“If I sold a record this month, I’m doing good,” Stewart said. “People say vinyl is coming back, but I don’t see the resurgence of vinyl happening again.” The shoppers who do come in are mainly tourists, brought in by local music festivals and who are looking for records made by Baton Rouge artists.
Stewart said record sales have slipped so much that she has brought in a tax preparation service to boost her bottom line. Buddy Stewart’s also operates as a music foundation, promoting local artists and giving them a place to sell their CDs.
“I’ve had a lot of people come in to tell me, ‘I did not know y’all were still here,’ ” said Stewart, who stopped advertising the store years ago.
And increased vinyl sales weren’t enough to save Music Treasure Chest. Joel Jackson closed the record store on North Acadian Thruway in September after a little more than 25 years of business.
Jackson said vinyl sales made up at least 20 percent of his business.
“It was a shock to me when people started coming in,” he said. “There were LSU kids on their knees, looking at vinyl records and so many of them were girls. It was interesting to me.”
But the increase in vinyl sales wasn’t enough to offset the dramatic drop in CD sales, which Jackson blamed on pirates selling bootlegs of hot new releases for as low as $5. “Our business fell off by 70, 75 percent,” he said.
“The vinyl was doing well, but not enough to keep our business open.”
Jackson said he tried to get $15,000 or $20,000 to double or triple the stock of vinyl records in an attempt to keep Music Treasure Chest open. That didn’t pan out, and he was forced to shut down.
Brunet and Hodgkins said they don’t know how long the current interest in vinyl will last. They do a number of things to make Lagniappe a destination, selling guitar strings and musical equipment on consignment, offering locally made Pure Delight coffee and hosting movie nights.
They’re even starting a Lagniappe Records label and will release their first single in the spring from a young local band, The Chambers.
The couple opened the Beauregard Town store after starting the business out of their Mid City home in summer 2013 with $2,000 and Brunet’s record collection.
“We offer what we would want if we went to a record store,” Hodgkins said. To that end, Lagniappe allows customers to submit “wish lists” of vintage records they want. If the couple are able to find the album, they’ll call the customer and give him first dibs on buying it.
“We call people weekly,” Brunet said. “It’s one of my favorite parts of the job, to let people know that a record they want has come in. They’re so excited. It’s kind of old-fashioned.”
Labat, who retired from the Shell plant in Norco in June, said he’s not concerned about the number of record stores that have opened up recently. “I don’t really look at the other stores as competition. To me the more record stores, the better,” he said. “That’s the side of me being a record collector. Each store is going to be different.”
Labat said he’s hoping to have fun in his retirement with the 800-square-foot Capital City Records store. “Hopefully, I’ll get a few more records in my collection so I don’t have to hit garage sales and thrift stores like I’ve been doing for years,” he said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.