Shops move the needle on vinyl records New releases and old LPs are igniting the growth of record stores.
BY LISA LIDDANE / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The volume of The Kinks playing through the speakers at Port of Sound Record Shoppe is loud enough to stop a conversation. But listening to music – and even touching it – is the point of the store.
These aren't songs you download from iTunes.
In a busy Costa Mesa strip mall, music originates from layers of circular grooves permanently pressed onto shiny black discs spinning on a turntable at 33 or 45 rotations per minute.
Once an obscure retail category, record shops are back from near-obsolescence and popping up across Orange County and the nation to cater to the increasing demand for both new and old vinyl. The county now has at least 15 record stores.
Port of Sound, for example, opened in 2011, but moved to a nearby location twice the size of the original store in August to accommodate a burgeoning inventory, said owner Greg Meyer. He recently sold a copy of the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" for $700.
Geoff Leamon, owner of a two-year old record store called Left of Dial Records, uprooted his Seal Beach shop in December after Santa Ana developers persuaded him to relocate and add to the urban vibe of French Street in the Downtown Santa Ana Arts District.
"Vinyl has that universal appeal," Leamon said. "It's not trendy. There's a coolness to it that doesn't go away."
Both Meyer and Leamon said they went into the record store business in the past few years after learning about vinyl's comeback.
Like other brick-and-mortar stores, record stores face competition from online retailers. Amazon sells vinyl records, including a boxed set of Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music for $1,250. Some vendors on eBay sell vintage records by the lot. National retailers, such as Urban Outfitters, have added new records and turntables to their offerings.
Sales of long-playing vinyl records rose for the fifth consecutive year – 17.7 percent from 2011 to 4.6 million albums in 2012, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Shoppers bought about 67 percent of all vinyl albums from independent record stores, the Nielsen report said.
Record sales have been "fantastic," said David Bakula, senior vice president for client development at Nielsen.
Who's buying these records? "It's really everybody, including the people going back to the nostalgia of vinyl who remember what they had before. Some of them are first-time listeners of LPs."
Music companies are releasing songs and albums that were never available on vinyl and rereleasing hits by iconic artists such as The Beatles and David Bowie.
Store owners say it's a younger generation – people 28 and younger – who seem to be a major force in reigniting the vinyl revival.
The famous vocalists and bands of their generation, including Justin Timberlake, Adele, Jack White, Mumford & Sons and Bon Iver, are releasing albums in both digital and vinyl format.
"A lot of high school kids come in, as well as serious collectors," Leamon said. The most fascinating customers, he said, are Japanese tourists who comb through racks and the bargain bin and pick unusual albums.
"Sometimes, they'll buy multiple copies of one record," Leamon said.
Record store employee Kim Conlan said she grew up listening to records her mom and dad would play at home in San Luis Obispo.
"We had a living room that was off limits and my mom and dad had a stereo system set up there," said Conlan, 26, and a recent hire at Port of Sound. "On weekends, I would be dusting and there would be music playing in the background. My mom would play Beatles and Henry Mancini."
Her two older brothers, both of whom liked music, would make a game of quizzing her on song titles.
Her love of vinyl stayed with her, so much so that when she moved to Orange County to attend UC Irvine, Conlan took her parents' turntable and records. They had no use for their LPs and 45s, once they moved on to 21st-century technology and downloaded their songs on iTunes.
Conlan listens to digital songs when she's on the go, but only for convenience. She'd rather hear music on vinyl.
"There's a warmness to records that digital doesn't have," she said. For her and many other fans, the records and the album covers offer something else that digital downloads don't provide: "Tangibility is a big aspect of it," she said.
"I appreciate the album artwork," she said. "I love that it's a big piece to hold. Sometimes, there are posters, inserts, an inner sleeve, a lyric sheet."
That passion for vinyl led her to find others who were like her. One of those friends told her about a job at Port of Sound last year. She was a natural fit.
A few decades ago, record stores fell into two major categories: those that sold new records and those that sold used records. Walk into most record stores in Orange County today and they sell both types.
At Santa Ana's Left of Dial, about 70 percent of the records are old; the rest are new, Leamon said. New releases range from $20 to $30, while old records start at 99 cents, but rare collectible albums can fetch several hundred dollars.
Record stores often get their old merchandise from garage sales and Craigslist and, as word gets around, from people who bring in boxes of records to sell.
Album covers serve as ever-changing art against walls that are painted matte black at Left of Dial. There's not much need for other décor. The setup is designed for the kind of serendipity that happens in consignment shops. Grouped by genre, records in their original sleeves are stacked leaning back, with the covers facing customers, inviting fingers to peruse them. A Numark turntable sits in one corner, ready for the next platter.
The rise in record sales and record stores also means a similar boost for manufacturers of turntables, notably Crosley, which is known for producing turntables styled for a younger demographic. "A majority of our wood cabinets are geared toward the older demographic," said Keith Starr, president of Crosley in Louisville, Ky. "Over the years, we've seen a shift in our business to an additional market. For the younger demographic, we make small portable turntables in fashionable colors with 1970s inspiration."
Crosley is sold at about 1,200 independent record stores across the U.S., including Left of Dial.
"The independent stores know their customer very well," Starr said. "They know their product and what their customer is demanding from a format and content standpoint. That's a big advantage."
Contact the writer: 714-796-7969 or [email protected]
I love collecting and listening to vinyl. This is my latest purchase from Rhino Records in Claremont. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. They even threw in a free ticket to their sold out show.