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VOL. 128 | NO. 79 | Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Steady Groove

Independent retailers get boost from Record Store Day

By Andy Meek

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This year’s Record Store Day, an international celebration held the third Saturday in April, brought casual music fans along with diehards and vinyl evangelists into music shops around the country, including Goner Records and Shangri-La Records in Memphis.

Shea Colburn and Becky Helman search for posters at Shangri-La Records. The company is celebrating 25 years in business at 1916 Madison Ave. in Midtown.  

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

Owners of those shops and many beyond the city regard the event with a mix of bemusement – and appreciation.

They don’t necessarily expect it to bring in a reliable stream of new customers. Someone who showed up over the weekend at Goner looking for special Record Store Day releases from artists such as Bob Dylan, The Black Keys or the Hold Steady might not be back the next day to buy anything by the Memphis artists that fill the racks of the 9-year-old Midtown store.

On the other hand, those same owners express gratitude for anyone the daylong event brings through the doors, because Record Store Day is more than a nostalgic love letter to the anachronism of brick-and-mortar music shops.

It underscores the fact many of those shops are still making a go of it. And anything that brings awareness of them and brings customers through the door is welcomed.

Rachel Hurley, co-founder of the Memphis-based music promotion, consulting and booking company Kangaroo, said she hopes the event continues to grow because “it really is a great way to put the spotlight on the independent record stores that my generation grew up going to.”

Shangri-La actually made it a Record Store Day weekend. The day after the official event, the store held a record swap in its parking lot.

“We probably had more Record Store Day product this year than we ever have,” said Shangri-La owner Jared McStay. “The list keeps getting bigger, and we try to get everything we can.

“We do the record swap a couple times a year. We open up our parking lot for all sorts of dealers and anybody who wants to sell their collection. We charge $10, and you can set up your own table. It’s basically just a big, huge garage sale, but with records.”

This year marks Shangri-La’s 25th year in business. That there are fewer and fewer shops around like it underscore how the changing nature of the business of retail has done a funny thing to the notion of owning some consumer products.

Whereas buyers once browsed racks of DVDs at brick-and-mortar chains like Blockbuster, now they digitally stream them on demand from their couch. Music fans no longer have to peruse bins of CDs or record sleeves at a music store if they don’t want to. Instead, they can pipe tunes straight into all manner of digital devices instantly, for a buck a pop.

Events like Record Store Day help promote independent music stores such as Shangri-La Records. The Midtown store added to the festivities with its own Record Swap the next day. 

In an iTunes world, it might be easy to forget that ownership means something more than licensing the right to listen to a digitized song under certain conditions.

Record Store Day, then, celebrates the record shops where a business model is still built around the idea of selling a physical product that exists in larger quantities digitally to consumers who still want to hold something in their hands, walk it to a cash register and take it home.

And when it comes to independent record stores, Memphis has some highly regarded institutions. Rolling Stone magazine has described Shangri-La and Goner as among the best record stores in the U.S.

“People will come in and say, ‘I heard vinyl’s making a big comeback,’” McStay said. “Not around here. It didn’t go anywhere around here. Nationally, it is. We’re seeing a whole new generation of vinyl buyers, which is very encouraging.”

As an example of the musical goodies to be had in stores on Record Store Day, among the treats Memphis music fans this year were able to get their hands on was a limited-pressing vinyl collectible. Omnivore Recordings put out an early release of the soundtrack to the Big Star documentary “Nothing Can Hurt Me,” and it includes alternate takes and previously unheard mixes of Big Star songs.

Like Shangri-La, meanwhile, Goner Records in Cooper-Young also opened early for Record Store Day.

“We stay really close to our niche,” said Goner Records co-owner Zac Ives. “We’re mainly skewed toward vinyl. Half of our business is in the shop, and half online. It’s worked so far. We’ve been able to keep a roof over our head, and Record Store Day does play a role in that.

“It’s always a fun day. It’s a little gimmicky, and we’re certainly not seeing our normal clients. But anytime we have people in the shop, that’s a good thing. So I can’t be down on it.”

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