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July 11, 2012

Music Issue 2012: Record store, not a record store

What do a café, a barbershop, a movie rental store, a clothing boutique, and a home furnishings store have in common? Tucked away in a corner or displayed on a wall, among the heeled boots and ’70s end tables, you find records. They range from classic rock to the latest indie release, from jazz to heavy metal.

 

It’s not the content that truly matters here, but the form — the black discs, circumscribed with grooves and encased in printed cardboard. Not just a collection of songs but an artifact, a physical object that is somehow more than the music itself.

The proprietors of these businesses — Please & Thank You, Derby City Chop Shop, Wild & Woolly Video, Black Salt, and Green Haus — are all quick to wax poetic about the aesthetic and philosophical value of the record, each positing different reasons for the form’s romantic appeal.

The Chop Shop’s Adam Hedgespeth proposes, “Since records are tangible, they aren’t mindless. You get more out of it, with art, liner notes, etc.” Listening to a record adds another dimension to the experience, he adds, explaining, “When you put on a record, you are consciously listening to the music rather than just having it on.”

Jim Marlowe, owner of the new Astro Black Records, feels similarly. “I think people like vinyl because it’s a thing,” he says. “By listening to a record, you center yourself.”

Louisville music connoisseurs have always had a soft spot for the old-scool format. Better Days, Underground Sounds and newcomer Matt Anthony’s Record Shop keep the flame alive, but record lovers still mourn the closing of ear X-tacy. The months since that event have seen a growing number of businesses start to carry records alongside their other products. Even Astro Black, which deals primarily in records, is located inside Quills Coffee in the Highlands and profits from their consistent flow of customers.

Wild & Woolly’s Neal Argabright explains, “Selling records was something (owner) Todd (Brashear) had wanted to do for a while. I think with ear X-tacy gone, there are going to be even more smaller, specialized spots opening up.”

Jason Pierce, owner of Please & Thank You, reiterates, “Now that there’s no Mecca place anymore to hunt records down, I do feel like we’re filling a need in the community. Each shop now has its own personality, and we’re all trying to get to know our clientele.”

While business owners rhapsodize on their passion for vinyl, often-eclectic collections and enthusiasm for sharing a love of music, they are quick to admit that selling records is not how they make a living. The phrases “on the side” and “something fun” pop up consistently. Black Salt’s Taylor Stowe and Green Haus’ Daniel Duncan have vastly different businesses — trendy clothing and retro furniture — but both say the records fit perfectly with the vibe of their stores.

Pierce agrees: “For my wife and I, this business really combined two of our passions.” While the coffee and records complement each other, adding to the shop’s per-transaction cost, the bulk of the profits does not come from the music.

Pierce says he “feels a camaraderie with the other record sellers in Louisville,” motivated not by realistic business prospects but by a love of vinyl for its own sake. Economic prospects may be grim, and reason may counsel against it, but it seems records are just plain cool.