In a smartphone-dominated world where most people listen to music by streaming it, it would seem counter-intuitive to market a technology created not by Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, but by Thomas Edison in 1877. Yet the truth is Americans are snapping up vinyl records at a record rate.
Time Magazine reported that vinyl record sales increased 52 percent from 2013 to 2014, climbing to 9.2 million records, the highest number since 1991. The Cleveland area alone boasts an impressive 11 record stores. So why are people putting down their sleek smartphones for clunky record players and vinyl discs?
Cleveland record store owners and managers credit the vinyl revival to digital world frustrations. CD's and digital streaming simply don’t sound as good as vinyl, proponents say. People also want something that is attainable, intimate and physical – they’re fed up with the impersonal act of tapping “download” on iTunes and want to feel closer to the music and the artists that produce it. The only way to do that in the digital world is to blow the dust off that old stack of records and slowly enjoy the vinyl grooves at 33 RPM (or 45 if you’re into singles).
Blue Arrow Records and Boutique
“When I first opened the store, it was primarily grey-hairs like myself coming in. Now young people, both men and women, are half of my customers,” explains Pete Gulyas, owner and founder of Blue Arrow Records and Boutique, a vintage record and clothing store in the Waterloo Arts District.
The store first opened in March 2009, and since then Gulyas has noticed big changes in the demographics of his customers: “It’s cross generational now, a 50/50 split between younger and older people coming in.” The popularity of his store has also led Gulyas to co-found a record label here in Cleveland called the Blue Arrow Record Label.
The customer base isn’t the only change Blue Arrow Records has experienced since its inception: the popularity of records has brought in new customers, too. When the store opened in 2009, “records weren’t hot like they are now,” says Gulyas, but the vinyl trend has since taken off and Blue Arrow has reaped the benefits. Since Blue Arrow opened for business, several new record stores have arrived in the Waterloo area alone. But those competing stores don’t seem to be hurting Blue Arrow’s business.
Gulyas says an “overwhelming” amount of vintage records pour into his store and have piled up in the back room due to people looking to make money off their old vinyl collections. Customers do profit off of their old records but only if they have items Gulyas is looking for. The abundance of used records has caused him to be more selective in his purchasing. Blue Arrow Records specializes in 1960s-80s vintage records, selling a huge range of genres from classic rock, folk and jazz to R&B and classical.
The business surge has led Gulyas to close his boutique next door and launch a new venture. The Blue Arrow Record Label is one of the newest additions to Cleveland’s vibrant music production scene. It was born out of a partnership between Gulyas and Jonathan Richman, a singer, songwriter, guitarist and most notably the founder of Modern Lovers, an influential 1970s punk rock band. Un-coincidentally, Richman is the new record label’s first client.
Gulyas says records are experiencing a rebirth because people are ready for a change from storing music in the cloud: “Records are tangible items you can hold, mull over in your hand and put on the shelf when you’re done. People want something you can hold.” Blue Arrow Records is open Tuesday to Saturday 12-7 pm and Sunday 12-5 pm.
A Separate Reality Records
It’s easy to get overwhelmed while browsing through the many stuffed shelves of vinyl at A Separate Reality Records in Tremont. “I’ve become friends with many dealers across the country from records shows – I get a lot of vinyl from them,” says Augustus Payne, owner of A Separate Reality, which opened up as a brick and mortar store in October 2013. “A lot” is a bit of an understatement. Over the years Payne has collected about 150,000 vintage records covering a huge range of genres, most of which are for sale in his store. Rock, soul, jazz, classical and pretty much any other genre is available at A Separate Reality but their forte is psychedelic. The huge collection will be accompanied in mid-October by an in-store stage featuring live performances while you shop.
Payne has been in the vinyl groove long before records began making their comeback. “There’s nothing better than records and for me that’s never really changed,” says Payne. Before opening the store he traveled around the country selling records on the road and at record conventions for about four years. Only when his collection required more space did Augustus decide to set up a permanent shop. Since opening two years ago he has noticed increased business, which has motivated him to expand the vinyl community in Cleveland.
There is no planned programming for the stage yet, but Payne is eager to start showcasing national and local artists in his store. A Separate Reality Records in Tremont is open Tuesday to Thursday from 11 am-7 pm, Friday and Saturday 11 am-8 pm and Sunday 1 pm-6 pm.
Music Saves has been helping push the boundaries of the Cleveland music scene since opening on Waterloo in 2004, all the while selling a large music collection of only newly-released vinyl albums. Owner Melanie Hershberger opened the store “out of a love of music and everything related to it,” she explains. “We choose our Waterloo location because we wanted to be close to the Beachland Ballroom venue to work with them to create cross-promotions and events. We also wanted to be a part of bringing back this neighborhood.”
Hershberger and Music Saves have been successful in both of those goals. Since opening, they have teamed up with the Beachland Ballroom to bring a healthy stream of new music into the area.
Music Saves focuses on indie rock and pop as well as any older musicians who have influenced the newer generation of artists. New vinyl is any record that has recently been released on vinyl by an old or new artist.
Specializing in only new vinyl helps Music Saves find their niche in the Cleveland record market. “Cleveland is unique in its range of collections and types of music,” says Hershberger. “Most other cities have record stores but they only sell vintage records.”
She explains that a huge number of records long forgotten in the confines of dusty attics have resurfaced during vinyl’s recent comeback, forcing vintage and used record stores to be more selective. By staying true to their niche of selling almost entirely new vinyl, Music Saves is able to stand out from the crowd.
Hershberger works with the Beachland Ballroom to keep the arts district energized with new music. The Beachland utilizes her knowledge of music to choose acts. “We’re always talking about what is selling in my store, using Music Saves as a type of popularity gauge,” says Hershberger. If an artist’s album flies off Music Saves’ record shelves, Melanie tells the Beachland. The reverse process benefits Music Saves – when a new musician comes to perform at the Beachland and has a hit show, Melanie features the album in her store.
It’s this type of creative collaboration that makes Waterloo a special neighborhood, Hershberger says. “We all support and work with each other whenever we can; it’s a great place to be.”
Music Saves is open Tuesday to Saturday from 12-8 pm and Sunday 12-4 pm.
Searched every shelf and back room for that one special record, but no luck? Loop in Tremont has a collection of uncommon vintage and new records built to satisfy any taste in music. “We try to have a little bit of everything but not too much of any one thing,” says Mike James, the new music manager at Loop. He explains that they try to exclude albums that are readily available and instead focus on selling records that are hard to find. Keeping a wide variety and avoiding the mainstream are Loop’s niches, but the bread and butter of the store is the coffee. Loop has a full café with an equally wide variety of barista creations.
The novel idea of browsing through uncommon records while sipping espresso was conceived by David Foran, owner of Loop. He hired James as the new music manager and brought on Adam Gravatt to handle used record purchasing. James and Gravatt are responsible for stocking Loop’s shelves with unique new and vintage music. “We want our customers to trust that when they buy a record at Loop, they are going to get quality music,” says James. “And if you don’t like it, we’re a local store, so bring it back and we can point you in the right direction.”
After being in business six years, Loop has made big changes to accommodate the rise of vinyl. Until recently, Loop carried both CDs and vinyl, but CD sales have been falling steadily, so James is re-configuring the store to make vinyl the centerpiece. Loop is in the process of eliminating 95 percent of their CDs to make the store friendlier to the overwhelming number of vinyl customers.
Loop is open Monday to Friday from 7:00 am - 9:00 pm, Saturday 9:00 am -10:00 pm and Sunday 10:00 am - 6:00 pm.
Hausfrau Record Shop
The Hausfrau Record Shop has occupied a small storefront in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood since 2012. The small size of Hausfrau’s record collection and store was by design, he explains: “As soon as I saw the space I knew it’d be perfect for a record store because it’s a small shop and I wanted to keep it really simple. I put [records] in that would make a well curated collection.” The small but thoughtful collection includes reggae, dub, punk, soul, jazz, and funk.
Peffer has been interested in music and records for as long as he can remember. Previously, he worked in record stores and as a live sound engineer, but later decided he wanted to work for himself, so he opened Hausfrau. Peffer realized there “wasn’t really a need for it in Cleveland but I felt like I had a unique take on records so I decided to open.” Since then, he's seen business get better every year.
Peffer has a new perspective on Cleveland vinyl after just returning from traveling across the Northwest and Canada. After visiting eight record stores throughout the Northwest region, Peffer says that Cleveland vinyl is more affordable. He has a theory about why Cleveland has great vinyl prices, which involves the city’s strong musical heritage: “Vinyl is readily available here because there’s been so much interest in lots of different types of music, so those records are already here from the past.”
Stop in to browse Hausfrau’s small, unique record collection Tuesday from 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm and Wednesday to Saturday 1:00 pm – 8:00 pm.
Phtos Bob Perkoski