Since the millennium, doomsayers have predicted the demise of brick-and-mortar record shops due to digital downloads. And yet in Pittsburgh, several independent stores still exist. Other than Jerry's Records, which will seemingly have a viable customer base until the sun freezes, how do these merchants retain their loyal niche in an economic downturn? Are we just behind the times?
"When the recession started, it was our low point," says Dave Panasiuk, owner of Dave's Music Mine in the South Side, "but in 2009, we started seeing a bit of hope." Increasing vinyl sales have helped, as have Blu-Ray DVDs. "[Overall], we're getting more product in, but selling it cheaper."
Panasiuk also plans to augment his used vinyl cellar with newly released LPs, hoping to lure twenty-something guys jonesing for the latest Animal Collective record. In contrast, the store's used-vinyl sales are driven by 17-to-25-year-old women. "They go, 'Oh my god, Bob Dylan!' It's amazing to see how the interest recycles over and over again."
Downtown's Eide's Entertainment, one of the largest LP-stockers in the area, also sees more vinyl interest, according to proprietor Greg Eide. His beef is the $25 sticker on some new major-label, 180-gram pressings. "Just like when CD sales dropped, every time these companies lose a dime, they think they need to charge another dollar," says Eide. "They'll kill [the vinyl resurgence] before it takes off."
Heather Segina, co-owner with husband Jay of Out of the Ordinary in Glassport (the last suburban indie store in the county), says vinyl does well at her shop. She also believes in the power of DIY specialization: The shop targets subgenres such as horrorpunk, rockabilly, Oi and ska, and orders directly from indie labels across the globe.
Even so, "There'll come a time when record companies will not have a physical product," predicts Eide, "because downloading will cut out the store. Eventually, we'll be relegated to being an antique curio shop -- young people will come in and say, 'You mean people really used to listen to these things they call records?'"
Panasiuk doesn't see the end arriving so abruptly. "People like the idea of progress, and being able to get stuff online. But the technology becomes overwhelming, so they find it easier to go 'lo-fi,' to shop at a store and discover things," he says. "We do a lot of special ordering, and I hear from people that they like the hunt."