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As vinyl sales soar, new shops join Vintage Vinyl and Record Exchange

Inside Dead Wax Records on Cherokee Street
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Inside Dead Wax Records on Cherokee Street

There’s good news for local vinyl record stores. Vinyl sales are up 50 percentthis past year as we enter the peak shopping season. A number of music store owners say the increase results from a new generation discovering that vinyl offers a widely different audio experience than streaming services.

“It’s nice to be able to have everything on a system or a phone, or an iPad or a computer, but when it comes down to it the really special records are the ones that you have to hold in your hand and you have to listen to them,” said Tim Hendrickson of Dead Wax records on Cherokee.

Hendrickson and Jeremy Miller opened Dead Wax amid the vinyl resurgence of recent years. Their store is just one of many across the country that contributed to the approximately $226 million in sales during 2015 so far. The amount far outstrips the amount of money made from streaming services like Spotify.

Hendrickson admits that it took a number of years to build a solid clientele willing to regularly visit the shop and sift through the approximately 2,000 records he carries. The store is as much a passion project as it is a financial endeavor. But he said the new trend in sales could be attributed to an increase in newer generations discovering the format.

Dead Wax part owner and operator Tim Hendrickson
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Dead Wax part owner and operator Tim Hendrickson

“It’s so heartening to see people, especially younger people, 6 year olds, 16 year olds, that are picking up Beatles records or picking up, I don’t care, Dean Martin records,” he said. “I just think it’s that need to hold something in your hand and have something on the shelf.

While Dead Wax holds down the east side of the city Music Record Shop in The Grove holds down the west side of the city. Like Dead Wax, Music Record Shop has only been around for a couple years. Both stores sell new and used vinyl. They come into a market that has been dominated by Vintage Vinyl in University City and Record Exchange in south St. Louis.

Mark Carter of Music Record Shop agrees with Hendrickson that a young but dedicated audience coupled with serious established collectors has contributed to vinyl’s second act. “It’s new. You’ve got the new demographic that’s looking into it. You’ve got 18 year olds, 22 year olds that are looking into it. You’ve got hardcore collectors that just love it,” he said.

Sometimes Carter and his wife travel to investigate different records collections to see what finds they can bring back for the St. Louis audience.  After Carter places those finds on the Music Record Store shelves that quest is replayed over and over again among hardcore customers. 

“They come in and their eyes just bug out. They’re like ‘This has been on my bucket list and I can’t believe you have it,’” said Carter. 

Many vinyl fans say the they appreciate the format for it's art
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Many vinyl fans say the they appreciate the format for it's art.

Carter and Hendrickson also attribute the upswing in sales to characteristics touted by vinyl devotees for years: The tangible nature is easier to relate to; shoppers engage with album artwork; listeners are more likely to commit to long listening sessions without the “shuffle” feature of digital music; having vinyl says something about who you are

Tom Ray agrees with Hendrickson and Carter. Ray recently took over full responsibility of one of St. Louis' oldest vinyl shops, Vintage Vinyl in the Delmar Loop. He said listeners are also attracted to the vinyl shopping experience. Record stores that carry vinyl often become cultural hubs for the music community where fans trade stories and bond over finds.  

So increased sales is good news for local purveyors of vinyl even if some worry the increase may not address broader music industry concerns like better monetizing alternative distributions methods.