Record Store Day goes from essential support to celebration of music
When the first Record Store Day took place in 2008, it came at a time when some of the independent shops it was championing were also struggling to stay open. The message to music lovers was: Celebrate your local shops, they really need it!
Bruce LaVerne, who has been in the record store business since 1991, has owned The Vortex in downtown McMinnville since 2003. Back then there was a lot of competition for consumers’ music spending.
“Best Buy was at its peak. You had Fry’s, you had all these major retailers, the usual, with Amazon coming up,” LaVerne said. “Everyone was our competitor.”
He says Record Store Day helped remind people that shopping for music at an independent store is a more personal experience.
“It refocused attention that there are stores out there that want to work with you as a customer one-on-one,” he said, “and provide you with the kind of music you’re really after.”
This year’s Record Store Day, which is Saturday, April 22, will reflect vinyl’s continued resurgence among music fans.
The music most customers are after on Record Store Day are special releases available only to independent stores. They include limited edition copies of LPs, 7-inch singles, box sets and more. Quantities of these titles are limited, so people who want them need to act fast. And that urgency has meant big sales for store owners.
Doug DiCarolis, who has owned Happy Trails Records in Corvallis since 1985, says the annual event really helped during lean times.
“The first 6 or 7 years of it, it was our busiest day of the year. And it would help us pay bills,” he said.
DiCarolis has seen a lot of highs and lows in the record store business. There was a sales boom when customers built up their CD collection in the 1990s, then a huge dip in sales in the early 2000′s with Napster, iTunes and the emergence of music streaming services like Spotify. But then around 2011, something unexpected happened.
“People and college students decided records were cool!” DiCarolis said. “And they wanted to buy vinyl records again.”
That renewed interest in vinyl has also been a part of the growth and popularity of Record Store Day itself. In its first year, there were around a dozen special releases from artists that included R.E.M., Vampire Weekend, Death Cab for Cutie and others. This year there are over 300 releases and the range of artists and genres runs from indie bands to jazz and blues to huge-selling acts like Taylor Swift and Post Malone.
Over the years the event has evolved into more of a celebration than a lifeline. Some customers mark the day on their calendars and have a wish list of the items they hope they can get hold of. Many of the over two dozen stores in Oregon and Southwest Washington taking part this year plan to open as early as 7 a.m., with enthusiastic customers lining up even earlier than that. Many store owners build their plans for the day around the early-comers.
“We’ve partnered with our local donut shop, our local coffee shop to provide goodies for customers,” said Brian Snawder, owner of Portland’s Exiled Records.
Snawder purchased Exiled, located in the city’s East Hawthorne neighborhood, in 2019. Last year he did something that not that long ago would have seemed nearly unimaginable: he opened a second location on Portland’s West side on the border with suburban Beaverton.
“Beaverton lost its only record store in 2018 and we felt like there was a huge void,” he said. “We get people who come in every single day and they’re so excited because now they have a place to go.”
The Westside location is currently expanding its store size, with a hope of adding more music, listening stations and a performance space.
In recent years, Portland and other cities have also seen some new record shops open. One of them is The Record Pub in Portland’s Westmoreland neighborhood. They opened in July 2022 with a goal of combining two things Portlanders love: music and beer.
Andy Clark, one of The Record Pub owners, said the response in the neighborhood has been tremendous and customers have embraced both sides of the business.
“What we see so often is a group of friends or even strangers sit at the bar and compare their stack of records,” he said. “And [they] harken back to remember why they bought that album, the first time they saw that band in concert, how old they were, what city they were in.”
Co-owner Chris Metz says they have big plans for their first dive into Record Store Day, including carrying many of the exclusive new releases and some other promotions.
“We’ll have five-dollar mimosas,” Metz said. “We’re also putting out hundreds of used titles to really make it a big celebration of the whole day.”
If the original mission of Record Store Day was to get people back into struggling shops, then it seems to have worked. But the event is still just one day a year – or two, if you count a smaller-scale version that takes place on Black Friday in November. As for the other days of the year? Store owners attribute their success to several factors: nostalgia, curiosity, adding to one’s collection and the joy of holding a record or even a CD or cassette in their hands. The common denominator, though, remains a love of music, which is what got most record store owners into the business in the first place.
“The same thing I felt in 1970 buying a Beatles record… people are buying a Beatles record from me today and getting the same feeling,” said Doug DiCarolis at “Happy Trails.”
Brian Snawder at Exiled Records adds: “The record store is an amazing ecosystem. You just can’t get it anywhere else.”