Every April since 2008, independent record stores have celebrated their survival with Record Store Day, a super sale of exclusive vinyl recordings released especially for the event. This year, there are roughly 400 releases set to touch down— special reissues of classic LPs, unreleased live recordings, limited-edition rarities and other instant collectors items.
When the shops open their doors, it’s like an Easter egg hunt on the cobblestones of Pamplona. Customers squeeze their bodies, and their expectations, onto cramped sales floors, scouring the shelves for gems. The mood is up, the sales are brisk, but local shop owners say the rigmarole of Record Store Day is beginning to test the tensile strength of the very stores it was created to support.
Daly says a line will start taking shape outside of his shop in the tiny hours of Saturday morning, not long after the bartenders of Adams Morgan announce last call. Last April, he had more than 400 customers pass through on Record Store Day. This year, he’s expecting collectors from more than five hours away. He recruited 10 volunteers to help him and his two employees peddle nearly 8,000 pieces of vinyl he’s purchased for the event, doubling Crooked Beat’s inventory for a single day. The profits? He says they’ll be negligible.
“It brings people out, but it’s basically a wash. You’re buying for one day what you would buy over the course of one year,” Daly says. “A lot of people wonder, ‘When is Record Store Day going to put a store out of business?’ ”
It probably won’t put Crooked Beat out of business — but it could. When the roster of special Record Store Day releases begins trickling out each February, stores scramble to crunch their budgets and rush their wish lists off to distributors. Due to the frantic demand for a limited supply of recordings, as little as one-third of those requests might arrive in time for the big day.
And here’s the rub: Nearly every piece of vinyl is nonreturnable to those distributors. So if stores end up not getting the titles customers want, tough luck. If they get stuck with a surplus of records that nobody wants, too bad.
“Ordering is a real nightmare,” says Neal Becton, owner of Som Records on 14th Street NW. “You order all this stuff, and you don’t really know what you’re getting. But it’s a trade-off. It’s a great day.”
Especially for the growing bloc of record enthusiasts that has helped save vinyl from extinction in recent years. According to an annual report from Nielsen and Billboard, vinyl sales rose for the fifth consecutive year in 2012, up 19 percent from 2011 with 4.6 million units sold. Sixty-seven percent of these albums were scooped up at independent record stores.