About the time Neal Becton opened Som Records , vinyl was dying.
Compact discs hit the market in the 1980s, and by the 1990s, vinyl was being eulogized. Streaming digital music would soon be emerging as a force, too.
When Som opened in 2006, “The only people that were still using it [vinyl] were DJs and music collectors,” Becton says.
But his store, in a basement on 14th Street NW, has lasted long enough for the old to be new again. Vinyl is holding its own in a digitized world.
Som is one of numerous stores in Northwest Washington that sell records. Vinyl hunters can drop into Crooked Beat Records (which Becton helped run at one time), Joint Custody, Smash Records, Red Onion Records & Books and Hill & Dale.
Som holds about 10,000 records and offers a variety of music, including rock, soul, disco, reggae, blues and salsa. The store’s bright orange walls and ceiling are decorated with 45s and 12-inch discs. A poster of James Brown at DAR Constitution Hall hangs on one wall, and a poster for a performance by the Rev. Al Green and Trouble Funk hangs on another.
Becton, 53, has been collecting music for more than 30 years, with about 12,000 records at home, he says. His friends often joked that he should open a store.
Vinyl record sales dented in the 1990s. By the early to mid-2000s, music-streaming sites were spreading, and people could buy their music from services such as iTunes. Stereos had given way to iPods.
But soon the world was shifting again, and “in the last seven or eight years “vinyl kind of took off,” Becton says.
According to a Nielsen report, vinyl sales in the United States have skyrocketed 260 percent since 2009. Between January and March, sales were up 53 percent over last year. Current releases on vinyl increased 37 percent.
Estate sales are a good record source for his shop, as well as distributors and DJs, Becton says. Som sells new releases along with its used records — which yield more revenue. Used vinyl can go for $1 up to $200, based on the condition and rarity of the record. New releases are priced from $15 to $30, Becton says. Big retailers can offer new release discounts.
“It’s good because it keeps it [vinyl] alive,” Becton says. “But it’s bad because I can’t compete with them in prices.”
On occasion, the new-release vinyl may drop later than a CD because pressing plants can’t always keep up with demand, he says. For example, D’Angelo’s “Black Messiah” dropped on vinyl in March, but the CD was released in December 2014.
Still, Som and other small shops can offer something big retailers don’t: the hunt.
Says Becton, “People come here for music” and for the dig.
1843 14th St. NW
2116 18th St. NW
1530 U St. NW
2314 18th St. NW, second floor
Red Onion Records
1901 18th St. NW, Unit B
Hill & Dale
1054 31st St. NW