APRIL 21, 2014
BY ANDREW WYRICH / STAFF WRITER / THE RECORD
A decade ago, consumers' preference for digital music and CDs was sounding the death knell for records and record stores. Vinyl die-hards, however, are leading a turntable turnaround, providing a sales boost to the few remaining record stores.
On Saturday, 10 North Jersey record stores celebrated National Record Store Day, an event that store owners say brings hundreds of record aficionados to their shops. National Record Store Day was conceived by a group of record store owners and employees in 2007 as an annual event to celebrate the resurgence of vinyl records, and now limited-edition collectable discs are released only to locally owned record stores as a way to drive traffic and public interest to independent music sellers.
In the past decade, music devotees have been returning to the left-for-dead record form. Vinyl sales rose 32 percent in 2013 to 6 million from a year earlier, according to Nielsen SoundScan, a sales tracking system. In the mid-2000s, fewer than 1 million vinyl records were sold annually.
"I started selling records in 1979 and now I'm selling records like I was back then," said John Schlapak, the owner of Music Merchant in Westwood. "Ten years ago, I could have never imagined that."
Even so, local record store owners said National Record Store Day comes with challenges — from unpredictable shipments they receive before the day itself to competing with online pricing that may manifest the day after the annual event.
Irv Lukin, the owner of EZ2Collect in Fair Lawn, said that in the weeks leading up to Record Store Day he receives multiple calls each day from customers looking to pre-order the limited-edition records that will be released that day. Lukin said, however, that what he receives is not always what he requests.
"When you make 500 limited records and there are 1,000 or more stores participating, how many does each store get?" Lukin said. "I might only get one or two copies of a specific record, and my best customer might walk in at 1 p.m. and ask for that record, and I'm forced to say, 'Well, the guy who came here at 8 a.m. got my only copy.' "
Schlapak, who said he has more than 30,000 records in his store, said the distribution of limited records is unpredictable. While the thrill of Record Store Day is buying a limited-edition record, Schlapak said it's difficult to make sure everyone gets the records they come to the store to buy.
"There was a Paul McCartney single that was released on Record Store Day a few years ago," Schlapak said. "I got 25 copies of it, but a friend I know who owns a store didn't get any at all. It's sort of like luck of the draw."
Art Morgan, owner of Sound Exchange in Wayne, said that because Record Store Day discs are non-refundable, he has to figure out how many of a specific record to order each year.
Record Store Day releases can include rereleases of older artists or newer performers who decide to release their record on the day itself.
"The hot items always sell, but that's because you only end up getting two copies," Morgan said. "The problem is if you order too many of the not-so-hot or more obscure items, because then I eat all of that expense."
Participating in Record Store Day might bring attention to a local store, but it can handcuff the store owner in the way he or she is able to sell the product, owners said.
To participate in Record Store Day, Lukin said, owners need to sign a pledge that they won't sell the limited-edition records before the event, won't charge more than the suggested price and won't keep products to sell online the next day. Only those who sign the pledge are eligible to order content released specifically for the day, he said, but because the limited-edition records hold so much value, they are always available online the next day — for much higher prices.
"The pledge says I can't sell it for more than what the list price is, and I only get one. Something I sell for $20 on Record Store Day might sell for $250 the next day online," said Lukin, adding that his store has more than 100,000 records for sale.
Schlapak said each year he sees records he sells in the store going for "at least double" on websites such as eBay.com the next day.
While National Record Store Day might come with a few headaches, the owners said they appreciate the buzz that surrounds their businesses each year and the resurgence of a format they believe is the best way to listen to music.
"What people are realizing now is that it's a really interesting experience walking into a record store," Lukin said. "There is always something hidden. It's a step back in time in so many different ways."
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