By most business standards, independent record stores should have become extinct. From the CD crash, the illegal and legal download era, and streaming, it’s amazing independent record stores have survived at all. Sure, while the music industry as a whole spiraled out of control, it took one hell of a bite (nearly 75%) of stores down with it. However, many have survived and more are opening!
Just as these stores are starting to catch their breath and regain their footing, there is another problem looming that is plaguing stores across the country.
In the first quarter of 2016, iconic stores in New York, Deadly Dragon, Israel’s Record Shop, and now Rebel Rebel have been forced out. It’s not lack of sales. It’s not internal problems. The rent is has simply skyrocketed. In some instances, they are not even being given the chance to re-negotiate their leases.
While on the surface this may appear to be a New York problem, it is something that has been facing stores for years. Even 2008’s “I Need That Record” chronicled Trash American Style and their landlord battles that ended with them closing shop. It’s happening around the country.
Of course this is not just a problem facing independent record stores. Furthermore, this is not an article arguing against politics on any level or attacking landlords. However, it IS a problem that needs to be solved in order for our much loved stores to survive.
So what can the public do.
It’s time people stop sitting idly by and let these things happen. It’s time people stop lamenting over Facebook posts about stores closing and then go to Amazon to purchase the latest release. It’s time people stop pausing briefly in front of stores with a “closing soon” sign when they haven’t stopped there in years. A person’s pity for the stores closing does nothing when they never were a customer. It’s a damn shame that record stores, especially these long-standing iconic ones, are not fought for. Major cities and activist groups get behind historical theaters, museums and schools every day and record stores are all these things!
Get off the beaten path
As more stores are being forced off main street, many of them are relocating to more affordable locations. While the owner’s pocketbook might feel some relief, it comes at the cost of lost foot traffic. That is why it’s so important to seek out these stores and continue to support them. In addition, it’s up to us, the loyal customers, to continue to bring new faces and friends through the door. Having visited hundreds of record stores across the country, it’s amazing how many stores have had to do just this. Rather than hang it up, they found a new home, sometimes even converting old houses and buildings into stores. It might be a little more of a drive, but we cannot let distance stand in the way of their survival.
In speaking with an owner a few months ago, he mentioned that he was lucky enough to have a landlord that had a long history and appreciation for his record store at the center of main street. Rent was kept reasonable. However, he knew that could change at a moment’s notice and he would be forced to find more affordable retail space. While he expressed confidence that his customers would follow, there was no denying some fear and doubt we saw in his eyes.
The landscape of the independent record store continues to change. Just as the owners have had to shift their business, we must be willing to bend as well in order to ensure their survival.
The fight is long from over.