Opinion | Support your local record stores

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Dalia Maeroff | Staff Photographers

Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill.

By Rachel Soloff, Staff Columnist

There is no greater feeling than walking into a local independent record store. The smell of dusty records, the friendly staff and the stacks upon stacks of records instantly improve your mood. But this feeling could disappear soon if not enough people support these great institutions and instead choose to prioritize convenience over experience.

Record Store Day is Oct. 24, a day established in 2008 by independent record store owners to promote their stores. This year it’s more important than ever to support these stores. While vinyl sales have been increasing in the last 10 years, independent record stores have been closing down and doing so even more rapidly because of the pandemic. As vinyl has been becoming more popular again, stores like Urban Outfitters and online retailers like Amazon have been jumping on the trend, slowly killing the independent record stores and hurting the local economy in the process.

Urban Outfitters is the biggest killer of independent record stores. The company announced in 2014 that they are now the biggest sellers of vinyl in the world. While Urban Outfitters has the element of convenience, it lacks the record store employee. The record store employee actually cares about their patrons and wants them to find good records. The employee has knowledge of the music in their store that an Urban Outfitters employee doesn’t have. Urban Outfitters also only has newer sealed records so there is no way to explore older records, which are available at independent stores that usually buy used records. Used records are often still solid quality and also tend to be cheaper than those sold at Urban Outfitters and stores like it.

The company also has exclusive deals with certain record companies, such as Domino Record Company, and sell “Urban Outfitters Exclusives,” which makes it even harder for local stores who can’t make these kinds of deals. Additionally, Urban Outfitters has accumulated complaints about damaged and warped records. The company is just trying to get the records out to be sold instead of taking care of them and specifically curating them.

Local record stores, on the other hand, have a wide variety of records that have been curated by experts who care about the broad selection of vinyl they are selling, as opposed to big companies that just sell the most popular albums. Usually these stores have records that you can’t find elsewhere — such as a rare release of a small ‘70s band — and have a wider selection for the buyer to explore instead of just going in to buy a specific record. Additionally, going to a local record store is a distinct experience, somewhat similar to thrifting. You can take your time and look through crates to find hidden and vintage gems that you wouldn’t find elsewhere. Buying used vinyl is also better for the environment, minimizing single-use plastic and finding a new home for the records instead of allowing them to end up in a landfill. 

Independent stores also have events in which local musicians can come in, as well as other special events that allow you to interact and support local musicians along with the local stores. One of Pittsburgh’s record stores, The Government Center, hosts events for underground and Pittsburgh-based artists to perform in their store. This gives record stores a community aspect that people can’t get elsewhere. You can develop relationships with the store owners and other patrons and get recommendations from real people instead of an online algorithm. 

Online retailers like Amazon try to sell you records using an algorithm based on your Google history that attempts to mimic the curation of local stores. This algorithm lacks the human touch that local record stores have, but because of its convenience, people use sites like Amazon more. Ultimately, this causes independent stores to go out of business because they can’t compete with the goliath that is Amazon. Especially now because of the risks associated with coronavirus, people have been using these online retailers more, causing record numbers of local record stores to close

Local record stores, like any small business, help the local economy thrive. Studies show that local businesses help people become more successful and generate higher incomes than big businesses. By supporting independent and local record stores, you are helping your neighbors and community thrive, which in turn helps you succeed as well and boosts the local economy. Local businesses create job opportunities and overall positively impact the communities in which they are located. 

The pandemic has been a killer of local record stores as well. People don’t want to risk getting coronavirus by touching records and being in small enclosed spaces. This has caused many stores to close as well as a massive push towards online sales to keep these stores afloat. Some record stores in Pittsburgh have tried to adapt by using curbside pickup and booking appointments prior but many stores have been struggling to compete against Amazon and Urban Outfitters have been hit even harder causing many beloved stores to close indefinitely.  

Now more than ever, it’s important to support these stores in order to keep them open. This Record Store Day, you can support Pittsburgh area record stores such as Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill and The Attic in Millvale with curbside pickup as well as shopping in person while following the pandemic guidelines. 

Rachel Soloff writes primarily about entertainment and social justice. Write to her at [email protected]

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