Across the United States, independent record stores, once an integral part of the college town, are now dying out. The latest casualties of a faltering record industry, smaller record stores have seen a steady decline in business since the internet became the default market for music.
Along with other college town necessities such as quirky bookstores and coffee shops, the independent record store was a place where both students and locals could come together and indulge their passion for music.
An excellent example of this trend is the disappearance of record stores around the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. In 2000, there were five stores operating on Franklin St., the area’s main thoroughfare. According to a March 28 Associated Press article, each store made around $250,000 every month during this time. As fewer patrons came, the stores’ revenue decreased to only around $50,000 per month.
The block’s last holdout was Schoolkids Records, which was forced to close its doors earlier this month.
Ric Culross, manager of Schoolkids Records, described to the Associated Press the unique influence local record stores have on a university population.
“You walk down the hall of the dorm and hear everything possible, and you will be influenced by all these people,” he said. “They’ve come to a store such as ours to feed off of that, just like they go into a bookstore.”
As much as these stores were an important part of life in a college town, the reality of the situation is that students today experience music in a drastically different way.
Through services such as iTunes, last.fm and peer-to-peer networks, procuring music has become an entirely digital and intangible experience in which the social process of talking to other people has been replaced by the “Listeners Also Bought” box in iTunes.
Williamsburg is currently down to one record store, Plan 9, part of a small Richmond-based chain. The only other options for buying a physical copy of music is to go to a national chain store or buy online.
While the loss of smaller record stores is painful for many, it is a likely economic inevitability. Album sales have plummeted in the United States, declining 15 percent in 2007, while digital album sales have risen by more than 50 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Many people are upset over the closing of local record stores. A group of small-store supporters have created a national Record Store Day, which will take place April 18, with the goal of raising support for stores in their local communities.
However, Mike Phillips, owner of Schoolkids, has few positive words to say about the current movement to save independent record stores.
“If everybody was so damned concerned, they should have come in and bought a CD every once in a while.”