If Vinyl Records can make a big comeback, so can Record Theatre
A News Commentary by NAL publisher Doug Draper
Posted August 28th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
‘If Record Theatre didn’t exist, someone among us would have to invent it’
In the days leading up to the closing of Record Theatre in Buffalo, New York this past Sunday, August 27th, I found myself growing angry with all of the ‘it’s-the-end-of-an-era’ clichés being served up in stories about the store by the mainstream media.
‘End is near for the iconic Record Theatre,’ was the way The Buffalo News put it in a header for a story it ran on its business pages five days before the closing what the newspaper went on to report was “touted the ‘World’s Largest Record Store’ … when it opened in 1976.”
Then there were all the pat lines coming out of talking heads on Buffalo area news networks about how time has passed places like Record Theatre behind because most people are cherry picking their music from online pirates who (and the corporate owned networks won’t necessarily tell you this) have done their bit to destroy music as an art form and to rip off the artists who make it.
If the technical systems were available 50 years ago for these sharks to do the amount of damage they’ve done to recording artists over the past couple of decades, there never would have been an album like Sgt. Pepper’s by The Beatles or Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys or Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, and there never would have been any stores for music like Record Theatre.
I returned to Record Theatre one more time this August 27th, an hour or so before the doors closed, to say hi – I refused to say goodbye – to the staff, who’ve become like friends to me over the years, and to wish them all well in whatever comes next. I had already decided, before I went in, to leave any of the anger I felt about music streams and all those media reports out in the parking lot – a decision made all the easier after all the wonderful things I heard about the record store while taking in Buffalo’s Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts earlier in the day.
Over and over again, I had people glancing at a Record Theatre t-shirt I was wearing, and talking (without any further prompting from me) about how much of a loss that store will be to the region and about how much they hope, as I do, that someone might come along and find a way of opening its doors again.
It was barely more than five months ago that Leonard Silver, the founder and owner of Record Theatre who embraced that store for all of its 41 years with a passion, died at age 90. A week later, those given control of the business announced they were closing a second Record Theatre store in nearby Amherst, but in a statement to the media, they added of the one flagship store left on Main Street (off Lafayette) in Buffalo; “We plan to do more in the community (with that store). We just want everyone to know we’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
April came and the store had a tremendous turnout for ‘Record Store Day’ – a day set aside each year to support and celebrate what are left of the independent record stores across the continent. I managed to squeeze my way in to Record Theatre that day and the line-ups at the cash registers were so long, I congratulated my friends at the store for packing the place and assured them I’d be back to buy whatever music I had in mind at the time a few days later.
There followed some Saturdays of live bands performing in the store and other promotional events, and everything seemed to be humming along. So imagine how shocked the staff and long-time customers in the community felt when, early last June, those in charged announced that they were going to close that store too.
A number of people I crossed paths with at the Elmwood Avenue arts festival this August 27 said that with Buffalo’s economic fortunes looking up after decades of struggle and with vinyl records, in particular, making an impressive comeback, the timing for closing the store seemed completely off. Why not do a better job than what has been done in recent years of promoting the store and give it more of a chance?
There are strong signs that younger generations of music listeners – millennials and those coming behind them – are either tiring of the online streaming thing or not getting in to it at all, and want to physically hold and hear their music on some old-fashioned thing called vinyl. And they are buying up discs of music by older artists and new.
So much so that worldwide statistics showed that in 2015 alone, sales of vinyl records jumped more than 50 per cent – the highest jump in 25 years – and are continuing to climb. This past spring, just around the time the news came out that Record Theatre was closing, The Washington Post reported that Sony Music, owner of one of the largest catalogues of recording artists in the world, is going back to selling music on vinyl records for the first time in almost three decades.
At the arts festival this August 27th, while I was thumbing through a bin of used vinyl for sale on a table, a person who looked not more than about 20 years old came out with a; “Wow, I’ve got to get this,” as she was searching through a bin next to me. I looked over and she was holding a vinyl copy of The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.
As she walked away with her prize, the guy who sold the Sgt. Pepper LP to her and looked like he was old enough to remember when, back in June of 1967, that record was first released, said to me; “It’s always great to see someone that young get excited about buying a real record album.”
I’ve seen that same youthful excitement play out a number of times in recent years, right on the floor of Record Theatre when a young customer found the music they were looking for on a vinyl disc there. It is the future unfolding and it is too bad that the people left in charge of the store following Leonard Silver’s passing have apparently made a decision to miss it.
Yet who knows.
Even as countless many across the region mourn the closing of Record Theatre, there may be someone out there with money and a passion for record stores who sees enough opportunity in this future to restart this great store. For the sake of those who loved working there and for so many others who love the magic of finding music in a real record store, I know I am far from the only one who hopes so.
Given the way people, young and old, are going back to real records, one might paraphrase a line the French writer and philosopher Voltaire coined about the existence of God and say that ‘if Record Theatre didn’t exist, someone among us would have to invent it.’
Before I sign off here, there is a short news clip I wish to tee up for you.
While I was in Record Theatre, sharing handshakes and hugs with people who worked there before the doors closed this August 27th, a reporter for one of those area broadcast networks, WKBW Eyewitness News, was going around the store looking for people to interview about the closing.
As he walked my way, I urged him to do an interview with at least one member of the staff, Rocky Casullo, who had been a good friend of Leonard Silver, working for him as a security person and a friendly greeter at Record Theatre for almost all of the years the store was open, and who just happened to be standing nearby.
At that point, the reporter said he already had Rocky in mind for an interview, then asked if he could do a short interview with me too.
So now you can click on the following to see how it turned out that evening on Buffalo’s Eyewitness News, and, while your at it, you will see why I wisely decided never tried to make a career in television news –
To read a Washington Post story about Sony Music’s recent decision to start pressing vinyl records again, click on – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/06/30/vinyl-records-are-so-popular-that-sony-plans-to-make-them-again/?utm_term=.40f364760217 .
To read a report on the recent huge jump in sales of vinyl records, click on – https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jan/03/record-sales-vinyl-hits-25-year-high-and-outstrips-streaming .
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