Grace McOmber, Contributing Writer
At Plan 9 Music in Carytown, sales associate Eugene “Hip Hop” Henry gestured to a half-full wooden crate of exclusive vinyls labeled “Record Store Day.”
“That little bin is all that’s left,” Henry said. “You go from having hundreds of titles to being able to fit everything in there.”
What remained in the container are vinyls exclusively released to independently-owned record stores in celebration of Record Store Day, a worldwide event celebrated via artist events and music-related festivities unique to each location.
The annual event, which typically takes place during the third week of April, was postponed to June due to COVID-19. That date was then replaced by three separate dates in the fall — Aug. 29, Sept. 26 and Oct. 24.
On Oct. 24, Plan 9 will stock more exclusive titles than previous dates in celebration of the event’s final installation.
Started in 2008, the event is part of a renewed and growing interest in vinyl, most of which, according to Henry, is driven by younger fans.
“It’s funny, because older customers will go for CDs or cassettes,” the associate said. “But you see the trend even with newer artists. They’ll put out the record before the CD.”
In last year’s annual report from the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA, vinyls had earned $224.1 million on 8.6 million units, closing in on CD revenue of $247.9 million on 18.6 million units. However, the RIAA’s 2020 mid-year report indicated a 23% drop across all physical sales due to COVID-19.
Record Store Day’s new format generated a boost in sales at Plan 9 Music, which Henry said was especially needed after an uncertain start to the year.
“I think that’s exactly why they broke it into three,” Henry said. “A lot of stores had three or four months of pretty much nothing that they needed to make up for.”
Henry said business at Plan 9 is almost back to pre-pandemic levels since resuming in-person shopping in May. He attributed this to the enthusiasm he has seen from vinyl fans.
“People really need their music,” Henry said. “When we were only doing curbside pickups, we were getting a lot of calls. Now that we allow a limited number of people in the store, we’re seeing a line down the street on Saturdays and Sundays.”
In addition to modified in-person shopping, many of Richmond’s brick-and-mortar record stores have either incorporated or completely shifted to online or social media shopping as a result of the pandemic.
This includes Steady Sounds, which had served the Richmond community on West Broad Street for the past 10 years. In a June Instagram post, the store announced that it would not reopen after closing in March. Steady Sounds will continue buying and selling vinyl on Instagram and merchandise through the store’s website.
“We miss having day-to-day interactions with all of you, and one of the pleasures of owning a brick and mortar is just meeting all walks of life and talking about music and life,” the store said in the post.
Jay Leavitt, owner of Deep Groove Records, said increasing the store’s presence on social media helped maintain customers, but the increase in business he has experienced since June is due to the tenacity of music fans.
“People can’t go to shows or concerts anymore and some have listened to their entire vinyl collection in lockdown,” Leavitt said. “For the people that have disposable income and like records, we’ve been booming.”
Deep Groove, which buys and sells new and vintage vinyl, offered only curbside pickups for six weeks after reopening. From this, the business was able to generate around 30% of its usual pre-pandemic revenue while keeping the storefront closed to the public. Leavitt said this was enough to keep his 317 N. Robinson St. location afloat during lockdown.
“I’m very grateful,” the owner said. “Because I know a lot of businesses, like restaurants and the live music industry, are really struggling.”
Leavitt’s store has celebrated Record Store Day since opening in 2009, but this year’s three-part event has caused complications while obtaining exclusive releases.
“Our distributors are just overwhelmed,” the owner said. “We love the day, it’s a lot of fun. But from the non-consumer side of it, it’s a pain in the ass.”
Despite the challenges presented by both the pandemic and having to adapt to three Record Store Day events, Leavitt is optimistic about the future of his business and the vinyl industry as a whole.
“I’m seeing more new people coming in than ever before,” Leavitt said. “At first we didn’t know if we were going to make it, but we’ve set a strong foundation and I’m very grateful for the position I’m currently in.”