Jul. 22—In decline for years, by 1988, the sale of vinyl records had taken a deep dive. The CD, or compact disc, had been introduced to the mainstream and it was easier to handle and carry around. However, that meant the production of vinyl also slowed, and today any record albums from that era are solid gold.
These are the threads of conversations that take place all over the world, especially in record shops where music fans flock to get a piece of what was once obsolete.
In Western New York that includes places like Hi-Fi Hits Records in Williamsville, Music Matters in Niagara Falls, Bob the Record Guy in Depew, Revolver Records in Buffalo and The Record Baron in Kenmore. Vinnie's Vinyls in Lockport and Niagara Records in Sanborn come to mind, too. There are countless other places that sell vinyl records, from big corporate giants like Barnes & Noble to small shops such as Gutter Pop Comics, as well as thrift shops, yard and garage sales and online.
"I have a vinyl store on Ebay," said David Ishman, owner-operator of Niagara Records. "Without Ebay I wouldn't be here. I don't get enough traffic to live on, so Ebay was a must."
Ishman has been at his shop for about four years now. He sells a variety of genres, and says the ones that really jump off the shelves are Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd albums.
Vinny's Vinyl owner Jon Vinson said his customers come from all walks of life, but they're all bound together in this music thing, in some cases, spanning generations. He recalled one 50-year old's visit to the shop that left him feeling "gratified" by the business he'd chosen.
"I had a guy in the shop last week, he was visiting from Chicago. He had seen our shop — he was walking around the locks — and he asked if we had a certain record. He said it was a long shot, but somehow I had it," Vinson said.
"He broke down in tears because it was his dad and his uncles on it. It was an old album of doo-wop made in the 50s. His wife was there and she consoled him a bit. I didn't know what happened. ... I guess I made his vacation."
Not every record retailer has a central location. Some eschew the storefront in favor of a van.
Sterling Carroll, founder of Spill Your Creativity, is one of these. His record collection is contained in two storage units.
"Covid happened and it made me think a little progressively and out of the box, so I said, 'Just go ahead, do these vendor sales,'" Carroll said. "I wanted to do it in an ice cream truck and be mobile, but that's how that started."
Carroll said his journey as an entrepreneur started in high school when a teacher didn't like his drawing. In response, he got the image printed on T-shirts and sold those to the students in his art class. His business consists of driving to events that rent out vendor tables and selling vinyl and T-shirts.
"I always loved vinyl records, my family had a bunch. Both sides of my families owned local bars in Lockport and over time they kept collecting," Carroll said. "I'd always see DJs on the weekends. I wanted to be a DJ. The music was there."
Carroll said he has collected all the music of his childhood and then some. Old hip hop, the soundtracks of favorite movies, and from there, his interest just spiraled.
"I started accumulating," he said. "I picked it up, getting really heavy into it about five years ago."
Vinson had a similar story. His father was a music teacher, owned his own shop, and music has always been around in his life.
"My brother was a big influence," Vinson said. "He traveled with bands and went to a lot of shows and always put me and my friends in front of new music. ... A lot of my friends, we were always trying to put each other in front of the newest music we could find."
Ishman said the reason records are so cool is just that. They are cool. They're showing up everywhere, in movies, in commercials. It's not just a fad.
"It never went away for a lot of us," Ishman said. "We were just in total record bliss when they stopped making vinyl. It was incredible. You could go to garage sales, there's 400 (records), and the guy's like, 'Give me $100, and get out of here.' You were actually getting Jimmy Hendrix, The Who, The Rolling Stones, all the original stuff, records that are now worth $40 to $50 apiece now."
So, what is it about vinyl that makes it so coveted? According to Ishman, it's a superior experience.
Put simply, he said, about half of the information on a record gets onto a CD. The CD is over-produced; it's "all zeroes and ones," while vinyl stores every bit of sound in the room.
"If you think collecting records is fun, wait until you see what they can do," he said, noting collectors might like to invest in some decent sound equipment.
"Imagine Bob Dylan sitting right in front of you and it sounds like he's singing right there, standing in front of you about six feet away. His life, his breath is real. You can hear him change the chords on his guitar," Ishman said. "It's all about detail and realism."