Vinyl records still find niche with music lovers

City record stores are in agreement: Vinyl is still in high demand. In fact, it may just be keeping those stores in business during a recession.

City record stores are in agreement: Vinyl is still in high demand. In fact, it may just be keeping those stores in business during a recession.

A customer rummages through racks of vinyl records at Repo Records on South Street.

Before iPods and MP3 players, there was a time when far less portable vinyl records were king. It would make sense if these relics from the past were now obsolete – only, they’re not.

In fact, the city’s record store owners seem to be in agreement: Not only are people still buying vinyl, but records are in high demand, particularly because they’re becoming more and more difficult to find.

“We used to throw vinyl out,” said Bernie Carville, who works at Rustic Music at 13th and Pine streets. “Now, we don’t throw anything out.”

Rustic Music began as a used guitar store, but it quickly became clear that there was a demand for selling music as well, and it eventually became half a music store.

“We just had a couple records sitting around, and we put them out the one day,” Carville said. “People were buying them. Instead of spending more for a CD, people can buy a good copy on vinyl for cheap.”

Rustic Music’s ever-popular $2 bins are sure to contain a hidden gem or lucky find. All across Philadelphia, on any given day, avid music listeners scour local record stores like Rustic Music, AKA Music, Repo Records and the Philadelphia Record Exchange looking for cheap vinyl.

In a city that has seen a handful of record stores wilt and die over the past decade, these four seem to be doing fine. And they all carry vinyl. Even superstore f.y.e. has jumped onboard the vinyl bandwagon, offering new copies of albums in vinyl from bands that have also noted the high demand for the vintage format.

“It might be bigger than ever with young people,” Carville said. “Bands are pressing new vinyl, even though it’s expensive to do so. And it’s still easy to find turntables, even though people think it’s not.”
Along with used guitars and instruments, Rustic Music sells used turntables. Carville noted that “there were always the collectors,” but there are still plenty of people buying records to play them.

Jacy Webster opened the Philadelphia Record Exchange in 1985 and has been doing pretty much the same thing ever since. Apart from gradually adding a few racks of used CDs over time, Webster said vinyl is practically all he sells at his store on Fifth Street, a half block from South Street.

“We really wanted to never stop selling records,” he said. “Other stores were switching over to CDs, and we kept selling records. People kept buying them.”

Webster acknowledges that the draw of vinyl often stems from its authentic appeal.

“I see people come in here and hold up a classic record for the person they’re with to see,” he said. “It’s like they’re excited to be able to say, ‘This is the real thing.’”

Because MP3s and other digital formats of music are so compressed, music purists like Webster appreciate the impressive sound quality of a fresh, vinyl record. It’s impossible to ignore the scowl on the record store veteran’s face when a customer mentions digital music. A record, to him, is a product.

“You can hold it in your hand. It’s a physical object,” he said passionately, adding one final bit of rationale.

“Those records still sound freaking good.”

Kevin Brosky can be reached at

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