BY CHRISTINA COOKE
R. Jared White says the new-arrival bin at his vinyl shop, Clinton Street Record & Stereo, turns over about once a week. "My main thing is keeping people excited about music and keeping this format going," he says.
// Photos by Sierra Breshears
Behind the sales counter along the back wall of Clinton Street Record & Stereo, an ’80s synth-funk album spins on the turntable beside R. Jared White. A DJ whose expertise ranges from gangsta rap to goth, White and his business partner opened the Southeast Portland record store two years ago despite the fact that record stores everywhere else were closing.
Since music moved from physical to digital formats in the early 2000s, the record-store industry in the U.S. has been struggling. The number of record stores has declined an average of 22% per year over the past five, according to industry analyst IBISWorld, and it’s expected to continue declining an average of 4% per year until 2017.
White wasn’t worried about his venture, though, because he considers what he sells a completely different product — much more tangible — than a downloaded song.
“You can pretty much touch the music,” he explains, reaching over and scratching the spinning record.
Despite the doom and gloom in the industry as a whole, Portland’s independent record-store scene has burgeoned over the past few years. Of the 25 independent record shops within the city limits, 13 have opened over the past decade, eight in the past six years.
In addition to Clinton Street, establishments such as Exiled Records, Mississippi Records, Record Room, Beacon Sound, Boom Wow! Records and Little Axe Records have set up shop since the industry began to plummet.
“It’s the inverse of what’s happening everywhere else,” says Eric Isaacson, who opened Mississippi Records in 2003. “I don’t understand it, exactly.”
Distinct from the larger, older Portland music shops like Music Millennium, Everyday Music and Jackpot Records, which are established cultural entities with loyal clientele, most of the music shops in the new wave share a number of characteristics. They are tucked into physically small spaces. They sell almost exclusively vinyl, both new and used. Their owners, who can usually be found working the sales floors, are die-hard music lovers who carefully curate their collections and stock deep rather than broad.
Each shop distinguishes itself from others by specializing in a certain type of music — be it punk, psychedelic, electronic, rock or world — though the owners’ personalities also set each apart. Selections range from the $1 to $2 records in the discount bins to the $10 to $20 standard fare to $100-plus collectors’ items. And while the shops make enough money to perpetuate themselves, they don’t make much more.
“They’re all squeaking by,” Isaacson says. “It’s less a money-making thing and more a cultural thing.”