Intimidated by the state of the record-store industry, Rachel Rhymes decided to create a cafe vibe--selling beer and wine as well as music--when she opened Record Room in the fall of 2010.
// Photos by Sierra Breshears
When Napster and iTunes made streaming and downloading an option in the late ’90s and early 2000s, the customer base of record stores all but dried up. To compound the situation, big-box stores like Best Buy began selling CDs for cheap, sometimes at a loss, to attract customers to their stores for bigger-ticket items.
As a result, music stores closed in record numbers, and those that remained open struggled to break even, often downsizing or diversifying their product offerings to adapt.
Portland institution Music Millennium closed its second location on NW 23rd Avenue in 2007 and resorted to selling nonmusic merchandise such as posters, T-shirts and novelties like potato guns and flavored crickets.
“We fight every month just to pay our bills,” says owner Terry Currier.
While the store earns enough to pay its employees and utilities, it has not made a profit since 2002 and often falls behind on payments to music-distribution companies.
About five years ago, the resurgence of the vinyl record slowed the music store nosedive, at least somewhat.
Vinyl sales have increased nationally every year since 2007 — 36% from 2010 to 2011, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And while vinyl sales accounted for only 1.2% of the total album sales last year, 67% of vinyl sales took place in independent music shops.
“It’s a very small portion of overall business, but it has a very significant impact on the independent businesses because they are such significant supporters,” says Jim Donio, president of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers.
In an attempt to remedy his situation, Music Millennium’s Currier plans to make some major changes in the coming months, including closing the classical shop adjoining the main store, knocking down the dividing wall and expanding his vinyl section into the additional space.
“I want to get to the point where cash flow is better and I don’t have to deal with credit departments,” he says.
Though the record renaissance occurred across the country, the surge in new establishments is a phenomenon unique to Portland, say industry experts and those in the business.
Unlike New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cultural centers, Portland offers a fertile music scene, a population that supports neighborhood businesses, cheap rents and a relatively inexpensive cost of living.
“We’re one of the few cities that has that combination,” Isaacson says.