Record Store Day 2021 offers a sign of hope for businesses working on their pandemic rebound

Of all aspects of normalcy that Americans missed during the Covid-19 pandemic, physical contact was a common theme. The touch associated with browsing a record store is no exception – clicking a download button can’t feel like entering a store with fellow music fans, flipping through album art, and getting a new disc in hand hold.

Vinyl might not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the impact of the pandemic, but for some business owners, it is it. This Saturday, the second of two Record Store Days this year, offers a token of hope for independent businesses looking to recover from some of the darkest days they have ever experienced.

Record Store Day is a global event to “celebrate and promote the unique culture of nearly 1,400 independent record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally,” according to the organizers.

The first Record Store Day took place on April 19, 2008 and has since been a single day dedicated to exclusive vinyl releases only available in participating record stores. It often hosts performances, barbecues, and artist gatherings.

Because of the pandemic, the celebrations looked very different last year. Record Store Day was split into three “drops” in August, September and October instead of the typical one-day celebration that takes place at the beginning of the year. This year the celebrations have fewer restrictions but still look different than they did before the pandemic. Record Store Day was split into two drops this time – June 12th and July 17th.

A growing trend

Although many record stores had to close in 2020, the last year for vinyl album sales in the past three decades, according to MRC Data, which has been tracking sales electronically since 1991, was the biggest year for vinyl album sales.

Vinyl sales soared 46% to 27.5 million copies sold in 2020, MRC Data told CNN. This is despite a general decline in album sales, including digital and CD, compared to 2019 numbers.

Last year, vinyl sales outpaced CD sales for the first time since the 1980s.

Business owners told CNN that while they were able to switch to online sales during the lockdown, there’s nothing like physically walking into the store and getting your hands on a record.

Celebrate recovery

The June Record Store Day decline came as many stores reopened in line with state easing.

Jon Lambert, the owner of Princeton Record Exchange in Princeton, New Jersey, told CNN that he has celebrated every day since his store reopened in June 2020 in March 2020.

“My celebration was essentially about popping a bottle of champagne and taking all but two of the staff on leave,” he said. “It was the worst day I’ve ever had – letting these people go.”

Customers wait in line to enter Shuga Records in Chicago on Record Store Day April 13, 2019.

While the store reopened last June, there were still restrictions. That made it difficult to celebrate Record Store Day, but some innovations have come a long way. Lambert said his store used a warehouse next door and a canopy to set up tables outside so people can social distance and wait on the sidewalk instead of packing into the store, which has more than 100 people on a regular platter would be in there at the same time day of loading.

But Lambert said that while it doesn’t have the capacity constraints it had last year, he planned to keep some exterior elements for customer convenience.

Things didn’t go as usual for the Californian Amoeba Music either. There were no guest DJs or celebrity appearances in June. Co-owner Jim Henderson told CNN the focus is on selling and “giving people the opportunity to just enjoy shopping and connect to the music.”

Amoeba with locations in Berkeley, Hollywood and San Francisco had to close for several months last year and celebrated Record Store Day online. While Amoeba still has some limitations, Henderson expected a “vacation feel”.

“It’s not exactly Record Store Day yet, but we know it’s coming. We’ll get there, ”he said.

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