Small businesses throughout the United States are suffering amid the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, particularly record stores. Deemed non-essential businesses, most record stores are closed during this time and are therefore losing out on sales. As a result, these stores are in jeopardy of closing and never opening up again. Even institutions like Amoeba Music face possible closure during this time.
Nevertheless, record store owners are still trying to get product in the hands of vinyl heads across the country. Thanks to the internet and social media, a store’s collection can be viewed from the comfort of one’s home and, amid the pandemic, stores are offering news ways to deliver, whether that be curbside pick-up or local delivery.
This is the case for a handful of Black-owned vinyl record stores in the US. In the past, these stores were commonplace, with anywhere from 500 to 1,000 Black-owned vinyl record stores existing throughout the South in the ’60s and ’70s. The decline in Black-owned vinyl record store, like those of other record stores, is the result of a few factors: the rise of retail chain stores; the evolution from tangible to digital forms of music; technological advances in music-playing devices; and, of course, the ever-increasing cost of maintaining a store.
Many Black-owned vinyl record store that persisted for decades have since been closed. Reid’s Records, reportedly California’s oldest record shop (it first opened in Berkeley 1945), closed its doors last year. Still, record stores continue to crop up across the country, and a handful of those stores are Black-owned.
Amid the pandemic, people are finding comfort in nostalgia. Vinyl provides that — the vintage warmth of the music that comes as soon as the needle hits the grooves offering an escape during such a trying time. If you’re in search of new and old vinyl to cop, here are eight Black-owned record stores to support during these times.
“Really, anything funky and soulful gets play here,” Brittany Benton said of her record shop. Opened on March 21, 2018 —DJ Premier’s birthday — Brittany’s Record Shop offers used and new releases (scrolling through the shop’s Instagram account shows everything from Kaytranada’s Bubba to Isaac Hayes’ Black Moses), and even if the shop doesn’t have what you’re looking for, Benton will try her best to get it.
“I also special order by request so if there is something I wouldn’t typically stock at the shop, I’ll get it for a customer if I can,” she said. “I just want to make sure that I’m putting records that people want in their hands.”
Owned by Phillip Rollins (also known as DJ Young Venom), Offbeat was first opened on May 17, 2014. A glimpse of the store’s website shows that it offers new and old releases, reissues, and pre-loved (used) records, as well as comics and designer and import toys.
Marketta Rodriguez first opened Serious Sounds on December 14, 1991, and the record store has been serving Houston since. In 2016, the store even served as a meet-and-greet for Kirk Franklin fans when the gospel star was promoting his Losing My Religion album.
“I’m really a niche, relic, dinosaur store, but hey — there’s a need and I fill it,” Rodriguez said.
The almost 35-year-old Jampac Records initially started in a building about as big as a closet back in 1986, before taking on the location it has been at since 1994. The fact that owner Walter Gibson owns everything from 12″ singles to 78’s is a testament to his store’s longevity, which primarily specializes in records from 1899 to 1995 but also carries new releases from time to time.
Nestled in the back of 640 West Community Cafe is JB’s, a record store owned by Jonathan Blanchard that originally began as a quarterly crate-digging party in Blanchard’s basement. In 2017, Blanchard moved JB’s from his basement to where it’s located now, where he not only sells records but he hosts events, too.
Ed Smith opened Re-Runz in 2016, but has been an avid record collector since 1974 and seller since 1985. Prior to Re-Runz, Smith also operated another store similarly-named Re-Runs Records from 1990 to 2000 that primarily sold CDs. Smith comes from a musical background: aside from being a musician himself (the multi-instrumentalist got his start as a 15-year-old touring on the Chitlin Circuit), his brother, the late Cleon “Fly” Smith, was a singer who shared stages with James Brown and Kool and the Gang.
In 2017, Martin Brewer and Sonya Farrell opened up a little shop called Halsey & Lewis (named after the cross streets it resides on), which has since become known not only for its selection of vinyl but vintage objects.
“We aren’t into the minutiae that some of the extreme vinyl junkie collectors are,” Farrell told DNAinfo in 2017. “We are interested in listenability and covers in decent condition.”
Moodies Records first opened its doors in 1982 and has since become a musical institution in the Bronx, with people from Germany, Kosovo, Japan, and other parts of the world visiting the record store. Despite having to relocate to another spot in the borough in 2013, Moodies continues to be a mainstay. It even made an appearance on the late Anthony Bourdain’s TV series Parts Unknown, serving as the backdrop to a conversation between Bourdain and DJ Kool Herc for an episode dedicated to the borough that birthed hip-hop.
Philadelphia native DJ Bee (aka BeesustheDJ) opened Freshtopia in January 2019, which serves as an apparel and vinyl store (45s, 12″ singles and albums), as well as houses a fully-functioning radio station. As a member of the Skratch Makaniks DJ Crew, it’s not uncommon to see Bee spinning live or hosting his radio show Da Block from his shop.
Home Rule Records was opened by Charvis Campbell back in April 2018 and continues to cater to fans of jazz, soul and R&B music, primarily offering old records at affordable prices. (The store has a large budget section of records ranging from $1 to $5.)
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