Dan Harper of Bear was driving through Arden last year when he happened upon Jupiter Records “in the middle of nowhere.”
“I can smell vinyl a country mile,” said Harper, an avid collector of vinyl records.
Now, Harper, 52, is a regular at the record store located in an historic building at the corner of Grubb and Marsh roads. On a recent morning, Harper, who has 8,000 vinyl albums, was in the store to buy Pink Floyd’s newly released “The Endless River” album – on vinyl.
Thanks to vinyl lovers like Harper, Jupiter Records has had a very good first year in business, cashing in on a growing national demand for analog music, said owner Steve Zimmerman. Sales at the store, which opened in August 2013, exceeded what Zimmerman had projected, although he doesn’t release numbers.
Vinyl’s resurgence is the kind of comeback story the music industry loves. Its hit season coincided with the birth of rock and roll, beginning in the 1950s and continuing through the 1980s, according to the Record Collectors Guild. But by the 1990s, compact discs had knocked vinyl LPs to the bottom of the charts.
Now, it’s the flip side. Sales of vinyl LPs are up 48 percent so far this year over the same period in 2013, while CD album sales plummeted 17 percent, according to the latest Nielsen SoundScan industry report. And those numbers only represent sales of new vinyl, including re-releases. Sales of used albums are not tracked, Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman, 40, who owned a store in Phoenix from 2007 to 2012, said his sales at the Arden store surpassed the numbers the Arizona store was doing in its fifth year of business.
“It’s almost like a rebellion against the virtual music,” Zimmerman said. “It used to be in the ’60s and ’70s, people would sit around and listen to records and hang out. And that completely went away in the ’90s. It became people sitting alone listening with iPods or their phone. Now, it’s become a social event again.”
Today, young people will sit down and listen to an entire album, said Debbie Rich, manager of The Mad Platter in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
The store, which has been in business since 1976, has seen vinyl “come full circle,” Rich said. It managed to “hang in there…through the ups and downs of the music business” and continued to carry some vinyl records even when CD sales were at their peak. Now, vinyl represents almost half of the store’s sales, Rich said.
“Who knew that the thing that would turn it around would be vinyl?” she said.
While some buyers are collectors like Harper, many of today’s shoppers come from a generation born after grooves had given way to compact discs.
“You could walk in here on a Saturday and see kids 15 to 16 years old,” Zimmerman said.
To vinyl aficionados, analog sound is warmer and truer, as if the vocalist or musician is in the room.
Take John Castellaneta, 25, of Wilmington.
“I just like listening to it – it’s a nice experience. It’s kinda fascinating to me,” said Castellaneta, who was buying a “Flight of the Conchords” album from the HBO series.
Gerald Young, owner of Grooves and Tubes in Centreville, described vinyl as “more mellow.”
“It’s like the difference between biting into an apple or biting into a lemon,” said Young, who said he’s having his best year since he went into business nearly six years ago.
Young, who only sells used albums, said people also want to have more of a physical connection to the music, including reading the jacket or liner notes.
And there’s also the art on the covers, which adds another aesthetic dimension to albums.
“I think there’s something to having a tangible piece of art,” said Miranda Brewer, 40, of Rainbow Records in Newark.
For others, there’s an element of nostalgia, such as seeing their first Led Zeppelin album. Brewer, who has clear memories of her father’s record collection, said families will sometimes shop for vinyl records together.
At Jupiter Records, customers can find vintage Beach Boys, Beatles and Jimi Hendrix albums but also represses of classic LPs from the same artists.
What’s more, contemporary artists like Jack White and the Arctic Monkeys have had some of the top-selling vinyl albums this year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. At the front of Jupiter, Zimmerman features the soundtrack for the “Elf” motion picture on vinyl.
And it’s not just the small, independent retailer like Jupiter Records selling vinyl music. Large retailers, like Urban Outfitters, Amazon and Whole Foods, have been “riding the wave created by indie retailers,” according to Billboard. Other chains are reportedly looking at it, Billboard reported.
Still, vinyl is a small fry in the physical albums, Zimmerman said. While 7 million vinyl LPs were sold so far this year, CD album sales were 107 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
“It’s definitely a niche market,” Zimmerman said.
Much of Jupiter’s 2,000 square feet is devoted to vintage vinyl LPs that sell in the $1 to $10 range. There’s hardly a music category Zimmerman doesn’t have, although he’s not big on easy listening.
With 20,000 to 25,000 albums, Jupiter has pop, rock, jazz, rhythm and blues, country, classical and comedy. He even has a section featuring rare albums by Buddy Holly, Queen and Kiss, which sell for $25 and up.
A much smaller part of the store has 45s or what some call 7-inch records.
For Zimmerman, the biggest sellers continue to be classic rock. But a huge part of the business is buying records, he said. People arrive at the shop with boxes of old albums to sell. And some can bring real money to the seller. Recently, Zimmerman bought a collection of 1,500 records for $6,000.
To Zimmerman, the vinyl music format is here to stay.
“That dark ages of vinyl from the 1990s to about 2005 is over,” Zimmerman said.