Business & Tech, Features

Local record stores ‘carry the torch’ for a new generation of music fans

John Damroth, the founder of Planet Records in Cambridge, sits behind the counter in his shop Monday. JULIA MARUCA/ DFP STAFF

A crowded labyrinth of shelves piled high with old vinyl, CDs and memorabilia lies tucked away in the basement of the 957 Commonwealth Ave. — the location of In Your Ear Records. Music aficionados, some just browsing, some who know exactly what they’re looking for, search the stacks for a rare find.

Reed Lappin, who co-owns In Your Ear, said records — once thought to be dying — have seen a recent resurgence.

“People seem to value record stores more nowadays as part of the music landscape,” Lappin said. “We’re doing OK right now, but there are always shifts that happen.”

In a time when the music industry seems to be dominated by streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, vinyl sales are on the rise.

“There’s a whole new generation of young people interested in vinyl now,” Lappin said. “You need that customer base to keep things going. It’s never going to be as many people as [those who] listen to music online … but there are a significant amount of people who like the experience of listening to records.”

In Your Ear Records is just one of Boston’s few remaining record stores. It boasts a collection not just of vinyl, but of cassettes, CDs, 8-tracks, laserdiscs and audio equipment. First established in 1982, it once had three locations — in Cambridge, Rhode Island and on Commonwealth Avenue — but the Cambridge location shut down earlier this year.

Albie Prager has worked at the Commonwealth Avenue In Your Ear on Boston University’s West Campus for the past 10 years. He said he loves working at the shop.

“I like being around the music when I’m working here and talking to people about the music,” Prager said. “I’ve been working retail or wholesale all my life, so it’s kind of second nature to file things away, wait on customers, since I’ve been doing it for so long.”

Other Boston record stores rely on a renewed interest in old mediums to stay open, as well. Cheapo Records in Cambridge’s Central Square has seen increased sales in recent years due to youth interest, according to owner Bob Perry.

“[Cheapo Records] is doing a lot better than it was — business is up this year over last year, and since we took the store over, it’s probably been double the business,” said Perry, who took over Cheapo in 2016 from its previous owner, Allen Day. “About half of our business is young people, millennials, but the other half is still in the 35–50 range, with some older customers, too.”

Perry said the tastes of new audiophiles have affected his stock and have changed what he prioritizes in the store. He said he is expanding Cheapo Records’ collection of T-shirts and memorabilia, which is where he expects the store to grow in the future.

“We tend to sell the same classic rock records over and over because people want to get started with their collection, and they look up, ‘What are the first records I should buy?’” Perry said. “Also, people don’t come in with used records as often anymore. When the resurgence of interest in vinyl started, people started holding onto their vinyl for longer.”

Last year Cheapo Records began participating in Record Store Day, a “holiday” started in 2008 to promote record sales, Perry said. Each year, some musicians put out limited releases for the holiday, and stores sell them for a short time.

Perry said he is in the process of planning for this year’s Record Store Day on April 13.

“Last year it was our busiest day of the year,” Perry said. “I’m going to rearrange a few things in the shop. I want to have a sidewalk sale and free T-shirts, and am hoping to get a live DJ.”

Not all record stores are interested in the allure of Record Store Day, however.

“We don’t fall for the hype,” Lappin said of In Your Ear. “It’s just kind of a manufactured holiday that the industry decided, while the industry used to be hostile to us. We’ll be open on the day, and we’ll sell records, but we don’t really care about it.”

At Planet Records in Cambridge, they also aren’t big fans of Record Store Day — that’s according to John Damroth, who founded the store in 1983.

“I used to have a sign up in the store that said, ‘Every day is Record Store Day,’” he said.

Damroth said he keeps a list of local record stores on a flyer on the counter in his store, which surprises some people. He believes in spreading information about what is available, he said.

“I realized that people just love music, and so offering a list of local stores doesn’t hurt anybody,” Damroth said. “When someone finds what they’re looking for, something they’ve been looking for for years, it’s a beautiful thing. I’ve had people cry. These days, almost every day someone will say to me, ‘Thank you for being here, thanks for carrying the torch.’”

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