Coffee shop and music store Checker Records celebrated Record Store Day for the sixth straight year on Saturday, joining almost 1,500 stores across the nation in the annual celebration of independent music and independent business.
“We had a great turnout,” said John Spiteri, who co-owns Checker Records with his wife Robin. “This is the biggest one we ever did, so it was really cool.”
Founded in 2007, Record Store Day is a nationwide event that takes place on the third Saturday in April to promote and preserve the unique culture of independent music stores. The holiday’s nationwide popularity has been linked to America’s recent return to listening to vinyl records, sales of which reached their highest point since 1991 in 2014.
For the event, in which only independently-owned stores can participate, many artists release exclusive vinyl in small pressings of a few hundred or thousand copies.
“One really sought-after piece this year was a red vinyl, a live show of Simple Minds,” Spiteri said. “There was an Across the Universe on like a splatter-colored vinyl.”
These limited-edition records are then allocated to various stores across the country, where they go on sale at 8 a.m. Monday morning. No store is permitted to stock the entire inventory of Record Store Day releases, which encourages customers to frequent multiple venues.
“You just see a huge turnout for a bunch of independently owned record stores,” said freshman Ryan Burns, who regularly participated in the event during his high-school years in Chicago. “I’d hit up like five in a day, generally going and buying at each one.”
In a small town like Hillsdale, however, Checker Records is the only independent record store within miles. Small-town record stores are something of a rarity in Michigan: the closest Record Store Day participants are in Kalamazoo or Ann Arbor. As a result, Checker Records received visitors from far outside Hillsdale.
“They come from all over,” Spiteri said. “People from Toledo, a lot of people from Coldwater came over. People from Jackson, Lansing.”
And sure enough, when Checker Records opened its doors at 7 a.m., vinyl collectors had already queued up outside.
“The serious collectors started calling a month ago — are you gonna try and have this, are you gonna try and have that,” Spiteri said.
The now-or-never nature of the releases is a powerful motivator for collectors.
“Once a piece goes through, it’s never put back into production,” Spiteri said, “so it makes the pieces highly collectible. So for a collector that’s what makes them so attractive, is that it’s something that you’re gonna have one shot at, and they’ll never go back into production, so you’re not going to see a million of them out there.”
At the same time, Spiteri said, Record Store Day aims to attract more than just diehard vinyl enthusiasts. At bottom, the event is designed to bring the culture of the independent record store to a broader audience.
“It brings in a little bit of everybody,” Spiteri said. “People who are just curious about what Record Store Day is, people just out shopping wanting to see what it’s all about, and the serious collectors as well.”
Freshman Natalie Taylor agreed that it was the community of independent music that helps make Record Store Day special.
“I just really like the concept of it,” Taylor said. “At my favorite record store in Omaha, you always run into people you’ve seen at concerts on Record Store Day, and there’s this feeling of solidarity as everyone goes through all of the different deals together. It’s like going to Easter Mass at your home parish or something.”
Of course, no single event can entirely dictate the destinies of independent businesses like Checker Records. Even as Americans fall in love with vinyl again, many of them turn to the internet or big-box stores for their shopping.
“Any form of business that’s brick and mortar is a challenge now, of course,” Spiteri said.
Nevertheless, in the face of these daunting challenges, store owners and customers alike agree that Record Store Day’s national profile has helped keep the institution of the independent record store alive, as U.S. sales of new vinyl records have grown from less than 2 million to twelve million over its eight-year history. .
“These small businesses seemed just a few years ago to be super obsolete,” Burns said, “but record stores have gained a lot of traction recently, and I think Record Store Day has probably helped bolster a lot of them.”
Spiteri agreed: “That’s the basis of it all, just to drive people back into the independent record stores. Kind of where it all began.”