SHARE

DSC_0748

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.”