COVID-19 has created a difficult environment with new challenges to both musicians and venues. Over the past few weeks, the infiltration of COVID-19 into entertainment sources across the area has forced the cancellations of many newly scheduled musical performances.
However, local musicians and venues are not the only musical entities that have felt the effect of COVID-19. Local vinyl shops have been forced to adapt to the pandemic by taking the storefront out of the business equation. Ultimately, the new business adjustments used by the owners of Mobile Records, Dr. Music and Bay Sound reflects a resilience and dedication matched only by the zealous nature of the vinyl collectors who walked through their doors.
For years, Nappie Award winning wax dealer Mobile Records has been the Azalea City’s most popular source for vinyl records. When COVID-19 began to move into the city limits, owner Keith Glass made the decision to close Mobile Records around the same time schools decided to close. When Stay-At-Home orders shifted, Glass reopened his business. After having a number of customers balk at his new store policies based on COVID-19, Glass made the decision to close Mobile Records’ storefront, once again.
“When I reopened, it was four hours a day from 1 p.m.-5 p.m.,” Glass explained. “It was all pretty orderly. As far as the masking being a prerequisite. I had people who just would not wear a mask. So, I closed up again a week ago.”
Opting out of curbside service, Glass admits having the storefront closed is forcing him to miss profits that could have been made from selling new vinyl that has been released since the crisis began. However, Glass is finding other ways to make enough money to keep Mobile Records in business. In addition to vinyl at booths at local antique malls, Glass has been busy using Mobile Records’ online presence for sales. This business experience has been one with few financial obstacles and minimum exposure to physical contact with the public.
“There weren’t any challenges in that (shifting to online sales exclusively),” Glass said. “I could drop stuff off at the post office. I didn’t even have to go in there. They would just pick them up, and we already had everything to do it. We’ve made enough to make the rent.”
On the Eastern Shore, Bay Sound owner Billy Francis also stayed busy throughout the COVID-19 shutdown without any “emotional distraught.” When this longtime vinyl shop closed its doors, Francis decided to organize by analyzing and processing Bay Sound’s collection.
Afterwards, he increased the inventory both online and in-store. As far as business is concerned, the mail order side of Bay Sound “immediately spiked,” according to Francis. He recognizes that vinyl collectors’ dedication to their hobby forced them to seek online means of buying, selling and trading wax.
“Obviously, if they (vinyl collectors) can’t jump in their cars and go to vinyl shops or go to record shows or concerts that have merch tables, they stay at home and dial it up that way,” Francis said. “So, it’s just a very simple thing. It’s not too much, because most of us are connected that way and have the ability to order online. Most of the shops that do what I do have some presence online.”
The only challenges Francis has faced through the shut-down pertains to actual work involved. Francis takes a solo approach to running Bay Sound. With this in mind, he decided to schedule his online business activities to match the increased demand of his online customers. One day might be dedicated to listing featured vinyl on Bay Sound’s online entities. The next day might be dedicated to processing Bay Sound’s inventory. For Francis, the jump in online business made shipping orders a daily event.
“You ship out as your customer pays,” Francis said. “So, you’re shipping out six days of the week.”
Since 1996, Dr. Music has been an Eastern Shore source for not only vinyl, but also vintage musical gear. When the COVID-19 shutdown hit, owner Wade Wellborn followed other vinyl store owners. Wellborn shifted a majority of his vinyl and vintage gear business to e-commerce through not only Dr. Music’s website, but also outlets such as Discogs and eBay. Wellborn says Dr. Music’s physical storefront became “a true wreck.”
Packing material was scattered in between the store’s rows of wax. While he missed seeing his customers on a regular basis, Wellborn says his dedicated patrons opted for curbside service and online orders. Some customers even bought gift certificates to use when Dr. Music finally reopened its storefront.
“We feel very fortunate that our customers found ways to do business with us and were able to shift into that gear,” Wellborn said. “I wish that I had spent more time preparing for something like that. You get busy with the retail side and kind of don’t think about the online stuff, but if you owned a record store from 2004 to 2010, then you know how to hustle. Nobody came into record stores to buy vinyl from 2004 to 2010. Everybody went online to find vinyl and gear.”
Glass, Francis and Wellborn are now making preparations for one of the vinyl world’s biggest annual events. Record Store Day is coming. Each year, Record Store Day “celebrates the culture of the independently owned record store” through special releases and re-releases of vinyl. This year’s Record Store Day “drops” of vinyl will be different, as the drops will be spread over three separate days. The first is set for August 29.
With Record Store Day a little over a month away, all three owners are busy making decisions on how to make their respective Record Store Days a safe experience for both employees and customers. Glass, Francis and Wellborn are all very confident they will have a physical set-up that will create a safe atmosphere for vinyl collectors to enjoy their sonic passion.
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