With sales of vinyl albums in the United States reaching nearly 28 million copies in 2020—up almost 50 percent from 2019’s sales, according to MRC Data—the comeback trail of the LP is all but paved in gold where the public’s consciousness is concerned. Not only did the pandemic fail to slow its roll, but being quarantined at home greatly furthered the appreciation of vintage, originally pressed albums, as well as newly minted vinyl editions of records, past and present.
Few could argue that it was the annual Record Store Day (RSD) — the meeting of independent record store owners and vinyl lovers celebrating the culture of the LP — and its 2008 debut that got that ball rolling, globally, for vinyl’s current renaissance. On that one annual spring day, vinyl enthusiasts pack their favorite independent record store to buy new vinyl product in small, limited batches from major labels, indie labels and artists self-pressing their own records. Often, these 7’ 45s and 12 inch LPs — possibly, in special colored vinyl or picture discs — featured rarities that could never be found outside of RSD editions. Elton John (a huge RSD fan), The Doors and other classic rock artists have lived up to that curiosity by refusing to reissue RSD vinyl once it’s sold out — and with such small runs, they sell out fast.
In 2020, with the unprecedented global epidemic of COVID-19, combined with struggling shipping means, vinyl pressing plants and distributors with reduced staff, and the necessity of quarantines, many in the industry thought Record Store Day wouldn’t happen. Instead, RSD’s bosses created several “Drops” across several months rather than focus all of its product on one day, and indie record stores devised their own systems of masking and social distancing to great success.
And now in 2021, participating record stores, in Philadelphia—16 at last count—along with the rest of the world, can shop until they drop on two RSD Drop dates: June 12 and July 17.
“Our 2020 RSD Drops were great,” said Jacci Weaver, the manager of Repo Records. Along with always selling out allotted stock on vinyl offerings, the 5th and South Street shop – before COVID – turned its spring Record Store Day into a party with live local bands.
“I’d say we prefer to do the one big day thing as it gets a little confusing on our end having to do orders for multiple dates. Plus, it’s a lot more work planning multiple events,” said Weaver. “However, it is also nice to have things to look forward to on our calendar, and the split-up RSD’s can seem a little less daunting than the big huge all-in-one day. I guess either way ends up being good for us, so we can’t complain.”
For the 2021 RSDs, Weaver is excited to see people coming out, and feeling comfortable with doing normal things again—like shopping for vinyl. Weaver claims that among the more popular RSD rarities Repo’s customers are excited about are releases from Aretha Franklin (“Oh Me Oh My: Aretha Live in Philly 1972”), Ariana Grande (a 3 LP “k bye for now (sweetener live)),” Lady Gaga (a translucent yellow vinyl version of “Chromatica” with a collectible zine) and several never-before-released live performances from The Police.
“It’s sort of all over the place really, the choices,” she said.
As for social distancing and capacity limits at Repo, all shoppers will be required to wear masks indoors at all times.
“We also still have a capacity limit — we were at 10 last year, but we’ve increased it to 15 – and will definitely be monitoring the amount of people in the store at a time. As for live bands, we won’t be having any bands for this first June RSD… perhaps for the July, 2021 one though,” Weaver explained.
Across town, in the Rittenhouse area, Sansom Street’s Long in the Tooth Records owner Nick Devlin is also asking his devoted customers to wear masks, and will only allow 15 (“I might push it to 20”) people into his store at one time. Devlin even recalled that 2020’s pandemic-created RSD Drops started later in the year (August) with the promise of businesses being allowed to re-open with limited capacities.
“Actually, I just got used to having smaller crowds in the Tooth and am doing this all the time now with 15-20 people, say on busy Saturdays, as it makes things more manageable for the customers, my employees and me, quite frankly,” said Devlin. “This way people aren’t breathing down each other’s neck while they’re trying to shop. It’s a nice, healthy, comfortable environment.”
Health, comfort, and manageability are great. But Record Store Day Drops such as June 12’s are all about serving customers rare vinyl.
Devlin notes that the extremely limited 4-album box set from The Dirty Three, “Ocean Songs Deluxe,” with 400 copies released worldwide, has been June 12’s hottest request. “You almost want to say, ‘Why bother?’ but the box looks so great. I got one copy, and one customer who knew about last year who will get it,” he said with a laugh.
Other choice RSD items that Devlin is getting requests for (“From my 50-60 RSD regulars with their RSD lists”) is The Wipers’ “Youth of America” reissue, and albums the usual RSD suspects such as the Grateful Dead, who this year come through the multi-vinyl-volume “Olympia Theatre, Paris, France 5/3/72.”
Not only is Record Store Day Drops great for vinyl lovers, it is great for overall business, as Devlin estimates that he will sell between 700 and 1,000 pieces of vinyl on June 12.
“People come in looking for RSD stuff and stick around to buy other vinyl albums. I love it.”