Do Twin Cities record stores need Record Store Day?

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Photo by Erik Hess
Collectors digging in the bins at Hymie's during Record Store Day 2011.
2012 Record Store Day events roundup
A celebration of independent Twin City record stores

With Record Store Day upon us once more, it's a little hard to believe that this is only the event's fifth installment. The annual celebration of brick and mortar music retailers has turned into such an extravaganza, and feels so deeply embedded in the culture of the business, that it feels like it could easily have been going on twice as long.

This year, no doubt, will be bigger and better than ever, with stores across the Twin Cities pulling out all the stops on special releases, concerts, and a variety of other side shows, from beer gardens to clowns to face painting. Unquestionably, Record Store Day is the biggest day of the year for those who love crate-digging -- and, crucially, for the businesses themselves. But it also begs a question: Can these businesses survive without Record Store Day? And if so, do they need it?

Record sellers, after all, can be any number of things. Yes, at heart they will always be the great temple of worship for music lovers, and specifically for vinyl heads, second only perhaps to concert venues. Records, after all, help make our experiences with music more tangible, not only because you have to get up and flip the damn things over while you're listening to them, but also through the artwork, and through the pure pleasure of flipping through the racks in a store; some people live for the thrill of finding that long-lost rarity.

But, whether by nature or necessity, record stores are more than that too: they're a place to hang out with like-minded people, to discover new music, and to even see live shows. They're businesses, of course, but they're also part of the local community -- a fact that stretches back to the head shops of the '60s and '70s, and which almost got lost in the rise of the big-box chains, and in the simultaneous implosion of the music industry and nosedive of the economy-at-large. Thanks to Record Store Day, we have reason to celebrate that heritage, and to (at least try to) keep it alive.

"It's a little bit like [the old days]," says Bob Fuchs, the manager at Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, where he's worked since the mid-'80s. "At times it was just crazy; for ten years Saturdays were nuts. So I'm super happy for the newer staff to see what it used to be like -- but it's also bigger than any one day we had in the old days."
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Photo by Erik Hess
Last year's Record Store Day brought a line around the block at Electric Fetus.

The Fetus, more than any local record store, has been become a brand as much as anything else, a ubiquitous sort of presence that also sells all nature of clothing, books, knick-knacks, and other, er, paraphernalia. The store helps to keep a high profile for itself by having year-round in-store performances and listening parties, so that Record Store Day isn't so much a departure for the norm as it is a highly concentrated day of everything the store has to offer -- in short, a microcosm of the business model.

Fuchs is adamant that, in this day and age, record stores couldn't survive without finding ways to become part of the community, rather than just a place to buy records. "If you are not the church where people worship music, you will be gone," he says. "If you're not creating some sort of event and being the center of culture, then why wouldn't someone go to iTunes?"

There's a sound logic to that argument, and a little bit of a romantic streak, too: Shouldn't record stores be a cultural hub, a gathering place for people who love music? It's not just a place that exists because people like stuff, or because the owners need to earn a living. As a result, "diversifying the product" helps justify record stores' existence at a time when they're not truly necessary. "Ten to 15 years ago," Fuchs points out, "the only place you could buy music was in a record store..."

Perhaps a little surprisingly, given how frequently his own store hosts events, Hymie's Vintage Records' owner Dave Hoenack doesn't see in-store performances as a crucial component of the business. "I think we could do just fine without doing all that, but I think it'd be less fun," he says. After all, as he points out, "We don't make a ton of money [from doing] in-stores."

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