Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
In the era of Spotify and Pandora, holding a vinyl recording in your hands and placing it on a turntable can seem like a discovery. With a surge of interest in vinyl records old and new, San Antonio record stores that have been in business for decades are being joined by newcomers to the market, giving vinyl hunters a wealth of choices around town.
"The vinyl resurgence for us seemed to start around '07, '08," said Steve Alejandro, manager of Hogwild Records on Main Avenue near San Antonio College. "Probably three years after that we started selling turntables. It's parents buying turntables for their kids, or it's 20-somethings buying turntables for themselves."
Market interest in long-playing and extended-play vinyl record sales began increasing in 2007, according to a U.S. sales database created by the Recording Industry Association of America. That initial bump followed an all-time low number of sales recorded in 2006. The volume of records sold has rose steadily ever since, although no where near the peak reached in 1977.
In local record stores, curious collectors can spend their hours flipping through records stored in milk crates or on wooden shelves. Prices can range from a dollar or two in the bargain bins to around $30 for new and re-issued vinyl to hundreds of dollars for rarities.
"There’s some great record stores here," said David Hollander, a vinyl collector who has written magazine articles on the subject.
In his 25 years in and out of the city, Hollander said he's seen a cycle of record stores opening and closing. One of his personal staples has been Hogwild Records, first opened in 1982.
"They're a kind of constant that people really like, and depending on what you're looking for, they definitely have good records," Hollander said.
Hogwild is known for its rock, punk, and metal focus. Used and new records are kept below T-shirts hanging from the ceiling, buttons, pins, stickers, and other related accessories.
"Whether they still come here or not, people still see [the store] as emblematic of the city and the independent spirit that it has," Alejandro said. "The little record store that could."
Alejandro said the store was selling plenty of turntables and re-issued classic vinyl during this holiday season, a time when they usually get a bump in sales
. Across town at Del Bravo Records, however, the story wasn't the same.
"We don't see a spike," said Javier Gutierrez, one of the owners of Del Bravo, a Westside family business in operation since 1966.
"We do Latin," Gutierrez said. "We do conjunto, mariachi, Tejano. About 90 percent of what we sell is that."
But he said business is slow, and he's only recently begun selling a noticeable number of vinyl records again. Most of the store's records were pulled and put into storage in the 1990s to make way for compact discs, a medium with sales that have steadily declined since 2000.
"Two years ago I had a gentleman come in during Christmas, and he was buying some vinyl as a gift for his niece," Gutierrez said. "I'm assuming the niece must be 40 or 30. He says, 'No, my niece is 16 years old.'"
After his initial surprise that someone so young would want vinyl records, Gutierrez has since noticed a small but growing number of younger shoppers coming in to purchase them.
Janie Esparza, the 91-year-old owner of Janie's Record Shop, has a passion for physical copies of music recordings.
"When I was 8 years old, I wanted to know who wrote the song, what label it was, and everything like that I wanted to know,” Esparza said.
With a renewed interest in vinyl records by young consumers, new stores have joined the older mainstays. Southtown Vinyl is in its second year of operation, and a manager said the store has a hard time keeping turntables on its shelves.
"Our big number one seller – and it has been since last Christmas – is the proliferation of turntables," said Gabe Garza, manager at Southtown Vinyl. "More than LPs or anything, it seems like those seem to go really well."
Garza said their turntables are a step above other entry-level models found in larger retail stores. Southtown Vinyl is staffed entirely by DJs, which Garza thinks helps customers who are looking for simple table maintenance along and more technical performance equipment.
Another newcomer to the local record store scene is Friends of Sound, which last year relocated from downtown Austin to Fredericksburg Road just north of downtown.
"We shop and we try to buy used records as often as we possibly can because people are beginning to come in for this stuff," said George Mendoza, a co-owner of Friends of Sound.
He said the shop's focus is on Spanish music, but it tries to offer a variety of genres in a welcoming environment. Mendoza said he wants the store to be a place where someone can feel just as comfortable asking for a Madonna record as they would for a high-dollar collectible record.
Mendoza said that Friends of Sound attracts an international clientele to its online store.
Coming this spring is the San Antonio Record Show, organized by Jesse Galvan, owner of local Westside record store Music Connection. The March 3 show at the Schertz Civic Center will feature about 50 vendors, including those from local record stores, at more than 100 tables, Galvan said.
For some vinyl enthusiasts, some of the appeal lies in the process of searching through record bins for a hard-to-find gem.
"People need a place to go walk around and browse," said Will Day, owner and manager of Alamo Records & Sheet Music. He said he would hold off on selling his store's more than 90,000 vinyl records online for as long as he could.
"Who wants to do everything on their cellphone or the internet?"