Colorado Springs continues to feel the resurgence of vinyl as music listeners begin to shift their focus back from CDs to LPs.
What once was a niche for only the most serious record collectors has turned into a fad fueled not by members of Generation X, but by their children.
The three local record vendors — Earth Pig Music, the Leechpit and Independent Records and Video — are seeing a new crowd of customers comprised mostly of college-age people looking to expand their parents’ collection or start their own.
According to a report published July 3 by Nielsen Entertainment, vinyl LP sales in the U.S. were up 40.4 percent in the first six months of 2014 with more than 4 million sold (compared to 2.9 million last year). Although CD sales reached 62.9 million, they decreased 19.6 percent since the same time last year.
The pace at which vinyl is increasing in popularity is rivaled only by streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora, which saw a 42 percent rise over the same period, according to the report.
“With On-Demand streams surpassing 70 billion songs in the first six months of 2014, streaming continues to be an increasingly significant portion of the music industry,” Nielsen Entertainment Vice President David Bakula said in the report.
“Streaming’s 42 percent year-over-year growth and vinyl LP’s 40 percent increase over last year’s record-setting pace shows interest in buying and consuming music continues to be robust, with two very distinct segments of the industry expanding substantially.”
Nielsen tracks only retail, not resale.
Mary Beth Atherton, who has owned Earth Pig Music at 1953 Uintah St. since 1992, said the shift in sales from CDs to vinyl, the most popular and readily available medium for most of the 20th century, has been strikingly noticeable.
“The vinyl moves fast,” she said, adding most items are used except for a few that are sealed or specially ordered.
Atherton said business is steady, customers loyal, and she doesn’t believe the three record stores are in direct competition, saying “there are enough people in town for all of us.
“We’re not in competition with the other stores,” Atherton said. “If we don’t have something, we’ll send them along to one of the others.”
The shops are varied enough to cater to other market niches. Earth Pig’s niche is smoking accessories, which it has carried since the business opened.
Another Westside business to see the effects of the vinyl resurgence has been the Leechpit, which moved to 3020 W. Colorado Ave. late last year.
Owner Adam Leech started the business in a house next to Weber Street Liquor in 2003, after working in record stores since age 15. When he graduated from UCCS with a business degree, he decided he could use those skills, with his wife, Heather, to do what he loved.
“Knowing how to keep your books is pretty important if you plan on doing something foolish like open a record store,” he said laughingly.
He said that since opening, business has had its ups and downs, with seasonal highs around the holidays and lows when the college students head home for the summer.
“We’ve been at it long enough to know that the national and global economies have a lot to do with the small businessman,” he said. “We saw a few massive economic recessions, if you will … but the first big hit on the economy really drove people into our store who never really considered second-hand to be a viable option.”
Apart from Earth Pig and Independent, which focus heavily on media and smoking accessories, The Leechpit’s other niches are vintage clothing and collectibles. Leech said the store had its busiest day since reopening in October, although there are also lulls.
“If you have fewer of those days, you’re a lucky person,” he said, adding that the couple is just getting past the financial challenge of reopening their store in a larger location.
The Leeches plan to order more new vinyl in order to stay relevant to today’s music buyers, but Adam Leech isn’t looking to compete with the other vendors.
“If I competed with Independent … that would be a nightmare,” he said.
Record companies’ response
The resurgent popularity has driven many contemporary artists to release their albums on vinyl.
Record companies also have used this as an opportunity to reissue many of what they consider to be classic albums by iconic acts, including cuts by Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground, often enhanced by bonus tracks or pressed onto heavier vinyl in various colors.
Independent, which has four Colorado Springs locations, specializes in these new releases and reissues, as well as the old stuff.
Owner Orville Lambert, who brought the business to the Springs in 1978, said vinyl records account for close to 10 percent of his monthly sales across all six stores, and “those numbers just keep rising.”
Although CDs still make up around 25 percent of the company’s overall sales, he said the shift to interest in vinyl has really taken off during the past three years.
“We’re definitely committed to both used and new vinyl,” he said. “We try to buy as much vinyl and have as much available as we can.”
The Independent location at 3030 E. Platte Ave. accumulated so many records that Lambert purchased the building next door (3020 E. Platte Ave.). Now called The Annex, that location is dedicated to records and books, Lambert said.
Although the Leechpit is near Independent’s 3040 W. Colorado Ave. location, Lambert agrees with others in his rapidly expanding niche of the small business community.
“There is a lot of used vinyl around, so we may compete on getting the best records for our customers,” he said.
“But as far as being competition, that’s not really the case.”