Sam Edwards, 20, of Columbia is a frequent visitor to Papa Jazz record shop in Columbia’s Five Points. On Friday, he emerged from a browsing session in the landmark shop with a couple of gems from jazz greats Oscar Peterson and Clifford Brown.
For Edwards, a University of South Carolina music major, the ultimate musical experience doesn’t involve iTunes downloads, YouTube videos or a streaming service like Pandora.
Edwards prefers to listen to his music the old fashioned way – on 12-inch vinyl records, complete with the signature pops, scratches and a much higher range of sound than compressed digital fare.
“Spotify is evil,” he said of the popular streaming service. “I like having tangible things; things you can touch and feel. Albums make the music a little more special.”
Vinyl records, which seemed to be going the way of the dinosaur as iPods and MP3 players rose in the early 2000s, have not only shot up in sales over the past five year; they are boosting sales at some long-time local record shops.
In 2014, digital album and song sales continued a downward trend, while record sales doubled over 2013, according to Nielsen Soundscan. The 9.2 million records sold are the most since the service started tracking sales in 1991.
Alex McCollum, Papa Jazz co-manager, said that hasn’t changed this year. His estimates his sales are up about 50 percent from two years ago. Eric Woodard, owner of Scratch N Spin records in West Columbia, said his sales have skyrocketed 65 percent in five years.
“You used to go through the racks and see every Beatles, Stones and Led Zepplin album there,” McCollum said. “Now, they leave in a day.”
That’s great news for local record shops — the proud survivors of what once was a booming industry with chain stores in every mall and superstores hosting in-store concerts.
Although record companies are now pressing some new vinyl, used records are driving the market.
Woodard said he has three different types of customers.
▪ “Nostalgists,” as he calls them. They are people who have carried milk crates full of albums from place to place since they graduated college in the ’70s and ’80s. They want to add to their collection and hold tight to records like coin or stamp collectors.
▪ Audiophiles. They seek mint condition records and will judge different pressings of the same album like fine wines. Some are willing to pay up to $3,000 for a prime disc, according to Fortune Magazine, seeking the most dynamic cuts.
▪ Millennials. It’s not the just the hipsters who are buying, but many young people, like USC student Edwards, who have come to appreciate albums for the same reason their parents and grandparents did.
“They’re art,” said Woody Jones, the other manager at Papa Jazz, which has been in existence for more than three decades. “They’re big. You can touch them. You can hold them. They have covers. The have liner notes. It’s an active exercise in art.
“With digital,” he said, “if your computer crashes, you lose all your music. So, there’s been a reaction against the ephemeral nature of that.”
But digital sales still trounce vinyl by a massive margin, according to Nielsen, with 106.5 million albums downloaded in 2014. So, most shops have to sell more than records to stay in business.
Papa Jazz sells DVDs and CDs as well as records. But Scratch ’n’ Spin across the river is no less than “a mixed media superstore,” owner Woodard said.
The 12th Street store may look tiny from outside, but inside it’s packed with a dazzling array of all things nostalgic.
The movie and music merchandise includes DVDs, Blu Ray discs, VHS tapes, laser discs, CDs, cassette tapes, 8-tracks, vinyl records and games and gaming systems going back to the Atari 2600 from the 1980s.
“We even have a couple of Beta tapes,” Woodard said. “Since Blockbuster closed, we have the largest selection of movies in Columbia.”
The store also sells comic books, action figures from comic books, graphic novels, trade paperbacks, select novels, Japanese manga comic books, T-shirts, stickers, posters, dolls, pop figures and play sets.
“We are truly a retro paradise,” Woodard said. “We focus on nostalgia.”
Woodard started out 13 years ago selling 12-inch discs with one song per side – the type of records deejays use use to “scratch” over tracks (hence the store’s name). Now, it’s pretty much anything goes.
“To survive you have to have diversification of product, just like Walmart,” he said. “And if we don’t have it, we can get it for you overnight.”
Even the 1978 solo album by Kiss lead guitarist Ace Frehley?
“Have it,” Woodard said.
Where to get a turntable
Turntables for your vinyl record collection can be purchased at many retailers and online. Here’s a look at some options:
Jensen JTA-220: $38.97
Audio-Technica Professional: $649.99
Vive turntable: $31.95
Sota Cosmos: $6,800
Audio-Technica AT-LP60: $89.95
Music Hall: $4,495.99
Sound Stage Direct
Vinyl Styl Groove Portable: $99
VPI Classic Direct: $30,000