A number of dates during the last few weeks have been notable to Scott Farrell, the general manager of local record store chain Down in the Valley. There was the first day that all three stores closed to the public, March 17, with limited curbside service at the Golden Valley location.
“Every day my guys out in the stores were getting more and more nervous, and we were arming them with cleaners and things like that, but we had a discussion and decided it just wasn’t worth it,” Farrell said.
Then, there was the announcement of the stay-at-home order March 27, which shut down in-person sales for good.
Then there was April 18. For many, it was just another sluggish Saturday spent drumming up things to do around the house (or maybe spent fervently scouring supermarkets for toilet paper). For Down in the Valley, it was a melancholy reminder of what should have been the biggest day of the year for the business.
Record Store Day can be described as the Black Friday of the record store business. An annual tradition since 2008, the shopping event features limited pressings, album releases and intimate performances by acclaimed local artists, all exclusively at indie record shops.
In some ways, it’s a love letter from musicians and the industry to those that are committed to keeping vinyl alive.
It seems to be effective: Last year, a line stretched from the front doors of the Golden Valley location to the end of the hardware store several storefronts over.
Sales have continued through several of Down in the Valley’s online markets, but without Record Store Day, 2020 will easily be one of the business’s worst month of April in recent memory.
So, how is the little Midwestern record shop doing today?
“We’re hurting just like everybody else right now,” said Farrell. “We’ve moved back to curbside, and brought back a small crew to run it ... It’s not good, it still doesn’t pay the rent at all three stores, but I think it’s going to build over time.”
For now, the Golden Valley and Maple Grove stores are offering curbside and contactless ordering. The Crystal store, the smallest location, remains closed. The business is seeing some play on its online store, and every Friday, the store goes live on Facebook for a “Vinyl Happy Hour” when guests and staff members talk music and auction and buy merchandise.
Farrell is thankful to be in the Midwest, particularly in the Twin Cities.
“Minneapolis is a vinyl city, big time,” he said. “Look at all the record stores we have here. There’s enough demand for them. I see that when there’s 600 in line in Golden Valley for Record Store Day.”
In conversation with store managers in other markets across the U.S., he doesn’t hear of the same demand for analog.
An advantage for Down in the Valley is its longevity. Hardship isn’t a stranger to a business that has experienced several hard pivots since 1972. Farrell has managed the stores for 24 years and has been in their orbit for double as long. Farrell likens every trial he’s faced to a battle: the housing market crash and recession, the CD era and the rise of big box stores. All of them have been fought alongside another Minnesota vinyl institution: The Electric Fetus.
“We’ve fought all the wars up to now,” he said. The two shops had planned a few surprises on Record Store Day to celebrate their combined 100 years of slinging records. Many of those plans, like a concert at First Avenue, didn’t end up happening due to the pandemic. Even without the pomp and circumstance, the campaign is a timely reminder of two businesses that have a history of winning their battles.
“Down in the Valley’s history is so ingrained in the history of this part of the city,” said Farrell. “We have guys that come in here and say they shopped here as a kid, and now they’re here shopping with their kids. Even now, someone will make an order, and after we send them tracking info they reply with their story.”
Record Store Day, re-imagined
Due to COVID-19 concerns, Record Store Day has moved to three Saturdays: Aug. 29, Sept. 26 and Oct. 24. Each day will have its own unique line-up of limited edition records and gear.
To date, 27 Minnesota record stores have agreed to participate on the new dates.
“Record Store Day will look very different this year, but supporting indie record stores may be more important than ever,” reads a statement from the event organizers.
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