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Put the needle on the record: Vinyl sales surge during pandemic
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Put the needle on the record: Vinyl sales surge during pandemic

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Doug DiCarolis, owner of Happy Trails Records in downtown Corvallis, said consumer listening habits have changed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, leading to an increase in vinyl sales.

“It’s something you can do at home. People are staying at home more than they used to. It’s definitely raised the demand significantly,” DiCarolis said.

“We’d be selling a lot more records if we had a steady supply,” he added. “I turn away a lot of customers because we can’t get everything in stock all the time.”

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As if on cue, a customer came in and asked for “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young. DiCarolis explained that he hasn’t had the album on the shelves in two months.

“That was a $25 sale I could have made right there,” he said.

“Dark Side of the Moon,” a Pink Floyd album, and other classic records also have been increasingly difficult to come by.

That’s in part because the largest master record pressing plant in the world burned to the ground about a year ago.

But there’s also simply increased demand for LPs in Corvallis, even without many Oregon State University students in town.

When the pandemic first hit, DiCarolis was closed for about two months, and he felt panicked because he didn’t know how business would go when he reopened. Turns out he needn’t have worried.

“There are certain businesses the pandemic gave a boost to. I’m just very lucky I’m not in the restaurant business,” DiCarolis said.

Happy Trails, 100 S.W. Third St., has been in business for 46 years, and most sales are rock and roll and hip-hop. But the shop also has a selection of jazz, R&B, soul and other genres.

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While compact discs still are offered, those don’t sell at a high rate anymore thanks to digital streaming services.

“About 90% of what we sell are vinyl records. That’s the whole reason we’re here,” DiCarolis said.

Record sales have been on the upswing for about a decade. DiCarolis recalled people who told him that the trend was a fad, a phase that listeners were going through. Instead, sales have snowballed.

According to Business Insider, for the first half of 2020, vinyl records actually outperformed compact discs for the first time since the 1980s, totaling $232.1 million compared to $130 million. CDs’ popularity has plummeted nearly 48% compared to the previous six months, however, while record sales were up 3.6%, according to the publication.

Billboard reported that vinyl album sales hit a record high – or at least since records of record sales began being kept in 1991 – right before Christmas, with 1.8 million LPs sold in the week ending Dec. 24.

Still, figures from the sale of physical copies of music only represent only about 7% of the sales of recorded music, according to Business Insider. That's roughly the same as digital downloads. About 85% of recorded music revenue comes from streaming and subscription services.

Figures from these industry reports don’t include the rather robust market on used records, however.

Scot Anderson, who owns the Albany Antique Mall with his wife Sharon Anderson, said used record sales have grown for his vendors during the last year, but he wasn’t sure if the change was related to the pandemic.

“A lot of the younger people are looking to use things like record players and typewriters and analog phones. And older people are appreciating the nostalgia, just doing things like they used to do,” Anderson said.

Regardless of the reason, whether it’s the appeal of vintage products or a trip down memory lane, the upswing in sales for used records is apparent. “If they’re in really great condition and really great titles, people will pay a lot for them,” Anderson said.

On a recent weekday, Brian Wood of Corvallis flipped through records at Happy Trails.

What was he looking for? “Well, I don’t know yet, do I?” Wood responded, as he scanned covers.

Wood said he buys albums at Happy Trails a couple times a month on average, and likened records to the music version of the slow food movement.

“When you put on a record, you don’t listen to a handful of tracks that you put on a Spotify list. When you listen to an album, you listen to an album in all its glory – or less than glory,” Wood said.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.

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