Happy Trails Records, the venerable Corvallis music shop, quietly celebrated its 45th anniversary Friday.
No balloons, no 45% off sales … not even a poster on the windows of the store at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Third Street. The store does still have a basket of free condoms on a table just inside the door, but they weren’t part of the celebration.
Owner Doug DiCarolis, who's been involved with the store for 34 of those 45 years, did advise the steady stream of customers Friday of the anniversary, but otherwise it was business as usual for the store.
And business is OK these days, DiCarolis said, although anyone who has tracked the record industry over the past 45 years knows there have been some fat and sassy years … as well as some down times.
“It’s amazing that we are still here,” DiCarolis said. “It wasn’t easy. There were some extremely lean times, times in which it was hard to be able to pay the bills.”
The bottom for DiCarolis and his small shop that focuses on new and used vinyl but also sells CDs, was the 2005-12 period.
“That was really, really difficult,” he said. “I sold my house to keep the business going. That got rid of the debt. Then people started buying records.”
The surge back to vinyl started in 2013, DiCarolis said, “and now we are legitimately a record store. I never would have predicted it in a million years. We don’t make a lot of money, but we stay afloat.”
So what’s the attraction of vinyl given how much music is available via streaming or on CDs?
“The sound is different," DiCarolis said, which led to nods of the head and murmurs of assent from customers in the store during the interview. “If you have a really good stereo it sounds really nice.”
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Then there's the packaging.
“The gatefold and the lyric sheets and the artwork … you just don’t get that typically with something you are streaming,” DiCarolis said.
DiCarolis also said that given hindsight it would have been better had record companies continued to use the vinyl packaging when they went to CDs. It also would have meant retailers such as DiCarolis would not have had to replace their bins.
“I almost got rid of vinyl totally,” he said. “It was around 1995 and I would go weeks at a time without selling one. But ultimately vinyl saved us. If you own a record store anywhere it’s because of vinyl. You can’t make a living selling CDs.”
CDs once were the savior. In the late 1980s and beyond people kept coming in to record stores to replace vinyl with CDs.
“I was printing money then,” said DiCarolis, who operated a second store in Eugene at that time. “There was an enormous boom and we were all comfortable and then the money disappeared. It was stressful … but we made it through.”
DiCarolis said that his surest seller is rock ‘n’ roll and his new arrivals bin features “Waiting for the Sun,” the 1968 third studio album from The Doors because that’s what has come in from customers looking to sell.
According to DeCarolis, he sells about half new and half used vinyl, with jazz, blues, soul, folk and hip hop also popular with his customers.
“But there is not much demand for easy listening. I don’t sell many Andy Williams records. If you’ve got an old box of records, we’ll buy 'em … unless they have scratches or Andy Williams.”