As you went about your sunny Saturday in Western North Carolina, you might have been unaware tens of thousands across the country celebrated a holiday of sorts. Scores of people traveled across town and, in some cases, across mountain ranges to browse, mingle and find platters of gold in Asheville during the ninth annual Record Store Day.
While the digital era of music wrote the epitaph for every major record store chain, independent record stores in Asheville and around the country have survived, and many are thriving against all odds and forecasts.
Around 2 p.m. at Harvest Records, in West Asheville, Nicole DeMan cradled several vinyl albums in one arm and as many CDs as she could vice grip into the other hand.
“I have to limit myself,” she said. “I haven’t been here in a few months. I had to save up so I could come today.”
Record Store Day emerged from a meeting among owners of several shops in Baltimore. At the time, the vinyl revival was in its infancy. Some saw it as an aberration. But 2017 marked the 12th straight year of growth for vinyl sales in the U.S., and people who buy vinyl have fueled the frenzy of Record Store Day.
“We knew there was a market for it, but we wouldn’t have necessarily predicted a day like today, where you’re doing the vast majority of your business in vinyl,” said Mark Capon, who co-founded Harvest Records 14 years ago.
At the time, everyone in the music business scrambled for answers to the challenge of MP3s and illegal downloading. But Capon said he and his partners took it on faith the most devoted music fans would always want something more tangible.
“We all love music and that’s why people come in here,” he said. “It’s a fun experience to hold something in your hands and be like ‘I can’t wait to listen to this when I get home.’ As long as we’re creating that atmosphere and if people want that experience, we’ll be OK.”
Stores, record labels and musical artists at all levels champion and depend on Record Store Day. Many artists release limited-edition vinyl and even cassettes—yes, cassettes are making a blip of a comeback. Some stores invite artists in to perform. Many report the day as their best of the year at the cash register.
Every year on Record Store Day, Ethan Ashworth drives over an hour south from Elizabethton, Tenn., through the Cherokee National Forest, to shop at Harvest.
“It’s worth it because it makes the music an experience,” he said of vinyl. “Listening to it, it’s not like you search something on Spotify and put it on in the background. It’s an experience, and all the really good music should be an experience.”
A few feet away, Lynette Chiu, visiting from Brooklyn, N.Y., had the small row of 45s all to herself.
“It’s easy for someone who doesn’t always have a lot of cash flow and, yeah, just start collecting little things,” she said.
At Static-Age Records in downtown Asheville, a few people sat at the bar nursing beers while a dozen or so thumbed through the racks of vinyl—the only form of music you can buy at this store.
“It’s not just hipsters, not a hipster thing, I don’t think,” store owner Jesse McSwain said of Record Store Day. “It seemed like it was fine before. Some people never gave up vinyl.”
DeMan and Perrin DeJong count themselves among those people. Despite full armloads between them at Harvest Records, neither seemed ready to stop.
“I’m usually in here at least two hours at a time,” DeJong said.
“It’s possibly we’ve been here two hours already and we maybe have another two hours ahead of us,” DeMan added. “We haven’t even been downstairs yet.”