Annual Record Store Day celebrations altered under pandemic restrictions

Records line the shelves in Stereo Jack's Records in Cambridge, Mass. Photo by Sydney Goldberg/BU News Service

By Sydney Goldberg
BU News Service

BOSTON — Record Store Day, a nationwide annual celebration of independent record stores, looks a little different this year to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions. 

Record Store Day began on April 19, 2008, in San Francisco. Twelve years later, the event has gone international with participants on every continent except Antarctica.

To mark the occasion, independent record stores typically celebrate their place in the community with performances, cookouts, parades, special guest appearances and more musical celebrations.

Phil Wilcox, the store manager of Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain, has been celebrating Record Store Day since 2010. To Wilcox, Record Store Day is “a holiday.” 

“It adds pomp and ceremony to vinyl collecting,” Wilcox said. 

The annual celebration of Record Store Day is complemented by the rising popularity of vinyl over the last few years. Records are outselling CDs for the first time since the 1980s this year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

While Record Store Day is usually just one day, this year it is divided into three dates: Aug. 29, Sept. 26 and Oct. 24.

Wilcox sees benefits to Record Store Day’s expanded format this year.

“For the customer, it means if you want 15 things, you’re spreading your spending over multiple months instead of destroying your bank account on one day,” he said. “I don’t think it makes it any less special or unique, either.”

Record stores across the country have taken extra precautions this year, including mandating masks for in-store shoppers, free hand sanitizer and gloves and plexiglass barriers to minimize contact between employees and shoppers.

Signs help organize the store at Stereo Jack’s Records in Cambridge, Mass. Photo by Sydney Goldberg/BU News Service

But even beyond pandemic restrictions, many independent record stores have started to question the day and even stopped participating. Some record stores that once took part, such as Somerville Grooves and Stereo Jack’s in Cambridge, are not celebrating the event this year. 

Wilcox said many record store owners have come to question the effectiveness of the day.

“There are reasons to be cynical about it,” Wilcox said. “But I think the energy and the passion it inspires and the attention it brings to our business are all good things and it definitely helps record shops survive.”

David Plunket, manager of Somerville Grooves, said the event used to come with a sense of excitement for both buyers and store owners. 

“Years ago, it was the best day of the year here,” Plunket said. “People would hear the publicity and come in for the special product as well as our regular stock.”

Jack Woker, founder of Stereo Jack’s, said the event started off as a way to support small businesses. 

“When it was founded some years ago, it shined a light on the [independent record] stores,” Woker said.  

But now, Woker said, the event has lost some of its integrity because some buyers are only interested in buying limited edition event products to sell them online at a higher price. 

“It seems that the only people interested in them are would-be dealers who just want to flip them on eBay,” Woker said. “The rules governing pricing and selling of these items are too restrictive.”

Although the three planned Record Store Day events are over, there is one last celebration: Record Store Day’s Black Friday event, which will take place on Nov. 27. The event will feature its own special releases

Regardless of pandemic-induced hardships and cynicism towards the event, people are continuing to buy vinyl and celebrating Record Store Day by buying records. 

Wilcox said this could be due to the intangible value that comes with owning a vinyl record.

“With streaming, you pluck it out the cloud, spin it and put it back. When you buy a record, it’s your record,” Wilcox said. “I think there’s an emotional attachment to that.”

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