Photo by Ruta Smith drew anderson, owner of Gray Cat Music, sells records online and at The Station in Park Circle

A Record Year

Charleston-area record stores are reporting good sales in 2020, a possible bright spot despite the financial challenges the pandemic has posed for the music industry as a whole.

Drew Anderson of North Charleston vinyl shop Gray Cat Music notes that sales have remained steady since May, and online sales on discogs.com are up 30% compared to 2019. “My business has luckily been growing every year,” he said, adding that Gray Cat did better overall in 2020 than last year.

Anderson attributes the good fiscal year to the fact that his business is small. Gray Cat mostly sells used vinyl, and he doesn’t have to cover a large lease at his current location at The Station in Park Circle, where local makers and retailers like Anderson set up small booths. In addition, the way Record Store Day was divided into three separate days in three months aided his business’ sales, he said. “Otherwise I think my sales would have dropped in those months.”

Bruce Berg, owner of the Record Stop on John Street, told the City Paper his store’s sales numbers are up “incredibly” from 2019. 

In some situations, he added, the store can’t keep up with demand for vinyl records. “I’m almost positive the reason why record stores are doing well is because people are bored out of their minds,” he said. “They were locked in, they couldn’t go to the movies, they couldn’t go to shows, and more and more people are getting record players.”

The Record Stop’s other location on Long Island, New York, also saw an increase in sales during the pandemic. “The record industry has not been able to keep up with the records because there’s not enough pressing plants,” Berg said. “I feel almost guilty because a lot of stores, especially around here — my neighbors — half of them went out of business.”

Monster Music and Movies owner Galen Hudson said it’s been “a good year in a lot of ways from a sales standpoint.” But, he’s also quick to attribute the store’s success to the chaotic music industry they’ve dealt with for 20 years.

“We know how to dodge and weave, and that’s not to belittle what we’re going through,” he said. “Record stores who have made it this far have something in their DNA to survive the current climate.”

Hudson said, compared to 2019, Monster’s sales will likely be down in 2020, but online sales are “up dramatically.” In November alone, the store sold more records online than they did in all of 2019. “November is a little bit of an anomaly,” he clarified. “We were coming off the heels of three Record Store Day drops, Black Friday and the economy kind of surging ahead.”

While record sales are rosier than they could have been this year, the music industry is still in turmoil, Hudson said. On a national level, the music world is built on new releases, and many artists are avoiding putting out projects if they can’t tour for them during the pandemic. Plus, Hudson said, many of those superstar musicians are not releasing as many physical copies of their new music. 

“That’s what makes this so tricky and so astonishing that we’re up so much,” he added. “It just goes to show artists and artists’ managers need to take note that your artists’ fans really want a physical copy. And if you believe that they don’t, then you’re in total denial.”