The Valley Advocate: Music – The Last Record Store #vinyl

The Last Record Store

Valley-based Turn It Up! remains a successful outpost of old-school music-buying.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Photo By Mark Roessler

Patrick Pezzati, owner of Turn It Up!


He stole the entire Bob Dylan section.

The grizzled and affable gentleman—think Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart—in the oversized Celtics warm-up jacket was a fixture for several days in early 2001. He’d come into the Northampton Turn It Up! soon after I’d hung the Open sign and spend his mornings listening to music and chatting about everything from the weather to Kevin McHale to Fred Eaglesmith.

Then one day, as I was on the phone with another customer, he hurriedly disappeared up the stairs and onto the street. Instinctively I went and checked out the D section, as he’d previously been relaxing at one of the listening stations with a large pile of live Dylan CDs. Sure enough, it was empty. He’d ripped us off.

I sprinted out of the shop and found him—and the stack of Dylan—in the alleyway behind the store. Later I spoke with a policeman, recommended a few jazz CDs for someone’s birthday, bought three boxes of dusty LPs, and helped an elderly man call a cab.

Just a typical day in the wacky life of a record store employee. These days, unfortunately, their kind—that combination of security agent, buyer, seller, counselor and adviser—seems a dying breed. Yet they persist, driven by an ardent love of music and the community that it breeds.

It was this passion that drove a young couple living in a little apartment in Northampton to make the leap and open up their own music store, Turn It Up!, which has since grown to include three other stores—in Keene, Brattleboro and Montague—and a large warehouse in Easthampton. They’ve outlasted almost all competition (though the Valley does boast other record store successes, including Amherst’s Mystery Train and Hadley’s Platterpus Records), and are still thriving in a teetering economy and industry that have swallowed countless other operations whole.

*

Early in 1994, Patrick Pezzati and Chandra Hancock, record store veterans and music lovers, decided to open their own shop in a town with four other music stores already in place.

“We started stockpiling our own stuff, but then I would go to flea markets and tag sales, and there would be people I know and I’d buy their CDs,” says Pezzati. “So we’d amassed about 1,800 or so by the time we opened up.”

They might not have had a ton of inventory when the doors opened in 1995, but Pezzati says the couple’s business model, derived from their years working in music retail, was intact from day one. “I actually wrote it down in ’94—it was eight-dollar CDs, used and cut-outs exclusively, no new releases. The listening station thing—the idea that you could listen to stuff before buying it.

“And then the request list and frequent shopper cards. If you think about it, you pay money to advertise to bring new people in; why not reward the customers you don’t have to pay money to advertise to, because they’re your bread and butter? More so even now, but those hardcore collectors are it. So you reward those guys and keep ’em loyal. We also wanted to buy stuff off the street and pay more, basic stuff like that, and try to be really friendly and outgoing—and not just friendly to the people we know.”

Pezzati also credits a bold visual style, crafted along with early employee Tom Pappalardo, for helping to create a brand. He then took all these basic concepts and started duplicating the model in other towns.

“When we opened Keene, I think the second day we did over a thousand bucks, and we were slammed. People were coming in saying, ‘This is so great, we’re so glad you’re here.’ They’d all heard of the Northampton store. And then we kept expanding.”

*

The music retail environment has changed drastically due to technology like MP3s and file sharing, and the emergence of online behemoths like Amazon.com—things that were not on the radar in TIU’s early days. But Pezzati is convinced there still is, and might always be, a place for the CD shop, despite persistent prognostications that say otherwise.

“Knowing that the amount of people buying music was decreasing, there was a fear—and probably still is in the back of our minds—if more and more of these people decided that they don’t want to buy physical product anymore, it would have a big effect,” he says. “But we found out that not only are the majority of the MP3s on people’s iPods from their own CD collection or CDs themselves, but most collectors really value the physical object. MP3s are really poor collector’s items because they’re so ethereal. It’s a file, easily swappable, so its value as a collectible is negligible. That’s what led to this vinyl revival, because vinyl is the ultimate collectible, because there are so many pressings, so many variations in condition, et cetera.

“So now a bunch of cool bands are releasing LPs with the digital code or whatever—ultimately, collectors really want the physical product. You’re not going to have someone going, ‘Hey, come on over to my house and check out my hard drive,’ because people still want to see a collection on a wall. Same with books.”

Pezzati is also enthused by the next generation of music store junkies he’s witnessed: “In a way, I’m amazed at how many younger people come into our stores still. We almost get a nostalgia effect. Kids go to college, and they’ll walk in and they’ll be like, ‘Wow, there used to be one of these in my town,’ and they become avid customers that are in all the time. Or they come work for us.”

Technology has helped, too. “We set up a Facebook page, and we had a thousand fans within two weeks,” says Pezzati. “Now we have 2,300 fans, and they’re mostly young people—college students, high school students. It’s viral, and it’s free.”

Gradually, TIU has seen the competition all but dry up and disappear in every town they’ve moved into. Brattleboro has one vinyl-only shop remaining, Keene’s competition is nugatory, and Montague and Northampton stand alone.

For Pezzati, there is a sense of vindication for his business model. “It’s good to know we were right,” he says. “In conversations with some people over the years, guys that worked in some of those other stores have come in and said, ‘Oh, you know, we were all laughing at you guys, and now we’re not.’ Those stores are not even there anymore, and they know we were really onto something. And now they’re all our customers, which is great.”

A lack of competition has been a boon for a business that relies on customer tradeins for a majority of its inventory. “Right now, if someone wants to sell their collection, they don’t have too many options,” Pezzati says. “There’s just so much great new stuff coming in right now. It’s constant and there’s no one else doing it.”

Pezzati has even been known to search around the globe for interesting and cheap product for his customers. I personally was tasked to travel to Holland and Cannes, France (twice) to visit with vendors from places like Australia, Germany and Japan.

Pezzati credits many factors in discussing his company’s success: knowledgeable employees who stick around; cheap overhead; complementary radio stations and venues, like The River and the Iron Horse; expansive operating hours. But he continually returns to one topic.

“A lot of it is contingent on the customer base,” he says. “We obviously got very lucky by opening stores in places where you have a very open-minded, progressive constituency, a lot of artists, a lot of musicians, a lot of people active in exploring this non-pop music stuff. … If we opened this store in the Holyoke Mall, see you later.”

“People there only want the latest Top-40 single—they’re looking for the same stuff my 9-year-old daughter is looking for. You can’t sell that stuff at a reasonable price. I worked in the Northampton store for three hours today. I don’t think I sold the same CD twice. Most was stuff I’d hardly even heard of. It’s great. These people really know what they’re talking about. They come in and listen to stuff, and they buy based on the quality of music, not on the fact that they saw it on a billboard somewhere that told them to buy it.”

Pezzati sums up well my experiences working there: “It makes it way more fun to talk to customers in our stores—you walk in there and think you know what you’re talking about, and they’ll let you know right away that you don’t. You can’t spend time in any one of our stores without learning something from a customer that you had no idea about.

“Seeing the same customers, many who’ve been there since 1995, is satisfying; the loyalty is really satisfying. For years people said the writing was on the wall, but it’s great now when I walk into a store on a Saturday and it’s packed.”

Posted via web from The LP Revival Blog

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~ by lprevival on March 10, 2010.

One Response to “The Valley Advocate: Music – The Last Record Store #vinyl”

  1. I used to love going to used record stores when I was a kid and young man. Just the smell of all the cardboard made me feel good. And that great feeling when I would find an old Blue Note Hank Mobley or Hoarace Silver record. (Blue and white label!)

    I miss those times.

    http://www.keithosaunders.com

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