Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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January 18, 2014

Collectors have a passion for vinyl

CHARLESTON — There’s no television in Chris Vance and Belva Holstein’s East End apartment.

Instead, there’s a Neil Young photo, an American flag with a peace sign instead of stars and a few chairs. Where the TV should be, there’s a turntable and amplifier on a retro entertainment center, flanked by a set of 1970s stereo speakers.

“Every morning it’s a ritual, who makes coffee and who’s putting on the morning record,” Vance said.

The couple met in a record store. For Christmas, they gave each other records. When they invite friends over, they listen to music.

These aren’t out-of-touch baby boomers, aging hippies trying to cling to the past.

Vance, 26, and Holstein, 23, grew up in the age of iPods and MP3s. Vinyl records were declared “dead” long before they were born.

But like many people their age, they have rediscovered something children of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s already knew: There’s no experience in the world like dropping the needle on a black, shiny record.

Vance and Holstein now have more than 1,000 records. It’s an eclectic collection, with everything from Benny Goodman to vintage soul, modern blues-rock and singer-songwriters from the 1990s

“I’m trying to get a collection that, no matter who comes up, I’ve got something,” he said.

When he first moved out on his own, Vance figured he could save money by not getting satellite or cable. He set up a nice stereo system and began buying records to fill the space.

“I thought I’d save money, and it turns out I’ve spent much more money,” he said. “I would rather spend $20 on a record than a CD because I feel like you can get more for your money.”

When Samuel Lowe opened Sullivan’s Records on Washington Street East last spring, he expected to make half his money on CDs and half on records.

Now, vinyl records make up about 90 percent of his business.

Lowe said his store saw a big influx of customers after the holidays, from people who got turntables for Christmas. Many of his customers grew up in the age of digitally downloaded music and are discovering what it’s like to own a physical copy of an album.

“It seems to radicalize them,” he said. “I think it’s rare for them to buy a couple records and stop.”

Others traded in their records for CDs and are now switching back.

“I sold a woman Kansas and Toto the other day. And it was stuff she used to have,” he said.

Sales of vinyl records still make up a tiny fraction of the market compared to CDs and MP3s, which saw 165 million and 118 million copies sold in 2013, respectively.

Yet stores sold more than 6 million vinyl records in 2013, marking a 20-year high for the format, according to Nielsen SoundScan data. Only about 300,000 records were sold in 1993. Those numbers rose and fell over the next decade or so, but sales really began to pick up steam in 2008. Around 1.8 million records were sold that year, and sales have been increasing ever since.

Priscilla Pope, co-owner of Budget Tapes and Records in Kanawha City, doesn’t expect the format will ever become as popular as CDs. But she says vinyl is here to stay.

“There are vinyl lovers, and they will always be around,” she said.

When Budget Tapes and Records opened in Kanawha City in 1972, Pope said all the store sold were vinyl records and 8-tracks. A new album sold for $1.99.

“Then we went through that whole thing, it went to 8-tracks and from 8-tracks it went to cassettes and then it went to CDs,” she said.

Even as vinyl fell into obscurity, Budget never stopped selling records. Pope said record companies and bands eventually noticed customers were still purchasing second-hand records and began releasing albums on vinyl again.

Now, the format is so popular, Pope’s store recently expanded its selection.

Vincent Eliott spent one of his recent days off digging through Budget’s vinyl section.

Eliott, 32, said he has about 200 records in his personal collection, including a bunch of blues-rock singles he recently got from his father. He said he listens to records not because he thinks they sound better, but because of the experience they provide.

“There’s something about the actual experience of playing a record,” he said. “You have to sit in front of it and enjoy it.”

Fellow collector Mark Scarpelli agrees.

“The sound of the needle hitting the vinyl. You can’t duplicate that. It’s a much warmer sound,” he said.

Scarpelli, a local composer and musician, has been collecting music since the 1970s and still has some of the LPs from back then. But over the last few years he started buying records again, and now has a basement full of them.

Most of his collection came from a 1,500-record lot he purchased from an eBay seller in Pennsylvania.

“I just put a bid on it, not thinking I would win,” he said.

He had to rent a 16-foot truck to get them all home.

Scarpelli has organized many of them, but still has several giant stacks in his rehearsal space. He’s selling some online, but he’s also trying to put together smaller collections like the best-selling albums of the 1960s, the best-selling records of all time, top soundtrack albums, etc.

He also occasionally finds obscure releases that are now out of print and largely unavailable. The other day, he found an old Jerry Lee Lewis album.

“I didn’t even know half the songs existed,” he said.

That’s another thing Scarpelli likes about old-fashioned records: It keeps listeners connected to the history of the music. There are liner notes with lyrics and lists of musicians, often with big photos from the recording of the album.

With MP3s, “you just get a song, and you don’t know anything about it,” he said.

“I like the whole album concept. Maybe it’s just what I grew up with. When I listen to music, I like to have that tangible thing to read and hold.”

Zack Harold writes for the Charleston Daily Mail

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