Essential Pittsburgh
5:42 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

Like Black Friday For Vinyl, Local Shops Gear Up For Record Store Day

What started eight years ago as a gathering of store owners and employees celebrating the culture of independent record stores has evolved to include major music industry events, limited edition album releases and people camped out in front of record stores.

Saturday is National Record Store Day, and it’s one of the biggest days of the year for record stores and collectors alike.

“I like that it was started to bring back the whole record store experience,” said James “Selecta” Scoglietti, part owner of 720 Records in Lawrenceville. “People used to go every weekend to their local record store, and it was a social event. It was like a barbershop, where guys and gals would come in and discuss the latest hot tracks of the week. So I love that it’s bringing that back to the mainstream.”

Scoglietti has been DJing in the Pittsburgh area since the late 1980s. When you walk into 720 Records, the atmosphere reflects the DJ-oriented customers and owners. It’s all about style and a love for all things old-school.

As a combination record store, vintage clothing store, coffee shop and performance space, Scoglietti said a multipurpose approach is the only way they know how to stay afloat as interest in analog continues to dwindle.

“There are record stores around the city that just focus on music,” Scoglietti said. “I’m not quite sure how they do it.”

Making it Work

Sound Cat Records in Bloomfield is one of those general record stores that sells music only. Located in Bloomfield, it’s a throwback to the traditional neighborhood record store with rows of CDs and milk crates full of vinyl LPs.

Karl Hendricks has worked at Sound Cat for more than 25 years, as both an owner and an employee.  He says Record Store Day makes a huge impact each year.

“We don’t have a lot of business leading up to record store day, then we have basically what sort of seems to amount to about a month’s worth of business in one day,” Hendricks said. “It sort of crams all of our business for the spring into one day.”

Scoglietti describes Record Store Day as being akin to Black Friday.

“The only problem is that you see these customers that want these collectors limited run products and they don’t return throughout the year. So that’s the only obstacle is how do we get them to come back? And with people buying the titles up and selling them on Ebay and such, that’s been a big problem as well.”

Pittsburgh reportedly has more than 11 independent record stores participating in Record Store Day, a high number per capita, according to Scoglietti.

He points to Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill as a great musical institution in Pittsburgh.

“People come from places throughout the world to frequent Jerry’s,” Scoglietti said. “So many recording stars have been in there on the sneak-tip, not even letting the public know that they’re in there digging for dusty records.”

A Pittsburgh Institution

Jerry Weber, owner of Jerry’s Records, has been buying and selling used records for nearly 40 years. Weber says he’s accumulated more than 2.5 million records.

“Sometimes I come to work and there’s four boxes of records sitting out in front of the door that people leave there,” Weber said. “They’re not often Beatles and Rolling Stones, but they’re records and I have a quirk of mine, is I can’t throw a record away.”

This is why Jerry’s Records takes a very unique approach to Record Store Day.

“I box ‘em up in boxes of a hundred and I give em’ away,” Weber said. “But you’re not allowed to look at 'em, you have to take the whole box. People say, ‘What’s in there?’ I say, 'Well there’s good records in not so good shape, and there’s bad records in great shape. But they’re all free, and they’re all music, so hopefully you’ll find something that you can use.'”

Weber plans to give away 25,000 free records on Saturday. He says the vinyl collecting market is so prolific in Pittsburgh for a number of reasons: generation shifts, a rich history of musical talent and the fact that Pittsburgh was home to the now defunct National Record Mart.

Generations of Vinyl

“The first record chain in the United States was National Record Mart and they opened in the '50s,” Weber said. “Every small town had a National Record Mart, and they would special order any record that was in print for you. They were the only people that ever did that. So you’ll go into a house up in like Butler, and you’ll find like these great '60s and '70s jazz records. You say, well ‘What are they doing in Butler?’ Because Butler had a National Record Mart. Mercer had a National Record Mart. McKeesport had a National Record Mart. They were everywhere.”

That generation of National Record Mart customers is now dropping off their old albums at Jerry’s, 720 and other stores throughout the area. What was once a market for middle-age men is now expanding to teens, and 20- and 30-somethings of both genders.

Weber said most of the records in his store are 40 to 60 years old  and they're all guaranteed to play, reflecting a longevity that's hard to find with digital media, and a sentimental gift that can actually be wrapped.

"If you buy a record off me and you’re in your 20s, and you live until you’re in your 70s, you’re going to have a 100-year-old Beatles album," he said, "and you can give it to your great-grandchildren."