Vinyl album resurgence helps mom n' pop record shops in N.O. - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Vinyl album resurgence helps mom n' pop record shops in N.O.

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NEW ORLEANS - For nearly a century, turntables constantly evolved - from the gramophone to the 45 and, of course, onto the hi-fidelity era.

Now, turntables and vinyl are making a big comeback and could help save some independent record shops across the U.S.

However, to fully grasp how this once-forgotten format is playing a significant role in an industry's survival, first you have to understand just how far it had fallen.

The problems began well over a decade ago with the age of digital downloading.

Music consumers discovered quick, free ways to get their hands on tunes, leaving brick and mortar businesses struggling.

"There was a time when there were 14,000 to 15,000 record stores in this country. Now we're down to about 4,000 independent record stores or even fewer," said Harris Rea, co-founder of Peaches Records.

Despite the tough times, though, Peaches and several other mom-n-pop shops weathered the storm, and kept their doors open.

"Peaches is probably the oldest record store in the country that's continuously run by the same family. We started in 1975 with a couple of locations," Rea said.

Rea's business not only endured a turbulent industry, but also Hurricane Katrina. After moving in and out of multiple buildings across the city, Peaches is enjoying its newest home in the former Tower Records location on North Peters in the French Quarter.

Along the way, its reach has stretched well beyond music retail.

"Peaches has always been instrumental in fostering and developing New Orleans artists and probably our claim to fame, and our biggest contribution, is bounce music," Rea said.

It's a genre that is uniquely New Orleans, and a brand that keeps getting bigger nationwide.

The Rea family helped launch numerous artists through their own record label. Still, they say the overall slumping music industry took a significant toll on their shops.

Now though, they're moving forward again, in a way, by going backward. They're selling more vinyl.

"Those from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, my generation, it's memory lane. It gives them the biggest high," said Shirani Rea, Peaches co-founder.

But the format is also catching on with an entirely new generation.

"One of the advantages is, it's brought in a younger customer again, who are kind of rediscovering the joys of the nice, warm sound that you can only get with vinyl," Harris said.

That's exactly what Peaches customer Virginia Kostmayer had in mind as she bought a record player and a stack of LPs one day in late October.

"I miss all the covers and the classic music," she said. "So, I think it's really cool to go back and have it available still."

It's available, and then some.

Billboard Magazine cites statistics that show a huge spike in vinyl album sales, from less than a million in 2007 to more than 4.5 million in 2012.

"In the past three or four years mainly, we've seen a lot of new release stuff," said Chris Hummel with The Mushroom, an Uptown shop near Tulane. "Most all new releases come out on record now as opposed to a few years back when it was only CD."

Hummel said it's a business boost, for sure, but still far from a cash windfall.

"It's not about thinking you're going to have some great profit and making a lot of money to do this. You really have to love music and loving and interacting with your customers and seeing what (albums) they come in and tell you about and what you may not have heard of," he said. "Any place that's still going, I commend them for keeping it alive."

In New Orleans, there are several. For the shops we visited, there's another key ingredient to their survival - this town they call home.

"We're fabulously blessed here. This is the most musical city in all of the world. I mean, music happens here like no other place," Harris Rea said. "And being here in New Orleans, we have that advantage, in that people know about our music here. They love it. They come here to enjoy it and that'll always be true. And hopefully, we'll always be here."

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