This weekend we saw the end of Origami Vinyl in Echo Park. While many were shocked at the news, most in-the-know were happily surprised OV lasted as long as it did, 7 years plus from start of conception to closing of doors. (For context, our previous Echo Park record store, Sea Level Records, ran for 5 1/2 years.)
This weekend, Heather and I sat down and went through our plethora of Origami memories: talking about the idea of OV with Neil over cocktails on his porch, helping to build out the shop, playing and seeing in-store shows, working the shop for store credit in the early days, late night drunk shopping during Monday Residencies, the private record club we were all a part of that birthed the Prado night, plus the countless others that have been lost. Our conclusion was that while we are sad that Origami Vinyl was gone, we felt lucky that we got it for as long as we did. Which got me thinking: Even as Permanent Records opens its third store this week in Origami's location, is the local record store dying, again?
Those of us in our thirties (and older) will remember the first time record stores disappeared. Throughout the nineties, the Walmarts and Best Buys replaced the Virgins and Wherehouses and Sam Goodies, who had in turn helped to shutter the mom and pop stores before them. Even here in LA we watched indie giant Amoeba force out smaller indies like Aron's on Highland. The end result was that by the peak of record sales (read: the CD era) there were fewer retail places to choose from than ever before.
In all fairness, some stores never went away. Rockaway in its present location in Silver Lake has been going strong since '92. And since 2009 we've been lucky enough to experience an explosion of record stores here on the east side of Los Angeles, thanks to the unprecedented revival of vinyl. Within 5 miles of my house I can choose from Rockaway, Mono, Vacation, Jackknife, Amoeba, Blue Bag, Hi-Fidelity, the Record Parlour, Sick City, Lolipop, Permanent, Gimme Gimme, Vortex, Capsule, Caveman, plus the one that opened up while I was typing this up. This would seem to assure me straight away that the mom and pop record store is doing just fine.
But let's consider some other factors. Real estate in the trendy neighborhoods of downtown and the eastside is only increasing. The cost of making vinyl has doubled just since we started making our own records in 2009. Competition is intense, especially when one considers that almost anything anyone wants can be found online through Amazon or Discogs. Compounding these factors, retail giants like Urban Outfitters and Barnes and Noble have joined the vinyl marketplace as well.
And let's not overlook the corporatization of Record Store Day. What used to be a day in April that celebrated the independent store and offered limited run gems from small record labels has been overtaken by the major labels. Their influence over Record Store Day has resulted in huge problems for indie stores, labels, and consumers alike. Here's an example: because of their ginormous spending power, the majors are able to push all their products to the front of the production line, which is the main reason why it takes 4-6 months for little labels like ours to get a record made. The majors then ship these mass-produced releases to stores on Record Store Day, packaging them as rare or unique, like a box set or an unreleased live album, to justify jacking up the price. A few months later, much of the same content can be (and often is) repackaged in slightly different and more affordable formats, rendering the RSD release obsolete. And because the majors have a no-return policy with local record stores, the stores then get stuck with unsellable back stock, which can be killer on a store's bottom line and future purchasing power. What was once a great opportunity for stores like Origami to make enough money to keep the light on during the slower retail months has become another chance for the majors to maximize their own profit at the expense of the little guys.
When you combine the loss of Record Store Day with all of the other previously listed complications, it's a wonder any record store can stay open at all. And here's where we as a music community are culpable. Echo Park has an insane concentration of artists and musicians per capita and is home to 2 premiere live music venues, and yet we still didn't do enough to keep a place like Origami open. I hope Permanent Records has better fortune. I'm optimistic, as the owners have a track record of success. But the vinyl bubble will burst (if it hasn't already) and there will be a time not too long from now we'll start to see more and more record stores close their doors. That is, if we're even able to afford to live here anymore, either.