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Independent record stores are alive — and this Record Store Day, they're ready to sell out

Liz Zarzar and Lydia English browse through records at Schoolkids Records in Chapel Hill.
Liz Zarzar and Lydia English browse through records at Schoolkids Records in Chapel Hill.

It was 2007, and the owners and employees of independent record stores decided they wanted to throw a party. 

Tower Records stores, along with other major chains, were closing, streaming was becoming more popular and public opinion was that independent record stores didn’t exist anymore. But Carrie Colliton, co-founder of Record Store Day, and other record store owners and employees wanted people to know that record stores were doing just fine.

“That’s what Record Store Day started as,” Colliton said. “Really just a way to say hey, hold up, we’re still here and we’re doing fine and come hang out with us.” 

Since the first Record Store Day in 2008, the event has expanded to six continents, sponsored screenings for official films and brought on ambassadors including Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop, Dave Grohl, St. Vincent and Run the Jewels. 

This year, there are over 400 special releases slated for Record Store Day (April 21) ranging from David Bowie demos to an LP of a live Nas set at The Kennedy Center.

The Record Store Day team works year-long determining what these releases will be. They work with labels, artists and managers to determine the releases before taking it to a panel of record store owners and buyers across different markets throughout the United States.

“We let them decide because they’re the ones that have to bring it in the store,” Colliton said. “We don’t give or sell the records to the stores — they do that themselves. They make all their own decisions as to what’s gonna be in the store for sale, so we want them to have a say.”

But whatever they choose, they intend to sell out.

“We wanna kinda hit the sweet spot where we sell out on that day, because that’s what makes it special,” Colliton said. “The whole idea is go visit a store, and if you go on this day here’s this special thing you can walk away with.” 

A tale of two collectors 

Sophomore Jessie Casimir has been collecting records for years. She started her collection with her dad’s records — original records from The Temptations and Motown, the music her dad grew up listening to.

“Music has always been a really, really big part of my family,” Casimir said.

Around five years ago, Casimir’s brother gave her three Nirvana records. This started the beginning of Casimir’s own collection of records.

Before coming to UNC, Casimir never really shopped at independent record stores.

“I went to Goodwill and some thrift stores trying to find some, but that’s really hit-or-miss,” she said. “Usually you get the really obscure ones that no one buys — like, there’s a reason they’re in the thrift store.”

Casimir said she felt excited when she walked down Franklin Street and saw Schoolkids Records.

“I was like, alright, I’m gonna be here quite often,” she said.

But Casimir doesn’t always go alone to record stores — sometimes she goes with her friend Robert Fisher, another sophomore at UNC.

“Robert is my partner-in-crime,” she said. “Every single time I really wanna go, I’m like ‘Hey, Robert, do you wanna come with me?’”

Fisher went to Schoolkids Records for Record Store Day last year and bought two limited pressings. One was of two unreleased Iron & Wine tracks, the other STRFKR B-sides.

“It was a bunch of stuff, snippets of stuff that they haven’t gone through with for their album,” he said. “But a lot of them were still really good and it was interesting just to hear them play around with stuff.”

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Fisher also tried to get a third special release.

For last year’s Record Store Day, Sylvan Esso released LPs of each song on their album “What Now” to different record stores around the world. One of those LPs made it to Durham, Sylvan Esso’s hometown.

“I made a friend, since he was in Durham at the time, go over there and try to get it, but he was in line with the person who happened to find it, so he was stopped,” Fisher said. “But it was cool because they hadn’t released any of their stuff yet, but as they were found they updated their website with the actual song in there, so you got to listen to it a week early.”

"They're really gonna remember this" 

Along with special releases, participating Record Store Day stores also sometimes host events.

This year, Schoolkids Records’ Raleigh store is hosting Raleigh-based hip-hop group Kooley High and an all-star band of members from several old North Carolina hardcore punk bands.

Stephen Judge, the owner of Schoolkids Records and Record Store Day’s Ireland representative, said that this year there’s a compilation album coming out called “Why Are We Here?” featuring Stillborn Christians, Bloodmobile, No Labels and, most notably, Corrosion of Conformity.

“They’re a very popular metal band and it was the very very first thing they ever recorded back in the 80s and it’s been out of print forever,” Judge said. “It was just a limited run seven-inch back in the day, so we have an all-star band of each of those band members getting together to jam those songs.”

For Colliton, her most memorable Record Store Day experience was in 2015 at Schoolkids Records in Raleigh when they had an in-store appearance from pop-punk band All Time Low.

She said that the most memorable part of the day was the long line of primarily young girls wrapping around the building, just to be able to meet the band.

“A lot of people were really, really overwhelmed, and that, to me, was just the essence of what a record store can be, because music is emotion,” Colliton said. “That’s all it is.”

Colliton emphasized that in addition to record stores being able to introduce people to new music, they can provide a lasting impression. 

“Talking to those people as they met that band, I felt like for some of them it was really gonna form an impression — they’re really gonna remember this,” she said. “When they’re 25, 35 years old, they’re gonna remember that time they went to a record store and they met All Time Low.” 

As a record store owner, Judge said the most memorable thing for him is hearing people’s individual stories of going to record stores.

“They mean more to me than anything,” he said. “Stories when you hear about how much some record meant to somebody that they bought at my shop. I get that all the time, and now I get that with parents coming in with their kids.”

Let's get physical 

The success and growth of Record Store Day can be attributed to the reasons why people still buy physical copies of music.

For Fisher, one reason why he still buys physical copies is to see another creative side of an artist, from the cover designs to the lyric sheets. But he also buys them for the sentimentality.

“If they’re my favorite albums from (an artist), I feel like I need them in a physical form for some reason,” he said. “Like I do the same thing with my favorite books. Even though I’ve read them elsewhere, I’ll buy them to have them. It’s also a good way to keep track of your favorite albums through time.”

Judge said he buys records because of the interactions you can have with the record, but also with other people.

“I think that there’s something that’s not replaceable with a physical copy,” he said. “It’s something tangible, it’s something you can hold in your hand, it’s something you can see, you can hold up, your friends can come over and check out this work of art.”

Colliton also buys physical copies because of the interactions you can have with the music when it’s tangible.

“Physical allows you to interact with it a little more, and see maybe you just don’t want everything you own to be up on a cloud,” she said. “I think it all kind of comes down to we’re human and not everything we do or love, we don’t want it all to be connected to headphones and a screen.”