For the casual music fan, the record store might seem an anachronism in the age of the iPod. And in a way, it is. That's no small part of the charm.
But as the recent additions to Rhode Island's record shop scene suggest, vinyl is in the midst of a full-on revival. Last year, Americans bought more than 3.9 million records, up some 39 percent from 2010.
It isn't just a backlash to the digital. That's too simple. Your garden-variety hipster — milk crates full of Leonard Cohen and Arctic Monkeys — still appreciates the portability bestowed by Steve Jobs.
"You can't take records jogging," says Kevin Morosini, 33, owner of Olympic Records, an appealing collection of indie rock, punk, and pinball machines on Wickenden Street in Providence (they were the readers' pick for Best CD/Record Store in last weeks's mega-Best issue).
Indeed, nearly all new records, these days, come with a download card that allows the customer to pluck the album off the Interzone for free when she gets home.
But however canny the labels' mix of nostalgia for the tactile and digital-age reality, records are still a niche product. And independent record stores (more than 700 in the US) are always in search of new customers.
Hence, Record Store Day, a five-year-old confection that falls on the third Saturday of April each year — that's April 21 this time around. (For a complete list of stores and more info, go to recordstoreday.com.) The labels offer up all kinds of exclusives on vinyl and CD. Some are gimmicky and overpriced. Many are great finds.
And while customers show up for the albums, the stores do their best to spice up the event with extras. At In Your Ear in Warren, roots rockers Joe Fletcher and Keith McCurdy will perform and the first 50 customers will get a Record Store Day grab bag filled with CD samplers, stickers, buttons, and a mystery, vintage T-shirt.
OK, I'm going to spoil the mystery: they're decades old promotional Ts for boxer "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler.
The store also plans to raffle off copies of what it expects to be two of its most sought-after offerings: Phish's Junta LP, out on vinyl for the first time, and White Stripes single "Hand Springs," which will be packaged with another tune by the now-defunct Detroit garage outfit, "Red Death at 6:14."
Up at metal-heavy Armageddon Shop on Broadway in Providence, owner Ben Barnett tells me the store will be selling an LP from Massachusetts band Elder on the store's new label, Armageddon Shop Records.
The record will come with a highly-stylized wraparound from local artist Fred Struckholz — two figures, one seen from the back, one prone and holding a torch aloft. Just the sort of extra that gets record-store regulars in a tizzy.
The shop will also sponsor a DIY Armageddon t-shirt contest — walk in with your own hand-drawn ode to the shop, and if you come out on top, you'll get a gift certificate and your design might become part of Armageddon's official swag.
Over at Olympic, the nine-month-old shop on Wickenden, Morosini says he'll be curating his own Record Store Day line-up: a 12" from Animal Collective, a 7" from M83, and a 7" from Beach House, among the highlights.
But Morosoni, a pleasant character with long hair, tattooed arms, and shiny blue earrings, says Record Store Day — with its emphasis on rarities, on discovery — is in many ways just a peek at what makes record stores so appealing on, well, any day.
"Buying records, there is always the unknown," he says. "Something might come out Tuesday, and then it's never printed again."