by Anna Ervin
I think it is safe to say that for obvious reasons a lot of us have been feeling restless lately. Being cooped up at home has many people looking for new ways to stay entertained, or perhaps returning to old ones. One industry, in particular, has seen a substantial increase in sales since the beginning of the pandemic, and I am not talking about medical cannabis.
Last August, Billboard reported that “online music marketplace Discogs’ global sales in the first half of 2020 were up nearly 30% over the same period last year.” Later reports indicated that record sales were expected to continuously rise throughout the second half of the year.
I have always been curious about collecting vinyl, so I made a trip to one of Tulsa’s largest record stores, Josey Records, to see if they could convince me to pick up a new hobby. Store manager, John Gabriel, tells me that people who wander into their store are often in awe of the fact that they are still selling records.
Is Vinyl Making a Comeback?
People might claim that the future of music is digital but according to John, “you can’t hold it, you can’t touch it. With a record, you can pull it out and see the grooves, you can see where the songs are, you can actually look at it.”
“I think people are more into having that physical thing,” he continued, “and it just sounds better. If you listen to Spotify on decent speakers, you can tell the difference. You can tell that there’s stuff missing. It’s not the same.”
“So,” John said, “it’s the sound, the quality, and the hunt. I think a lot of people got rid of all their vinyl to buy CDs, then got rid of their CDs to buy digital, and now they are remembering that they loved vinyl. Then for some of the kids, it’s something new. People are kind of just getting back into it and finding things they either didn’t know existed or didn’t know to look for.”
“Even if you don’t want to start a giant collection like we have, you can get one of our crates, fill it up with 50 records and just have it in the corner, listen to them when you want. We also sell these Bluetooth speakers. You can hook up to your turntable, play a record, and when that is done you just open up your phone and put Spotify on through those.”
How Did Josey Records End Up in Tulsa?
Co-owners Waric Cameron and Luke Sardello opened the first Josey Records store on Josey Avenue in Dallas around 6 years ago. Now in a new Dallas location, Josey is the biggest independent record store in the country. They have since expanded to a couple of other cities, including the opening of the Tulsa store in March of 2017.
“I think they just saw an opening here and thought it’d be a good place,” John said. “We have a great location; the area is really coming up. Deckopolis just opened, and Buck Atoms is really helping. I think a lot of people stop from Route 66 and hang out there, then come in here.”
“I love that Tulsa is embracing this area,” he continued. “When I was a kid, 11th street was kind of a rough spot, but now it’s cool. It’s Route 66, people can walk around, shop, have great pizza.”
NOTE: Upon John’s recommendation, I did indeed have some of the best pizza just down the street at Bobby O’s. Aside from making the biggest pizza I’ve ever seen, Bobby O’s also offers a vegan menu and facilitates an entirely separate gluten-free kitchen. Check them out!
Pandemic Influences Record Sales
When the pandemic first began to take hold over US Cities, Josey Records attempted to keep their doors open for as long as possible.
“When it first happened,” John said, “before there were any ordinances, the owners called and said they were sending us this plastic shield. They wanted us to get gloves, sanitizer, whatever we could get. And people had already started buying that stuff, so it was kind of hard to find. We have the tattoo guys next door, and they gave me a couple of boxes of gloves and a few reusable masks. That really helped.”
However, like a lot of small businesses, when a city or state mandate forced them to close their doors to the public, they went online. “Every day I would take a picture of around 60 records that we have in the store and post them to Instagram and Facebook,” John told me. “Our customers are great, that kept us afloat, for sure. I did that for like 2 months, come in every day for 4 or 5 hours, fill orders, pack boxes, ship them and some people did curbside. As soon as we could we opened back up.”
Where to Begin
Tucked into the Pearl District off Route 66, Josey looks small from the street but once inside, boasts the largest used vinyl collection in the city. I had a feeling that if ever there were a time for me to ask for advice on buying my first turntable, this was it. John’s advice? Splurge on the player, save your money on vinyl.
“If you have a cheap player,” he told me, “it is probably not going to sound that great. They make those little suitcase ones, and we don’t even carry them because people end up disappointed. A lot of times they don’t play heavier records. Newer records are thicker and weigh a lot more. They are supposed to last longer but they don’t work on the cheaper players. If you have a decent player, even the $100 ones that we have here, it just sounds better. You can hear what is going on with the music. It’s not all compressed.”
“We have noticed,” John continued, “that these kids will get really expensive players, spend thousands of dollars on records, realize it’s not the work they wanted to put into it, they would rather just plug their phone in and play music. They come in here and we give them a fair deal, but they get a tiny fraction of what they spent just two years ago.”
“So, buy the used ones, ” he said, “buy the cheap stuff, see if you like it. We have a dollar section. Our dollar section is for the most part just stuff that we see all the time, like gospel, big band stuff, stuff that isn’t really popular. There is a lot of classic rock in there that either the sleeve is busted up, or it’s scuffed, but it should play.”
“That is a good place to start. Find something that you like, a band you know or something you have heard. Get a player and just kind of listen to it, see if playing it for 20 minutes and having to flip it over, then having to switch records is something you want to get into.”