In a digital age, vinyl albums are making a comeback in Los Angeles
Neil Schield knows the grim state of the music business as well as anyone; last May, he was laid off from a company at the vanguard of digital music distribution.
But this month Schield began an unlikely second act: He opened a brick-and-mortar record store in Echo Park, with racks of tasteful inventory carrying price tags as high as $100 -- all presumed liabilities in an age when "digital" and "free" seem to rule the day. For added chutzpah, Schield's shop, Origami Vinyl, exclusively stocks new vinyl LPs, presumed not long ago to be as dead as eight-track tapes. Moreover, Origami is just one of at least three such shops opening in L.A. this spring; the others are Vacation in Los Feliz and Little Radio, a downtown storefront operated by an Internet radio station and concert promoter. The small boom is the result of a commercial rediscovery and appreciation of vinyl records among collectors and more casual audiences.
"Sometimes I wonder, 'What am I doing?' " Schield confessed. But "it's the only corner of the physical music business that's growing."
If Schield needed any assurance that he was on the right track, it came even before Origami opened. As his staff was preparing the store one day, Pete Townshend, the legendary guitarist of the Who, paid a visit. Townshend had read a blog item about the shop and dropped by to see if it was open.
The return of the scruffy neighborhood record shop is as unexpected as the revival of vinyl. After CDs first hit the U.S. market in 1983, LPs were deemed largely obsolete. Later, consumers' shift to file-trading and online retail outlets such as iTunes and Amazon.com gutted the storefront music business. Between 2003 and last year, more than 3,000 record stores closed in the U.S., including such Los Angeles landmarks as Tower Records on the Sunset Strip. Independent shops such as Rhino Westwood and Aron's Records in Hollywood accounted for nearly half the losses, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a database and marketing firm. Today, there are 185 record stores in the L.A. area, down from 259 at the beginning of 2007.
Photo: Origami Vinyl is one of three new vinyl-only record stores opening next month in Los Angeles. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times