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Vinyl records can’t pay the rent, that’s why

Brooklyn and L.A. have bid farewell to record stores, despite a ten-year uptick in record sales

Why did Off the Record close?
Why did Off the Record close?

Dear Hipster:

If hipsters are so good about supporting local businesses, then why did Off the Record close? I thought hipsters were all about music on vinyl. Shouldn’t there have been a healthy market for records in the hipsterest neighborhood in all of San Diego? This shatters my faith in hipsters.

— Ali, North Park

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This is a complicated issue, perhaps one of the great mysteries of our time. Like the persistence of leggings where pants should be, or the reasons that compel people to apologize whenever I pass them in grocery stores; even I, in all my hipster wisdom, don’t fully understand it. I mean, what are people “sorry” for anyway? No harm was done. Seriously. I only said, “excuse me,” because I didn’t want to shove you unceremoniously out of the way, crying for blood like the deranged captain of a smashed-up Subaru in the Trader Joe’s Demolition Derby. You’ve all done absolutely nothing wrong by standing in an aisle, shopping for just the right dehydrated kale chip to fill the void in your heart where GMO pork used to be. We can both occupy the cheese section without having to mutually humble ourselves.

Sorry, that was probably uncalled for ...or was it? Am I proving my point right now by apologizing over nothing to some unnamed reader? Is this the dramatic irony that will be my undoing?

Nah.

For what it’s worth in cold comfort — my guess, “next to nothing”— record shops both venerable and new have been biting the dust in hipster enclaves throughout the nation. Places like Brooklyn and L.A. have bid farewell to record stores, despite a ten-year uptick in record sales, so why not San Diego?

Hipster commodities

The question may be one of affordability, but it’s not so simple as “vinyl records are expensive.” If you adjust the cost of a $20 vinyl record according to the consumer price index for 1970, you get something like $3.25. Surprise, surprise, that’s slightly cheaper than the cost of a new, premium record in the early ’70s. So, vinyl has actually gotten more affordable.

Rent, aka the biggest overhead for a nonperishable, owner-operated retail operation, is anywhere from 200–500 percent more expensive, depending on who you ask. That’s after inflation, mind you.

So, riddle me this, how can a business increase its expenses maybe five-fold without increasing the corresponding value of its revenues and expect to survive?

I’m a hipster, not a Harvard MBA, but the math as I see it on the napkin I just pulled out from underneath this here tasty craft cocktail just doesn’t add up. It’s not like hipsters (and even non-hipsters with somewhat hipster leanings) don’t value local businesses. The fact that there is any market for vinyl records at all testifies to the power of the hipster economy, which revived a dead medium based on some pretty abstract values. The problem is more that the world, or at least our little corner of it, has become terrifyingly expensive in many other ways. Hipsters, both the ones who own record shops and the ones who patronize them, could never spend sufficiently on vinyl records to sustain a market.

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Why did Off the Record close?
Why did Off the Record close?

Dear Hipster:

If hipsters are so good about supporting local businesses, then why did Off the Record close? I thought hipsters were all about music on vinyl. Shouldn’t there have been a healthy market for records in the hipsterest neighborhood in all of San Diego? This shatters my faith in hipsters.

— Ali, North Park

Sponsored
Sponsored

This is a complicated issue, perhaps one of the great mysteries of our time. Like the persistence of leggings where pants should be, or the reasons that compel people to apologize whenever I pass them in grocery stores; even I, in all my hipster wisdom, don’t fully understand it. I mean, what are people “sorry” for anyway? No harm was done. Seriously. I only said, “excuse me,” because I didn’t want to shove you unceremoniously out of the way, crying for blood like the deranged captain of a smashed-up Subaru in the Trader Joe’s Demolition Derby. You’ve all done absolutely nothing wrong by standing in an aisle, shopping for just the right dehydrated kale chip to fill the void in your heart where GMO pork used to be. We can both occupy the cheese section without having to mutually humble ourselves.

Sorry, that was probably uncalled for ...or was it? Am I proving my point right now by apologizing over nothing to some unnamed reader? Is this the dramatic irony that will be my undoing?

Nah.

For what it’s worth in cold comfort — my guess, “next to nothing”— record shops both venerable and new have been biting the dust in hipster enclaves throughout the nation. Places like Brooklyn and L.A. have bid farewell to record stores, despite a ten-year uptick in record sales, so why not San Diego?

Hipster commodities

The question may be one of affordability, but it’s not so simple as “vinyl records are expensive.” If you adjust the cost of a $20 vinyl record according to the consumer price index for 1970, you get something like $3.25. Surprise, surprise, that’s slightly cheaper than the cost of a new, premium record in the early ’70s. So, vinyl has actually gotten more affordable.

Rent, aka the biggest overhead for a nonperishable, owner-operated retail operation, is anywhere from 200–500 percent more expensive, depending on who you ask. That’s after inflation, mind you.

So, riddle me this, how can a business increase its expenses maybe five-fold without increasing the corresponding value of its revenues and expect to survive?

I’m a hipster, not a Harvard MBA, but the math as I see it on the napkin I just pulled out from underneath this here tasty craft cocktail just doesn’t add up. It’s not like hipsters (and even non-hipsters with somewhat hipster leanings) don’t value local businesses. The fact that there is any market for vinyl records at all testifies to the power of the hipster economy, which revived a dead medium based on some pretty abstract values. The problem is more that the world, or at least our little corner of it, has become terrifyingly expensive in many other ways. Hipsters, both the ones who own record shops and the ones who patronize them, could never spend sufficiently on vinyl records to sustain a market.

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