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Pat Feeney opened Manayunk’s Main Street Music because he couldn’t kick an obsession sparked by seeing the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. Sixty years later, Feeney is selling stacks of Beatles records to people whose parents weren’t even born when that now-iconic performance took place.
His boom in vinyl sales is largely being fueled by Gen-Zers who appreciate the bonus of physical ownership in a world of streaming music.
“The beautiful big album cover is just so nice and pretty,” said Olivia Hoover, a 24-year-old Queen Village resident, who said she also really appreciates the sound quality. “There’s something so fun and magical about having tangible music.”
Vinyl records in 2021 saw U.S. revenues exceed $1 billion for the first time since the mid-80s. Sales jumped by 50% last year alone, surpassing CD revenue for the first time since 1991 — the year Main Street Music opened.
“You could see the interest growing,” Feeney told Billy Penn. “We were probably a little behind at times. We should have been more aggressive on switching.”
Today, about 85% of Main Street Music’s sales are vinyl.
Records sold span all different genres and eras, Feeney said. This year’s best seller is Harry Styles’ airy third album “Harry’s House,” often purchased alongside records from Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. Classics from earlier decades are also flying off the shelves. Teens and young adults shopping at the Manayunk store are buying hits from rockers like Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.
“Our biggest selling album of the last three years is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumors,’” Feeney said. “Every other day we sell it, and we can’t get enough of them.”
Alexis Burress, a 21-year-old Temple University student who hosts an R&B college radio show, said they first became interested in vinyl in 2014 thanks to Tumblr. Their first record, Chaka Khan’s 1978 self-titled album “Chaka,” was a gift from their grandmother.
“I would just be crate digging for hours,” Burress said about their early trips to record stores. They started off with old soul and jazz albums, but now their collection has turned to more current releases.
Burress said they like the soothing, almost “vintage” sound of vinyl, and noticed other college students starting record collections, too.
Old format, new supply chain issues
Dan Matherson, owner and founder of South Street’s Repo Records, doesn’t need a Gen-Zer to tell him vinyl’s mass appeal stems from its unique aesthetic and experience.
“You have to sit down, put the record on,” Matherson said. “When you’re holding the record, the cover, the artwork, you get the whole feel of what the artist is trying to convey.”
Popular with “the kids” shopping at Repo right now are albums by Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Funkadelic, all artists whose prime eras were before most of them were born.
One side effect of vinyl’s popularity: The increased demand has led to supply chain breakdowns.
Last year, the sheer volume of Adele’s “30” record pressings caused a backlog that had other artists scrambling. Musicians have learned to inform pressing plants months in advance if they want to have records in time for a planned album drop.
Michael J. Wodnicki, who in 2020 cofounded Northeast Philly pressing company Softwax Record Pressing, told Billy Penn supply chain issues started showing up a decade ago.
“It became more and more apparent that there was a problem,”said Wodnicki, who experienced this first hand when trying to get his own music pressed. The struggle led him to partner with fellow music producer Federico R. Casanova to start Softwax.
They cater to smaller artists, and staying accessible for these lesser-known musicians means purposely turning down gigs. “We’re living in this world,” Wodnicki said, “but we’re not necessarily growing as a company like the exponential growth of the industry.”
That exponential growth probably won’t continue forever, acknowledged Feeney, the Main Street Music owner. But he does believe the vinyl love is here to stay, especially when it comes to loyal regulars. “We have so many customers with allegiance,” Feeney said.
The generation of people who fell in love with vinyl when it was the only way to play their favorite songs is now fostering that love among young folks hearing them for the first time, said Repo Records owner Matherson. The intergenerational connection is part of why he thinks it’s a long-term trend.
“Music’s going to be here,” Matherson said. “It’s such an important part of everybody’s life.”