Vinyl Resurgence: Records Return to the Peninsula

Door County vinyl collectors have some exciting choices with the recent opening of three new outlets for the back-from-the-dead music format.

“I grew up in record stores,” said Adam Pokorski of Rusty Dusty Vintage & Records in Sister Bay. “A record store is my sanctuary, a place to hang out and find new music. A brick and mortar record store is where I like to be personally.”

Pokorski, wife Jackie and infant son Henry came to the area about a year ago after living for 15 years in northern California, where they ran Missing Link Records for 10 of those years.

Adam and Jackie Pokorski opened Rusty Dusty Vintage & Records in Sister Bay last month. Photo by Jim Lundstrom.

“I grew up in Green Bay,” he said. “We moved back here once we had our son Henry. We were visiting friends up here in Door County multiple times and fell in love with it.”

In addition to vinyl records, there is the “vintage” in the title of their business that encompasses everything from clothing to toys to campy VHS movies.

“Our whole motto is stuff we like. We try to do as much as possible made in the USA, pre-’90s clothes,” he said. “That’s our schtick, things we like. We’re shooting for your uncle’s basement in the ’70s. That’s the vibe we’ve got going on so far.”

The albums for sale are an eclectic mix that sometimes reflect Pokorski’s musical interests, both the familiar and “stuff I think you should have in your collection,” he said. “You tell me four bands you like and I’ll try to find a new band you’ve never heard.”

He also points out that what’s on the floor today “is the tip of the iceberg. We have so much stuff. We just wanted to open the doors. I put some new stuff out every day.”

Pokorski said personally he is a fan of old-time banjo, early country, Mississippi hill country music, and that he is also a huge fan of heavy metal.

“A friend of mine once told me, ‘Black Sabbath is a band not a genre’,” he said.

Ultimately, Pokorski said, “We’re not going to be your top-40 record grabbing place, but we try to have a good selection of eclectic things. Both new and used. We are always looking to buy, sell and trade.”

A few miles south in Ephraim, Jon Mueller is selling vinyl – among other curiosities – at Within Things Curiosity Shop, but it’s highly unlikely that the two record stores will step on each other’s toes.

“Records are such a big part of my life both as a collector and as a musician,” Mueller said. “When the store idea came together and we’re looking at the theme and the idea of the store, we wanted to include a particular kind of record. I think I’m still editing that a bit somewhat. Essentially we wanted to feature non-traditional music, not popular music, but things you won’t typically find. We focus on traditional folk music from different countries or music not necessarily using traditional techniques.”

Jon Mueller.

A recent visit found a very wide range of folk music from around the world as well as country, bluegrass, blues (including Paramount blues from Grafton, Wis.), and, for want of a better word, outsider music (and not just the outsiderism of naive or self-taught musicians).

While Mueller said he is excited to see the local interest for vinyl, he’s skeptical about a recent resurgence in vinyl.

“I don’t know how real that is,” he said. “For me it’s always been a thing.”

In March Bay Vinyl Records opened in the back of a small commercial enterprise in what looks like a residence sandwiched between the Dairy Queen and Valvoline Instant Oil Change on Egg Harbor Road. It is the most traditional of the three new records stores in that in addition to selling new and used vinyl, you can also buy a made-in-America Orbit turntable made by U-Turn Audio.

Owners Alan Kassien and Steve Allen previously operated Jefferson Street Books in Sturgeon Bay, where they sold some albums.

“Last year we moved the bookstore to Fish Creek [Fish Creek Book Shop and Gallery in the Top of the Hills Shops] and people were coming in and asking ‘Where are the records?’” Steve Allen said. “We looked at it and thought, we should do this because no one else up here is doing it. After almost a year of planning, we got in that space in December but didn’t open it until March.”

While they already had stock to sell from their old store, they also started hunting for collections of 500 to 1,000 records.

“People are downsizing,” he said. “Most everywhere we went, it was older folks who either lost interest or are leaving the area. We kind of lucked out. One of the collections was 1,500 records, and about 1,000 were near mint classic rock.”

In addition to classic and indie rock, they also sell jazz, classical and have a very large collection of opera that belonged to Egg Harbor music critic and educator Erik Eriksson, who died in 2008.

“We haven’t sold any opera yet,” Allen added.

Both owners said they were surprised at the demographics of the record store customers.

“All ages are coming in for something,” Allen said. “The 40-somethings are coming in because they sold their collection at some point and now are rebuilding in vinyl.”

That is certainly the case for Tim Alrand, who was in the store recently with his son Cyrus.

“I grew up with vinyl, listening to Van Halen, Kiss, all of those groups,” Tim said. “For me, it’s so nostalgic to see it making a comeback. I have younger sons who didn’t even know what the record player was when I bought it from Target, and when we put the first ones on there, they were amazed. They were just absolutely amazed. To have a place open like this, it’s nostalgic to walk in. I’m just getting a kick seeing some of these old albums I used to have growing up. I appreciate it. It’s fun.”

“Well, I listen to music on my phone,” Cyrus said. “But going back to the old days, listening to the records, just in case my phone dies on me.”

But it is the younger buyers that were a big wake-up call to the store owners.

“They’re telling us we want the vinyl. Why?,” Allen said. “The usual answer is that they like the big format, it’s something strange to them. They’re fascinated by the big disc. The liner notes are big. And they don’t want reissues. They want the original, even though they weren’t born then.”

That is the case for 15-year-old employee Emmett Goettelman, who was busy cleaning records with a cleaning machine customers can buy at the store.

“I love being around records. It’s my hobby,” he said. “It’s fun to be around music all day and listen to what I want to.”

So, in this day of instant access to digital music, how does a teenage boy become introduced to vinyl records?

“I just walked into a record shop one day down in Madison,” he said. “I bought an album I already liked. I played it and it sounded so much better than any other format. It was OK Computer by Radiohead. The rest is history. I’ve been collecting a lot since then. I really love it. It’s a great hobby and I love working here.”

A Small But Growing Niche

The Beatles were at the top of the charts again in 2017, at least in vinyl record sales, according to Nielsen Music, which since 1991 has tracked music sales and data.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club (there was a deluxe anniversary reissue in 2017) and Abbey Road were the No. 1 and 2 top-selling albums last year. It also marked the 12th straight year in the growth of vinyl record sales. Driven by an array of new and re-issued titles, vinyl LP sales represented 8.5 percent of all album sales in 2017 – up from 6.5 percent in 2016.

Among the 14.3 million vinyl records sold last year, 77 different titles each sold more than 20,000 copies, as compared to 58 titles in 2016.

New record production plants are popping up, the newest set to open in Virginia is expected to be able to press 9 million records annually, adding to the current 50 million capacity.

Carrie Colliton, a co-founder of Record Store Day, recently told Pitchfork magazine that she hears almost weekly from someone who is opening a new record store somewhere.

However, despite the seeming resurgence of vinyl, it still remains a small niche. The only smaller niche is the cassette, of which 99,400 were sold in 2017.

Source: Nielsen Music

Rusty Dusty Vintage & Records, 10590 Country Walk Drive, No. 4, Sister Bay

Within Things – Curiosity Shop, 9922 Water St, No. 2, Ephraim

Bay Vinyl Records, 920 Egg Harbor Road, Sturgeon Bay

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