By Mary Grace Ritter and A.J. Frigoletto
As with every National Record Store Day since Audio Archeology opened four years ago, there was a line of vinyl lovers waiting for owner John Arnsdorff when he showed up for work Saturday.
“It brings a lot of new people in the store that have never been here before,” Arnsdorff said of the April tradition. “It’s a good way to get the word out about us. A lot of people will pull up the Record Store Day website, and just see what record stores are in town.”
The same was true at the growing number of record shops riding the resurgent wave of vinyl fans. But Arnsdorff’s store is a little different. He sells records and tapes, of course. But he also restores and sells vintage vinyl equipment.
Vinyl records have made a substantial comeback in the past 10 years, and more people are listening to their favorite songs the way they were meant to be heard, as opposed to condensed digital files. People also enjoy the tactile experience of holding the discs and looking at the the covers, Arnsdorff said.
Arnsdorff noted that many newer, low-priced turntables don’t offer the sound experience records deserve. And they aren’t kind to the vinyl. The older equipment, he said, “sounds better, and it won’t ruin your records.”
Record Store Day, meanwhile, is a great way to attract other Chicagoan collectors from across town, Arnsdorff said. Many record companies fuel the event by releasing of exclusive, limited vinyl pressings. Some of these have created a collector frenzy in past years. But Arnsdorff said this year was quieter.
“You know, we haven’t had one thing the phone’s been ringing off the hook for. Last year it was the Space Jam soundtrack. And the year before it was the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack on cassette.”
Record Store Day began in 2007 as an attempt to revitalize sales at record shops, at a time where physical music sales had begun to suffer due to the presence of digital music.
Though the event has drawn criticism from small record labels and certain music fans, many credit Record Store Day with igniting the vinyl craze that has taken over in the 2010s.
Vinyl originally reached its peak around the ‘70s, but after the invention of the Sony Walkman people traded in their turntables for the more portable options. Ever since, it has been a continuous mission to make technology more compact, but that doesn’t come without a cost.
“Sound quality went out the window,” Arnsdorff said.
Turntables today are not made to the same quality as they were when vinyl was at its peak and these flaws detract from the listening experience, he said. This has left a hole in the market that Arnsdorff sought to fill.
“Business has been good,” he said in a recent interview. “We sell a lot of records from foot traffic. And we get a lot of other business off the website.”
Arnsdorff started the business four years ago to give those who value this music experience better options for listening to their favorite album. Since then he’s been bringing in locals, from college students to middle-aged couples looking for some new music or a new stereo.
The restoration of the vintage stereos can be the most challenging aspect of the job, but also tends to be the most profitable, he said. Arnsdorff does much of the work itself, but also relies on a network of other craftsmen for certain jobs.
Record Store Day has become a big event for stores like Arnsdorff’s. He orders extra inventory, but it’s hard to know what will sell and how many people will show up.
“It’s like throwing a big party and not knowing how many people are coming,” he said.
For Arnsdorff, this is not simply a business venture, but also part of a personal passion.
“I’ve always enjoyed archaic tech,” said Arnsdorff.
He said when he was younger, he used to buy old records from the ‘30s and ‘40s from flea markets and antique shops. Now that he owns a shop of his own this could perhaps give another child a chance to wander in and discover his or her own passion for music and vinyl.