Pulling it out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable and setting the needle down to your favorite tune – there is nothing like vinyl.
By serving a vibrant community of customers that embraces the culture and experience of vinyl, Ottawa’s record stores continue to prove that vinyl is not dead. However, like many local businesses, record stores are affected by the pandemic.
We checked in with three local, independently owned record stores to see where they stand today.
Nick Beaton owns The Turning Point, at 411 Cooper St. Founded in 1983, the store carries two floors of CDs, cult classic DVDs and used records.
John Thompson owns The Record Centre, at 1099 Wellington St. and opened in 1998. The store features vintage audio equipment and records. It also hosts shows and helps artists release records.
Mike Pilkington owns The ODDS and SODS Shoppe, at 1400 Clyde Ave. in Ottawa. Open since 2015, the Shoppe carries new and used vinyl, CDs, DVDs, clothing and novelties.
How has COVID-19 affected you the most?
Nick Beaton of The Turning Point: I mean, the obvious would be the full shutdown. [It] was pretty devastating as a small business owner. There is still a percentage of our client base that likes to sort of browse and also check the condition of things before they actually purchase them. So, at first, I was a little hesitant to try to sell anything online because I did not want to get in a situation where I was not meeting a certain standard.
John Thompson of The Record Centre: The most is in-store traffic and our ability to host shows because we did a lot of in-store shows. My whole staff got laid off. There was no work for them. And then, slowly, I started to bring some staff back.
Mike Pilkington of The ODDS and SODS Shoppe: I moved in February and opened up in a brand-new spot and then, COVID happened. For the first couple months that we were closed, our sales were down like at least 75 per cent.
How did you adapt to COVID restrictions?
NB: I was the first store to open to the public in Ottawa. I spent most of my time during the closure sourcing and hunting and trying to find acrylic so that I could build a barrier at the cash, trying to get myself 20 to 30 litres of sanitizer so that, if I could re-open, I would have enough supply to stay open safely.
JT: I came into the store every day… I started doing these little flip videos on Instagram where I was selling records. I was either delivering them on my bike or in my car, all summer long. That was a huge amount of work.
MP: We were doing curbside pickup. We used our social media channels, mostly Instagram and Facebook and we would do […] a video of us flipping through the records. A lot of people were at home, so it was really easy to pick up your phone, look at a video and say, ‘Hey, I want this… record.’ The support was pretty amazing.
Have you seen any trends in vinyl sales during the pandemic?
NB: Good record collections have been coming to my shop more regularly. Because there were little flea markets for most of the summer, there were not any garage sales, people really were not interested in doing the Kijiji thing because there is just so much interaction. There was a trend where people were just taking them [records] out of their basement, […] they Google record stores and wherever they land on […] that is where the records are going. This pandemic has funneled record collections into the brick and mortar shops.
JT: One of the neat things that’s happened with the pandemic is, if music wasn’t important to people in their daily life before, it’s probably a lot more important now because they find themselves at home sitting around listening to music.
MP: A lot of people started collecting vinyl during this because there were a lot of people stuck at home. I cannot think of many better things to do than sit by the turntable, listen to some tunes.
What is the vinyl scene in Ottawa looking like today?
NB: I would say it is definitely growing. We used to serve a specific audience. Before they were popular, it was a lot of people that grew up with them. Nowadays, I literally get 10-year-olds coming in with their parents and they are buying their first record. There is a bigger variety in terms of the age.
JT: It is probably still growing. I think, despite the pandemic, we have thrived through this because people still want to support a local record store and not just buy records on Amazon.
MP: I still think it is growing. Like I said, we sell other things as well, but vinyl was really driving the sales. Younger folks that are buying records, they are experiencing a different way of taking in their music as opposed to on a phone.
Why should people consider vinyl for their next hobby?
NB: I think that anything that engages youth into experiencing a record […] that is a good thing. There is a certain charm and nuance to a fully analog listening experience.
JT: There are some really interesting, sort of, rituals surrounding vinyl; cleaning it, putting on a turntable, dropping the needle, being connected to it, owning something instead of just having some file on a hard drive that you do not really see. If you have a turntable at home, vinyl starts to find you.
MP: After the first listen, I am pretty sure you will be hooked. It is an addictive hobby. Something about the experience of having something physical […] having to listen to one side and be involved in the whole listening process, […] people really get something out of that.
To check out what’s next for these shops and others in Ottawa, search them by name on Facebook and Instagram.