A NEW SPIN
By DAVID LOW
Gabriel Lopez / Alligator
Ted Sharpe, owner of Sharpe's Music Exchange, restores a vinyl record in the back of the store before moving it onto the floor of the store to sell. Sharpe's Music Exchange is one of the few stores in the area that takes the time to restore records before selling them, Sharpe said.
In the wide world of music, few things stand the test of time.
The music industry is a fickle business, with artists, genres and even audio formats moving in a constant waltz of popularity and viability.
Vinyl records seem to have come to a crossroad. One path leads to fallow fields of disuse, while the other leads to the fertile land of continued spins.
Independently owned music stores around Gainesville are waiting to see which road vinyl will tread while they watch stores like No Future Records on Main Street go out of business.
"I specialize in jazz, but the rock 'n' roll records sell the best," said Ted Sharpe, owner of Sharpe's Music Exchange. "The Beatles sell. Pink Floyd sells. The Velvet Underground sells. Elvis doesn't sell. Go figure."
Sharpe has been selling records in Gainesville for 15 years in the same building on West University Avenue.
"Collecting records was just a hobby of mine until it got to the point where I had too many," Sharpe said.
A retired graphic artist from San Francisco, he moved to Gainesville to be closer to family.
"I'm doing great," Sharpe said of his business, "but this is just a hobby business, though – something to do in retirement to keep me busy. I could pack it up and be fine."
Although the store makes enough money to stay afloat and stay in business, Sharpe isn't relying on record sales as his main source of livelihood.
Similarly, the record store and live music venue Wayward Council, also on West University Avenue, is not in the business of selling records for the money.
"The people who buy records here are mostly into local underground music, punk and hardcore," said Ren�e Pinault, a volunteer employee at Wayward Council. "There's no set genre, though," she said, motioning toward the rap record spinning behind her.
Wayward Council is more of a music community commons than a true record shop. It has many racks of local 'zines and is generally a place where people can socialize with those who share similar interests. It also serves as a live music venue, which accounts for much of the shop's revenue.
"We try to keep our record prices really cheap," Pinault said. "People who work here are all actually volunteers, and any money we get in sales we put back into the store. We also get a lot of money from shows, and we accept donations."
But what about the record stores that are actually in the business to earn a profit?
One such store, the ill-named No Future Records, recently went out of business.
Have compact discs and mp3s dealt the knockout blow to the LP?
Sharpe thinks not.
"I get people coming in from cities far bigger than Gainesville, who travel here just to buy records from me," Sharpe said. "They can't believe Gainesville still has record stores. I've even had people from Japan buy almost $3,000 worth of stuff here that they couldn't find anywhere else."
Sharpe believes there is still an interest in records because of nostalgia for the time when music was really important to people. He believes that audiophiles, people who meticulously scrutinize the fidelity of audio recordings, have single-handedly revived vinyl.
Charles Scales, owner of Hyde and Zeke Records on NW 10th Avenue, is somewhat of an audiophile himself, but he believes that records are here to stay.
"The people who come in here to buy records run the gamut," Scales said. "I have 70-year-olds come in for records, and I just sold a record player to a 13-year-old. Once you get into buying records, you can't stop."
He carries records ranging from decades bygone to the latest limited-print 7-inch vinyl from current indie bands.
Having sold records in Gainesville for 30 years, Scales has a very clear idea about the quality of audio media.
"CDs are flawed technology," Scales said. "CDs are diminishing. They get holes in them and they oxidize, but when you have a record, you have it forever if you take care of it. Plus the fidelity is so much greater."
Scales is also a musician, but his day job, the one he relies on mainly for his income, is the record store.
"To be honest, it's not a good era for record stores – they're disappearing everywhere," Scales said. "For instance, in 1992, when a new release came out, there were lines out the door. You don't see that anymore. When something new comes out, people already have it on their computers."
Vinyl hangs on a precipice. Only the future will tell if records will follow the same road plodded by 8-track cartridges and Beta tapes, or if they will continue to be a part of life in the foreseeable future.