As he sorted through some obscure sleeves in front of a display wall of rare collectibles, Mike Elias pointed to one of rock’s biggest and best albums of all time for proof that now is as good a time as any to run a record store — specifically, an all-vinyl shop like the one he opened just in time for Saturday’s national Record Store Day.
“A girl came in the other day and bought AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black,’ and she looked like she was maybe in the ninth grade,” Elias happily reported last week from behind the counter at Barely Brothers Records.
Housed in a former karate studio near the corner of Raymond and University avenues in St. Paul, Barely Brothers opened a month ago, and already record sales are truly back in the black, Elias said. A 20-year record-store vet who has probably sold a thousand copies of AC/DC’s most seminal album during his tenures at the Electric Fetus and Northern Lights, he got out of the business in the 2000s when the digital-download era hit the fans, opting instead to work for two pioneering local microbreweries.
Now that the beer world is overflowing and music customers can’t seem to get enough vinyl — U.S. sales rose 32 percent last year to 6 million units (and that’s not counting used discs!) — he found a partner, Spencer Brooks, and opened Barely Brothers. Half the shoppers at their grand-opening bash last month seemed to be musicians, who gleefully browsed the bins full of great R&B, blues and soul albums in addition to all things rock.
By sheer coincidence, another store opened on the same weekend just a few blocks away, Agharta Records, overlooking the intersection of University and Hwy. 280.
“I think we’ve created something of a vinyl mecca over here,” Agharta owner Dylan Adams boasted.
Named after a less-than-famous Miles Davis live album — “it was one of the few store names you couldn’t already find on the Internet,” Adams explained — Agharta predictably stocks a lot of jazz albums, but also offers a large selection of metal and punk along with indie rock. A sharp contrast to Elias, Adams has no record-store experience and said he’s “just another avid collector” who saw an opportunity to fulfill a dream amid the current vinyl resurgence.
“I’m not an audio purist; I own an iPod, too,” Adams said. “But it really has become common knowledge that vinyl sounds better — and is a lot more fun to own and shop for.”
Both Agharta and Barely Brothers are too new to have received any of the official Record Store Day special-edition loot. Nonetheless, each store is stocking their bins this week and hosting in-store performances Saturday to attract RSD shoppers. Barely Brothers will host live music from 2-7 p.m. with (in order) Two Harbors, the High Crimes, Curtiss A with Curt Obeda, and Erik Koskinen. Agharta will boast afternoon sets by Blackthorne, Depot Creek and Blinds.
They’re not the only new stores local RSD shoppers can visit Saturday, either: John Kass, another longtime record-retail vet, is now stocking the bins at Hi-Fi Hair & Records, a clever new salon/vinyl shop at 1637 Hennepin Av. S. in Minneapolis, which hopes to quell the stereotype that record nerds have bad hair.
At Barely Brothers, though, there’s nothing to spruce up the look and formula from record stores of old. In fact, Elias laughs at how many older customers he sees from his heyday in the business.
“We have a lot of people coming in and rebuying the records they sold 20 years ago,” he said.
Anyone dumb enough to sell their copy of “Back in Black” deserves to pay twice.