Sorry, America Won’t Be Saving Your Favorite Record Store

Bleak news from record store Bop Street Records, which is now closing its doors because of COVID-19 shutdowns.
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Bleak news from record store Bop Street Records, which is now closing its doors because of COVID-19 shutdowns.
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Bleak news from Seattle’s Bop Street Records, which is now closing its doors because of COVID-19 shutdowns.

The Los Angeles Lakers, a storied basketball franchise worth more than $4.4 billion, recently scored a $4.6 million ‘small business’ Paycheck Protection Loan from the federal government.  Millions were also given to Sweetgreen, Shake Shack, and even Barron Trump’s elite prep school.  Local vinyl record stores, sadly, won’t be so lucky.

Unfortunately, the brutal truth on the U.S. Government’s ‘small business’ rescue program means that most actual small businesses are now going out of business. Instead of helping mom-and-pop businesses who are struggling to retain employees and pay rent, major companies with hundreds or thousands of employees soaked up billions in Paycheck Protection Program funds.

At first, Shake Shack was the most glaring example: the chain used lobbyist loopholes to secure a juicy, $10 million loan.  But shockingly, the Los Angeles Lakers — a franchise worth billions and more importantly, an organization with access to billions in capital — took $4.6 million in funds.  And both easily did that because they enjoy cozy banking relationships and first-in-line access to capital.

Both Shake Shack and the Lakers returned the funds after howls of public outcry and resulting PR nightmares.  But scores of publicly-traded or well-endowed companies aren’t handing anything back, simply because they don’t have the media or general public giving them heat.  That includes Barron Trump’s elite prep school, St. Andrews, which has decided to keep millions in federal funds despite sitting on a $9 million endowment and lots of connections to capital.

Your local vinyl record shops, unfortunately, don’t have those connections or cashflow to secure a rescue loan. Mega-banks like Bank of America took care of their biggest customers while administering the largest PPP loans, all the while ignoring smaller, less profitable accounts.   Which means that a large percentage of vinyl records stores will not be around when government-imposed COVID-19 lockdowns are finally lifted.

That might explain why Amoeba Music, arguably the most famous record store in America, launched a GoFundMe campaign to survive (they later announced plans to abandon their Sunset Blvd. location).  It also might explain why Seattle’s Bop Street Records, another storied name to record collectors and musicians, decided to call it quits this week.

All of which is very, very sad for a vinyl record industry that was just getting its stride back.

Heading into this crisis, record stores were a hardscrabble group that was enjoying one of its greatest years in modern history.  After a decade-and-a-half of continued vinyl resurgence, people were finally realizing that analog LPs offered a distinct category for the future.  But with Record Store Day canceled and crowds sitting inside, most shops on now on the brink.

We haven’t done a canvas of which record stores received PPP funds.  But if record stores resemble the broader small business sector in America, it’s likely that most did not.  Some smaller businesses won the PPP lottery, most didn’t.  Which means that more stories like Bop Street will be coming soon.

But what if mega-labels like UMG could do something about that?

Sure, everyone in the music industry is feeling pain right now. But some are feeling it more than others, and major labels still have streaming and publishing revenue to fall back on. Those areas may not be surging, but unlike the scene of destruction in live entertainment, they’re still generating revenue and still actually breathing.

All of which raises the question of whether the majors might want to take a look at the desperate distribution endpoint known as record shops. Already, we’ve seen major labels rushing into vinyl record production, enough that vinyl purists are constantly complaining about the majors’ chokehold on distribution (which is another story entirely).

But instead of muscling for positioning and sweetheart deals with record stores, why not buy the record store itself at a rock-bottom price?  It’s not philanthropy, it’s business.

After all, vinyl records could conceivably rebound at some point in the future. Optimistically, vinyl record sales could even surpass the pre-COVID peaks they were enjoying. But without brick-and-mortar, that comeback could become muted, even with Amazon soaking up the excess demand (or maybe, because of that). Which means that labels might want to look at saving their local record store and the pipeline that comes with it — especially since America won’t be stepping in.

Correction 5/1: Tender Greens has not received PPP money, as initially reported; Sweetgreen did (and returned it).  It appears that Tender Greens is applying for PPP or some other form of government stimulus assistance, but has not received anything yet, according to a representative.



8 Responses

  1. Johnny

    Sorry, America won’t be saving the music business or the record store business! Music fans want free music and could care less how musicians pay their bills. Plus they are all overpaid Rock stars driving around in expensive limos!

  2. Tom Hendricks

    This is a story that needs to list the banks too. They new what was going on, and approved it.
    Remember the music revolution is about talent of thousands , not propping up 9 pop stars for another decade. The big guys are the ones that look like dinosaurs and same with their media

    • John Carlson

      I own Retro Records and Games in Suisun City, CA for 8 yrs and was doing well until they shut us down in March. I have applied for loans as we gave 3 employees but nothing so far. I still pay staff and management but not another 3 months. What’s the difference between going to a grocery store and record store? Nothing

      • Reality Ron

        Sorry to hear that, but you can’t live without food. That’s the big difference.

      • BAC

        Just bend over and keep voting for Democrats like Gavin Newsom.

        • Kukla

          Your BAC is way over the legal limit with that kind of response. It isn’t about Dem or GOP, it’s about the public safety.

          • BAC

            Kukla / Karen,

            I didn’t say to vote for Republicans. I said to quit voting for Democrats like Gavin Newsom.

            Newsom, along with a lot of other governors, Democrat and Republican, got a taste of dictatorial power and don’t want to give it up. The curve never happened outside of the elderly with multiple health issues, and many of them probably would have died anyway. Hospitals were not overwhelmed. It certainly didn’t help that Andrew Cuomo forced COVID patients into vulnerable nursing homes, which to me is a crime against humanity.

            The only thing flattened was the economy. How does keeping record stores and beaches and restaurants closed, or banning skateboarding, have anything to do with public safety, Karen? All the models were wrong. All the “experts” were wrong. Sweden was right.

            Woodstock was planned and held during the Hong Kong Flu outbreak of 1969, which killed over 100,000 in the US. Nobody shut down school and cities. Same with H2N2 in 1957.

            Do you also believe that we should “Duck and Cover” to survive a nuclear bomb blast?

            Are you look for a job as a member of the New Stasi? I bet you are. That ain’t gonna happen. It’s more fun to be a rebel. It’s more fun to be pro-freedom. What happened to the rock and roll spirit of rebellion and telling the man to stick it? You sheeple just want to bend over at anything the media says.

  3. Kukla Karen

    BAC, read what was typed and not what you think was typed. Nobody said you voted for anyone. Your posting of the same incorrect information that you copy and paste in other places doesn’t make it all of a sudden correct.

    Closing places where people congregate in close quarters, in high numbers is a smart move. This is how the spread of this manifested more quickly in China and Italy. We are attempting to stop that from happening. As for your Sweden reference, check you stats again. Their mortality rate is high (7th of all countries per capita).

    Where do you get your information? Is it just headlines or memes? Are you just repeating what you heard? Try doing your own research and coming to some sane arguments and points.

    Pull your head out to breathe, then look at the right, current information. You’re comparing apples to oranges in your brilliant example of the Hong Kong flu..and actually making a strong case for current lockdowns.