Pat Feeney opened Manayunk’s Main Street Music because he couldn’t shake off an obsession sparked by seeing the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. Sixty years later, Feeney is selling stacks of Beatles records to people whose parents were not even born. when that now iconic performance took place.
Its boom in vinyl sales is largely fueled by Gen-Zers who relish the bonus of physical ownership in a streaming music world.
“The beautiful big album cover is so nice and pretty,” said 24-year-old Queen Village resident Olivia Hoover, who also said she really liked the sound quality. “There’s something so fun and magical about having tangible music.”
Vinyl records in 2021 saw US revenues top $1 billion for the first time since the mid-1980s. Sales jumped 50% last year alone, topping CD revenues for the first time since 1991 – the year Main Street Music opened.
“You could see the interest growing,” Feeney told Billy Penn. “We were probably a bit late at times. We should have been more aggressive on change.
Today, approximately 85% of Main Street Music’s sales are vinyl.
The records sold span all genres and eras, Feeney said. This year’s bestseller is Harry Styles’ airy third album, ‘Harry’s House’, often purchased with records from Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. Classics from previous decades are also flying off the shelves. Teenagers and young adults who shop at the Manayunk store pick up hits from rockers like Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.
“Our best-selling album of the last three years is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumors’,” Feeney said. “Every other day we sell out, and we can’t get enough of it.”
Alexis Burress, a 21-year-old Temple University student who hosts a college R&B radio show, said he first became interested in vinyl in 2014 through Tumblr. Their first record, Chaka Khan’s self-titled album, was a gift from their grandmother.
“I would just dig boxes for hours,” Burress said of their early trips to record stores. They started with old soul and jazz albums, but now their collection has shifted to newer releases.
Burness said they liked the soothing, almost “vintage” sound of vinyl, and noticed that other students were also starting to collect records.
Old format, new supply chain issues
Dan Matherson, owner and founder of South Street’s Repo Records, doesn’t need a Gen-Zer to tell him that vinyl’s massive appeal stems from its unique aesthetic and experience.
“You have to sit down, put the disc on,” Matherson said. “When you hold the record, the cover, the artwork, you get the whole feel of what the artist is trying to convey.”
Albums by Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Funkadelic, all artists whose early eras were before most of them were born, are popular with “kids” buying from Repo.
A side effect of vinyl’s popularity: increased demand has led to supply chain disruptions.
Last year, the sheer volume of Adele’s “30” record pressings caused a backlog that sent other artists scrambling. Musicians have learned to notify pressings months in advance if they want to have records in time for a scheduled album release.
Michael J. Wodnicki, who in 2020 co-founded Northeast Philly pressing company Softwax Record Pressing, told Billy Penn that the supply chain issues started showing up a decade ago.
“It became more and more obvious that there was a problem,” said Wodnicki, who experienced it while trying to get his own music pressed. The struggle led him to partner with fellow music producer Federico R. Casanova to launch Softwax.
They cater to smaller artists, and remaining accessible to these lesser-known musicians means deliberately turning down gigs. “We live in this world,” Wodnicki said, “but we don’t necessarily grow as a company like the exponential growth of the industry.”
This exponential growth probably won’t last forever, acknowledged Main Street Music owner Feeney. But he believes the love of vinyl is here to stay, especially when it comes to loyal regulars. “We have so many customers with allegiance,” Feeney said.
The generation of people who fell in love with vinyl when it was the only way to play their favorite songs is now fostering that love in young people hearing them for the first time, said Matherson, owner of Repo Records. The intergenerational bond is part of why he thinks it’s a long-term trend.
“The music is going to be here,” Matherson said. “It’s such an important part of everyone’s life.”