By Pat Gunther
The new trend in music is a familiar tune, and Baton Rouge is listening closely.
Since 2006, vinyl record purchases across the world have skyrocketed. In the United States, vinyl album sales increased 32 percent last year, while digital music revenues simultaneously decreased for the first time since 1999. In an age of digitally compressed, portable music, more and more ears are craving the soothing sound of a dropped needle and the feel of an album in their hands.
Baton Rouge business owners are paying attention to this trend, including Dana Labat, a recently retired Shell employee who earlier this month opened Capital City Records at 4641 Perkins Road. For Labat, it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“It’s been one of those dreams ever since I began going to record stores,” Labat said. “With the renewed interest in vinyl records and increasing yearly sales, it happened to coincide with a point in my life that afforded me the opportunity to give it a shot.”
Labat’s love of records goes back to his childhood, when he swayed to the sounds of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul and his sister’s copy of The Best of the Lovin’ Spoonful.
“People always ask me, When did you start collecting records?” Labat said. “And my answer has always been, ‘I didn’t start collecting, I just had a collection, one day.”
Now Labat’s collection is growing and going public – and sooner than he expected.
“We rushed our opening to last [November 7], because so many people we’re walking in the store while we were still working,” he said. “So, we got enough stock in the door to get going, but have tons more to bring in.”
A Trip Through Time
That rushed opening isn’t the only proof that Baton Rouge is in on the vinyl revival. The city has supported two other vinyl stores, Kerry Beary’s Atomic Pop Shop and Lagniappe Records, since each opened in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
Beary has built her business from the ground up since first opening at 2963 Government Street in 2011.
“I needed a place that was all about our vision, not someone else’s space that we carved out a niche and painted orange,” Beary said. “I had to have a blank canvas, to build up in layers, all of the things that I’ve imagined it could be for so many years.”
The focus at Atomic Pop Shop remains largely on its trendy, new records and a frequent lineup of in-store performances. Shopping there is like hopping in a time machine for the duration of one’s stay.
“We take our patrons on a trip through time,” Beary said, “where they can dig through records, play a real Pac Man arcade game or pinball, listen to free live music, enjoy vintage art and furniture, and have an experience through my design aesthetic.”
Unlike many other retail businesses though, Beary’s brainchild is constantly growing and improving. “It’s still not finished and never will be,” she proclaimed. “It will evolve over time and it lives and breathes as I do. There is no end to the possibilities.”
A Little Extra
Over in the Beauregard town neighborhood, meanwhile, Tess Brunet and husband Patrick Hodgkins’ Lagniappe Records shop allows crate diggers to venture off of the beaten path.
Lagniappe began as an online store where Hodgkins sold off extras from his vast personal collections. When the couple moved to Baton Rouge from Nashville last year, they set up shop in a converted home at 986 France St. Business boomed, and they upgraded to a larger space at 705 St. Joseph St. this fall.
Taking the form of a record store, DIY indie label, coffee shop and impromptu movie theatre, among many others, has helped propel their small business to one of the most buzzed about shops in the entire city
“We love vinyl and we love music history,” Brunet said. “It’s always been a part of both of our lives ever since we can both remember, so it seemed logical to us.”
The thing that really stands out about Lagniappe is also what sets it apart: it also operates as a do-it-yourself label.
“I’ve pressed two of my own records and have two more coming out in 2015,” Brunet said. “One under ‘Tess Brunet’ and one under ‘Tess Brunet & The Black Orchids.’” The store also helps develop local bands, extending their mission to share their love of music with bands and buyers.
“I don’t want anyone to walk out of here empty-handed because they couldn’t afford something,” Hodgkins told DIG last year. “I want it to be accessible. I love music. I want to share music with everybody.”
“The Digital Era is Here”
It speaks to the success of both Atomic Pop Shop and Lagniappe Records – as well as the surge in vinyl sales across the country – that Labat feels confident enough to bring a third vinyl store to the city. But demand is high, he believes, and the supply can rise to meet it.
“The biggest thing I notice is the amount of young people buying vinyl records,” he said. “Most of these kids grew up knowing only digital formats, like CDs and MP3s.”
Now, however, they’re discovering the benefits vinyl offers, like the fact that it’s a tangible product that can be held, as opposed to a file seen only on a digital screen. It’s also a matter of quality, Labat says. Vinyl possesses a depth that “flat-sounding,” compressed files can’t contain.
“The fact is the digital era is here, whether it be music, movies or books,” he said. “But, I think there will always be a niche market out there for the vinyl format.”
And that market, he feels – along with Berry, Brunet, and Hodgkins – is strong in Baton Rouge. The competition between stores fuels that, driving expansion and leading to more options for increasingly interested customers – the free market at its finest.
“I see an expansion of our collection, services, and events,” Beary said. “I want to be what Criminal is to Atlanta, what Grimey’s is to Nashville, and what Reckless is to Chicago. I don’t have to be the only record shop [in Baton Rouge], just the best record shop.”
Nor are Brunet and Hodgkins scaling back. The new location is proof enough of that, but asked where they see themselves in five years, Brunet kept it short and to the point: “Leaner, meaner, and with more records.”
With the addition of new shops and the expansion of established ones, it’s clear that Baton Rouge is keeping up with the resurgence of vinyl. There was a time when local record-lovers in the Capital City would have to search far and wide to get their vinyl fix, but those days are long gone. And they don’t appear to be coming back any time soon.
“How can a new record store not be a good thing?” Labat said. “I mean, if you like records, you like independent record stores. And the more the merrier, in my opinion. For a lot of years the folks didn’t have many, if any, choices in the Baton Rouge area. You had to drive to New Orleans to get your vinyl fix. But, we’re getting to the point where we’re starting to compete with the amount of great record stores, usually found only in larger cities.”