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No fidelity (continued)

Of course, by treating music as just another entertainment commodity, the record business has contributed to the crisis, because thereís now a new generation of consumers who are also apt to view music as a commodity. Theyíre still consuming it, but more and more of that consumption is taking the form of MP3 downloading. Thatís hurt retail on every level. And the one advantage the used-record store had in being able to sell used records and then CDs for less than the chain stores sell new product has also been undercut as major players like Best Buy have begun to use music as a loss leader to bring consumers into the store to spend big money on electronic items.

"When Best Buy starting being able to undercut our prices, that really hurt us," Soria admits. "But we still have the deals. We just donít have the traffic that we used to. And if people donít come to the store, then there just isnít going to be a store. Our business isnít that different from any other business selling records. Everybodyís hurting."

Indeed, other used-record stores around town are feeling the crunch. CD Spins, a chain of five used-CD stores, is up for sale. So far, only one location ó 54 Church Street in Harvard Square ó has been purchased; itís in the process of changing its name to On Church Street. But stores like Nuggets, Planet Records, and Looney Tunes ó all of which have been key to the grassroots infrastructure of the local music scene ó seem to be meeting the challenge in different ways. Unlike Disc Diggers, this trio have continued to make vinyl a vital part of their business. But to greater or lesser extent, everybody is following Disc Diggersí lead onto the Internet, both by using eBay and their own Web sites to sell product on line.

"Iíve had stuff hanging around the store for months, and Iíll put it up on eBay and itíll sell right away," admits Nuggets owner Stuart Freedman, who started working in the store a month after it opened at its original Kenmore Square location in 1978 and then bought it a decade and a half ago. "But we do well enough in the store that I still spend more time trying to make the store better than selling stuff on-line. We have a Web site, but it isnít updated too often. Instead, I spend a few hours every day putting stuff up on eBay because the reality is that only 50 people are going to see what Iíve got in the store, whereas on-line youíve got like five million potential customers."

In large part, though, Freedmanís commitment to the store is a labor of love. "I canít carry a tune, but Iíve been collecting records since I was 10 years old. We have regulars who come in to talk about music all the time. And then there are those people who come in here and theyíre like, ĎThis is like the High Fidelity movie.í So, I just like having the store. I wouldnít start one right now. But I like doing it because itís definitely different from a big chain store."

Planet Records owner John Damroth, who opened his store in 1983 in Kenmore Square before opening a second location in Harvard Square (the original store was destroyed in a fire in 1997 and never reopened), is of the same mind. "When I was a kid, I could walk into a used-record store and buy a record for $3 and it just seemed really cool. Iíve been trying to re-create that experience for other people ever since I opened. But the way people shop has changed over the years. The idea of browsing and spending the time like I used to do, where Iíd spend an hour to two looking for stuff, that seems to be something of a lost art. But I havenít tried to take up as much slack with the Internet as some stores because we still have an active clientele that can support the store. That clientele has been shrinking, but I think that has less to do with downloading than with the fact that people can now get their entertainment from so many different sources."

Like Nuggets, Planet has its own Web site. But Damroth does most of his Internet selling through eBay. And it has become a significant part of his business. "Iím always looking for any source of increased revenue. And on-line is the best way to do that now. I can definitely make up for what Iíve lost in walk-in traffic with the 10 to 20 percent of the business thatís now in on-line sales. The financial side has gotten tougher and tougher, but thereís something about having a shop that still works for me. It helps that weíve seen an upturn in vinyl sales over the past few years. But my personal model was always to be heavily staffed so that we could constantly be changing the stock and lowering prices on stuff that wasnít moving. That part has become more difficult. And thatís a trend that probably will continue. Fortunately, the stock is still good because people are still selling us cool stuff. Maybe itís because people are downloading their discs to iPods and then selling the CDs off."

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Issue Date: January 14 - 20, 2005
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