If you’re over 40, you may have fond memories of buying record albums at such large retailers as National Record Mart or Record-Rama. But when CDs were developed, they began to surpass albums’ popularity. At one point in the 1990s, record albums were barely being produced, but fast forward to today, and vinyl is making a huge comeback. In fact, a whole new, much younger demographic is discovering albums and today, for the first time in decades, vinyl is outselling CDs.
Fred Bohn has seen this whole scenario play out since his father opened The Attic in 1980. The Millvale-based record store carries several million albums. “Our niche is that we don’t exactly have a niche. We carry all types of music, from ‘20s and ‘30s blues to present day hip-hop and everything in between. We have a large selection of everything, both new and used,” he said.
Bohn said that albums never completely went away, but record companies were more focused on selling CDs throughout the 90s. He said that records have markedly increased in sales every year since 2005, right around the time that the record companies started pressing vinyl again.
“The biggest increase was when COVID hit, as that was something for people to do at home,” he added. “Since then, it has increased exponentially.”
Though it is hard to pin down bestsellers since he sells music in all genres, Bohn said that newer hip-hop, metal, country, and alternative music sells well. “Jazz is popular now, too; even young kids are going back to older Miles Davis and John Coltrane.”
And younger people are his best customers. “Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, most of our demographic was probably 50 and up. Now it’s the exact opposite. We have high school and college-aged kids really getting into it and gaining a lot more interest in the market,” said Bohn.
In fact, it’s because of this trend that he believes that records will remain popular. “It’s sticking around because the audience keeps getting younger. When you have 9-year-olds buying Taylor Swift records, that is a good vision for the future,” he said. “None of them grew up with vinyl; a lot of them grew up in a digital age where you can stream or download your music, but it doesn’t give you the same feeling that owning something does.”
Last Dog records is housed in the Bottlebrush Gallery in Harmony, owned by Dennis McCurdy and his wife, MJ. At last count, he had about 7,000 records in stock and counts people younger than the mid-30s to be his primary demographic.
McCurdy has been a record collector for years and only sells used records at Last Dog. “I cannot compete with online sales for new albums. They are so highly priced right now, that I don’t want to take a risk. New ones are selling for $40-plus for an LP,” he said.
His perspective is that the used record business is drying up. “It’s withering from its own success, to be honest. For those of us who have lived through the release of these albums, there is an incredible amount of tremendous material out there that nobody wants, and I don’t know why yet,” said McCurdy. His bestsellers are usually records from the late ‘60s to mid ‘80s.
Still, he believes that sound quality has improved, which in part has accounted for why the younger generation is drawn to vinyl. “Digital sound has approximated the amplified sound of analog—cleaned it up so that it was bolder. It’s more of a raw, natural sound,” he said.
He is hoping that customers will discover some of the gems that he has in his store. In fact, when he does sell an LP, he throws in a 45 with a customer’s purchase to encourage them to expand their listening preferences.
Mark Mawhinney’s father owned Record-Rama, based in the North Hills, which he said was the largest record store in the country for 50 years until he sold it 15 years ago, along with his entire remaining record collection.
That did not deter Mawhinney from opening up his own record store, Music to My Ear in Ross, though he had to start his collection from scratch. “We probably have 80,000 albums, a similar inventory of 45s and probably 20,000-30,000 CDs,” he said. He buys both new records from distributors and used records from people who sell directly to him.
One unique niche that separates Music to My Ear is that it is housed in the same building as his other business, Northern Audio, in which he designs, sells and installs home audio, home theatre and automation systems. Mawhinney is also the owner and manufacturer of The Spin-Clean Record-Washer, which is the largest selling vinyl record cleaning device in the world.
Mawhinney agrees that records are at the height of their popularity. “Vinyl records are the number one selling software format in the business, outselling CDs and DVDs. Vinyl sort of started drifting away 25 years ago or so, and the vinyl boom really began happening about 15 years ago. Now it is just huge,” he said.
Several factors account for this resurgence. “First, it’s the sound quality—analog versus digital,” he said. “If a person has a quality turntable or stereo system, the sound of a vinyl LP can exceed the realism and the depth of what a CD and/or streaming music can.”
Music to My Ear specializes in all of the audiophile pressings, most of which are being recorded at 45 rpm, which means the grooves are four times as wide, and the record is more dynamic and better sounding than a standard LP.
“Another fascinating point is that a vast majority of people buying vinyl these days are buying it to collect it, and half the time they don’t listen to it. It’s a cool thing to collect because it’s retro,” he added.
Bestsellers are a hodgepodge of current artists like Olivia Rodrigo, and remastered classic rock like Steely Dan. “Blues music in general is a very sought-after category. When we get used blues, it sells instantly; it’s that hot,” said Mawhinney.
Mawhinney jokes that his demographic is anyone with ears. “We cover all the generations, and we do business regularly with people in all different age brackets. The cool thing about vinyl is it is truly a multigenerational attraction.”