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Still Spinning: San Antonio Record Stores Strive to Stay Afloat During the COVID-19 Crisis 

  • Facebook / Southtown Vinyl
Before the COVID-19 epidemic, sales of vinyl records were booming — higher than they’d been at any point since their heyday. But due to the recent lockdown, record store regulars are unable to get their physical media fix.

The lockdown has also meant depleted inventory and slumping sales for San Antonio’s record stores, making them among the small businesses most affected by the crisis.

While restaurants and other businesses pivoted to delivery and curbside pickup, the transition to a no-contact experience proved a deeper challenge for music retailers. The shops rely on foot traffic for the majority of their sales. They’ve had to scramble to keep paying the bills and supplying tunes to their customers.

Some shops, such as Southtown Vinyl, have moved entirely to online sales to keep their employees and customers safe.

“In lieu of in-store sales, I’ve been focusing on online sales through the shop website at I decided to offer everything my distributors carry on the site,” said Southtown Vinyl co-owner Tommy Newman. “So, there’s a vast inventory available on the site, along with featured records and preorders. We’ve seen great numbers online so far, especially with preorders.”

Newman says the online orders aren’t fully supplementing the in-store losses, but he’s hopeful.

“I’ve also been personally hand-delivering and shipping orders to some of our dedicated regulars,” he added.

Turning the Tables

Beyond figuring out how to get products to customers, local shops say they’re also figuring out how to deal with inventory issues. Used records make up a significant part of most small music retailer’s revenue, and social distancing has shaken up that market significantly.

“We can’t do buys right now,” said Don Hurd, co-owner of Imagine Books and Records. “We did order some new records recently and those sold really fast. … Our own stock is getting lower and lower, because we can’t go out to people’s homes to do buys or have them come in to bring us stuff.”

Imagine may not be able to restock its inventory of used records for the time being. However, the store’s been making the best of its situation by creating genre-based mystery packs of its LPs and books.

“People are gonna call and say, ‘Hey, do you have Led Zeppelin IV,’ and we’re like, ‘Well, no…we can put together a hard rock mystery pack for you,’” Hurd explains, “and people are really excited about that.”

Zeke Baker, co-owner of Crazy Rhythms, said keeping his year-old store afloat has meant focusing on an adjacent but different business — selling vintage collectibles on eBay. While he and his brother and business partner Zach have no desire to evolve into a vintage shop, he said the economic downtime made a good time to sell off the collectibles they have amassed so they can support the vinyl shop.

The Next Track

For many music lovers, the weekly excursion to a favorite record store was as much a part of their pre-COVID routine as a trip to the grocery store. The experience offers escapism, conversation and, of course, good music. Both customers and the shop owners say they miss the interaction that’s at the heart of the experience.

Supplementing their business with online sales and curbside pickups may not fully scratch the itch, but they certainly keep stores solvent and fans flush with new vinyl.

The bottom line, record retailers say, is that their survival depends on music enthusiasts continuing to buy. Give the stores a call, check out their websites and tag them in social media posts. By doing so, customers can help ensure these businesses are still there to visit and provide the community with great music once the economy stabilizes.

San Antonio’s record retailers say they cannot simply wait until things “go back to normal” and customers can sift through the stacks of records just like old times. Community helped these small businesses thrive, and that’s will keep them alive.

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