Record Stores Celebrate a Resurgence in the Hudson Valley

Many Hudson Valley towns have an old-school record shop (and some have two or three). Here’s how this once-obsolete format is getting another spin at life.

Rick Reiser blames Alice Cooper for his vinyl obsession, which started at age 13. The band’s 1973 “Billion Dollar Babies” LP introduced him to shock rock, taboo lyrics, and a netherworld sound he hadn’t heard before. “That Alice Cooper album changed my life,” says Reiser, now 61, a technical director at Bard College. “I got it from my sister and played it over and over again, and ever since, I’ve been collecting.”

He started with trips to the old Jamesway department store in Port Jervis, where he scored treasures like Led Zeppelin’s final studio disc “In Through the Out Door” for $8.99, and escalated to shopping at the former Record City in Poughkeepsie and elsewhere.

Today, Reiser buys and sells albums on Facebook, including the FB group Vinyl Playground. His collection currently numbers in the thousands—many of them limited-edition vinyl and some still sealed—which he stores in wooden crates at his home. Among his most cherished items are Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper boxed sets, rare Led Zeppelin albums, and original Metallica and Iron Maiden releases.

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Adobe Stock/ Robynmac

Nationwide, sales of vinyl have continued to climb, according to Luminate, an entertainment data company based in California. In the first half of 2023, close to 24 million albums were sold in the United States, compared to 19 million in 2022—a 21.7 percent increase.

The Hudson Valley reflects that trend. New record stores have sprouted up, stretching from the newly relocated The Vinyl Room in Beacon (a record shop-slash-bar) to Last Vestige Music Shop in Albany, to meet the growing demand—and those who run them are ecstatic. Stephen Keeler, who opened Rock Fantasy in Middletown 38 years ago, says for the first time in decades, record sales have “taken over the store.”

In the first half of 2023, close to 24 million albums were sold in the U.S. versus 19 million in 2022.

“We’ve run the gamut from selling records back in the day to taking the record bins and chopping them up to now building them up again,” notes Keeler, whose Middletown shop is a combined record store and pinball arcade. “In the early 2000s, we thought it was over. We only had a couple of boxes of albums left, and once we got rid of them, we figured that would be that, but record sales have come back strong, and a lot of it is [due to] teenagers.”

Over the last few years, Keeler says sales have skyrocketed during the annual Record Store Day, a movement held each April to celebrate independently owned vinyl shops. The trend has remained strong year-round, too. Rock Fantasy has diversified and now carries Taylor Swift’s latest vinyl releases, along with other pop artists. He suspects that the renewed interest has to do with the enhanced audio quality, along with the tangible experience.

Woodstock Music Shop
Woodstock Music Shop. Courtesy of Woodstock Music Shop.

“To me, it’s just a richer and crisper sound. While you can listen to an album on Spotify, there’s nothing like picking up an album with the lyrics. It’s an old-school experience, but it’s taking on new interest. It seems like everything retro comes back around,” Keeler says. Reiser agrees: “Vinyl is making a comeback because you can hold it and experience it, and there’s more warmth to the sound.”

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The most sought-after albums at Rock Fantasy are releases by Taylor Swift, along with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” and Michael Jackson records, according to Keeler. “We’re reordering records almost every week,” he says. “We get a lot of requests for Metallica, and we sell a lot of Miles Davis and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon.’ It’s kind of across the board.”

Justin Johnson, co-owner of Darkside Records in Poughkeepsie, is seeing similar demand. The 7,500-square-foot store on Dutchess Turnpike (which opened in 2011) carries new, used, and exclusive vinyl in every genre. “It’s not just a fleeting hobby, and it’s not just for adults,” explains Johnson, 37. “It’s a misconception that it’s all older guys, who want to rebuild their collections from when they were teenagers. We are seeing the age of the buyers in the store come down. Groups of high school kids come in and congregate around the records.”

Zach Ferraro, 20, is part of that younger set. He says many people his age and younger are delving into vinyl for different reasons. “A lot of us just enjoy supporting the artists, and we like the physical media now—for whatever reason. Personally, for me, it’s cool to look at the artwork,” says Ferraro, an employee at Darkside Records who began collecting when he was 14.

Reiser, meanwhile, is keeping an eye on the future as he adds to his cache. “I think vinyl is likely to continue being a rather large niche market for passionate music enthusiasts and collectors and will continue to grow. The physicality, artwork, and warm sound of vinyl have a unique appeal that digital formats can’t fully replicate,” he says. “It’s an exciting time for vinyl enthusiasts, and I’m sure there will be many interesting developments ahead.”

Related: Score Vinyl and More at Record Stores in the Hudson Valley

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