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Categories: June/July 2023, MUSIC

Vinyl never dies 

Booming vinyl sales fuel a resurgence for Macon’s independent record stores. 

By Michael W. Pannell 

Photography by Yadira Sandoval Rodríguez

Fresh Produce Record Store in downtown Macon. A blue historic building with a funky orange logo, jam-packed with records through the big front windows.

Fresh Produce Records’ new storefront on Cherry Street in Downtown Macon. 

Fresh Produce Records 

William Dantzler and William Rutledge, partners of Fresh Produce Records, recently moved their shop from Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to a bigger space at 567 Cherry Street. Now they’re knocking down walls to expand the store even more.  

It might seem surprising that a store primarily selling vinyl albums needs more room for inventory; the death of music on physical media has been predicted since the advent of streaming services in the early aughts. 

But prophecy can’t compete with facts: industry watchers report vinyl LP sales have grown annually at rates as high as 50 to 90 percent in recent years. Despite the doomsayers, old and new independent Macon record stores are enjoying the boom while hustling to keep up with demand. 

“Of course, there’s nostalgia involved,” Dantzler said, “but a big reason vinyl is making such a comeback is because things have zoomed all the way out. You can stream whatever you want, whenever you want, right from your phone. People are ready to zoom back in, be physically involved with handling and looking at albums, and enjoy the ritual of playing them.” 

That ritual is two-fold, Dantzler shared. The first part is why brick-and-mortar stores still appeal to customers – the ritual of “going through the crates, flipping through records, finding what you’re after, or making a new discovery,” he said. It’s a treasure hunt rather than a quick Spotify app-tap – and you might discover something in someone else’s collection, or by talking to a neighbor in the store, that your algorithm would never uncover. Helpful as it is to have a personal AI DJ, they’re not designed to surprise you. 

The second part, he continued, is “getting it home to play. You might have your own little zone where you like to sit and listen. You probably have stacks and stacks of records around, and you go through them to pick the evening’s listening. You turn on the turntable and settle back to listen, enjoy the cover art, read the liner notes, and maybe the lyrics. It’s a whole experience, and the big thing is your being intentional about it. With vinyl, and even CDs to a degree, you get to learn and experience the music a lot more intimately. We can enjoy the new but satisfy the longing to do it the old way. But again, there’s really no wrong way to listen.” 

Some said it was ill-advised for Dantzler to open a record store, even a used record store with low overhead, when he did so in an affordable storefront in 2013. However, Dantzler recognized the enduring counterculture surrounding physical format music and believed Macon held enough customers. Having toured with different bands, he witnessed demand among independent musicians and fans at concert merch tables, turning a profit from sales of the vinyl albums, CDs, and even cheap cassettes indie bands create. 

Dantzler’s vision was to establish a counterculture hub in his hometown, where passionate listeners could find that rare fare. Writer and DJ Roger Riddle wrote in 2013 that “when you first walk into Fresh Produce Records in downtown Macon, it’s like you’ve stepped into a clubhouse for fans of independent music rather than a retail shop. There may be someone sitting on a couch reading a magazine. Obscure experimental rock music plays in the background as people standing around the counter discuss music of all types. All the while, there is a band setting up, getting ready to perform.” Nowadays, the store is a little less clubhouse and a lot more fully stocked: their new space holds over 30,000 used records, and thousands more of new releases, and sales are trending up. The move to Cherry Street puts Fresh Produce at the center of downtown as they expand. 

As years progressed, Dantzler said learning better business practices and serving a broader customer base has helped the business grow. He also learned to master social media and online sales when Fresh Produce’s storefront went on hiatus during COVID.  After reopening, Dantzler said foot traffic exceeded pre-pandemic levels while online sales fueled growth. 

“I started out as a record collector and never gave up on vinyl,” he said. “I’m glad I hung on.” 

Old School Music Headquarters (Lafayette Records) 

There are independent Macon record stores open today that long preceded Fresh Produce, with rhythm and blues at the forefront. Lafayette Haynes opened Old School Music Headquarters (sometimes called Lafayette Records) on Cotton Avenue in 1967, the same year he started at WIBB radio with his “Laughing Lafayette Show,” which interviewed R&B legends like The Temptations and Fletch Stone. In 2009 he moved his stash of R&B, soul, and other hit music to 522 Second St. Through the past 56 years, music lovers – some with big names like James Brown – visited the store to flip through albums while Haynes sold records and spun history, like he does to this day.  

Phillis Habersham Malone receives a Black Business Pioneer Award at the Tubman Museum.

Habersham Records  

Habersham Records was opened by teacher, businessman and activist Alex Habersham in the Unionville neighborhood in 1971. In light of starting other businesses, such as The Macon-Middle Georgia Black Pages and Resource Guide, serving on boards and starting community betterment organizations, such as Adopt-A-Role-Model, Habersham sold the record store to his sister, Phillis Habersham Malone, in 1986. 

It is now at 2808 Napier Ave. Though definitive statistics don’t exist, reports from recent years indicate there may only be 30 Black-owned record stores in the U.S. Of those, other reports indicate Malone’s is among only about three or four owned by Black women. Among those, hers is by far the oldest in operation. 

Malone is humble about that distinction, and gave credit to her alma mater, Mercer University, where her degree in psychology and minor in sociology helped her understand what customers are looking for when they seek out songs.  

She continued, “I know my faith in God and the principles I learned from my biblical studies helped me in my determination as a woman, a Black woman, to maintain and sustain my business. As for history, I’m proud of the business but you don’t think about that in the day to day, you just do your duty to your store and your customers. It’s the beautiful people I deal with daily – white, Black, Latino, Asian, whoever –that keep me going and lift me up.”  

As to how she started out in this business, she shared, “I just stockpiled vinyl records when they were going out of fashion,” Malone said. “I knew people were interested even though not many were coming in for them after cassettes and CDs took over. Now, they’re back in style and back in style profusely. I’ve had people come in not just from Macon but from Japan, England and Denmark – people from all over want these albums. My customers are really happy with all the old stuff and new releases that are coming out. I can’t think of anything I want that’s not in print. I think young people feel they missed out and are catching up.” 

Malone said there’s a generational convergence as vinyl regains popularity. 

“Kids get all the new music and discover people like The Temptations and Diana Ross, Parliament, The Bar-Kays and Funkadelic. They’re getting the connection to a real, physical album like we used to enjoy. It’s something they can share with their parents.” 

Noah Silver at Vertigo Vinyl in Mercer Village.

Vertigo Vinyl 

Mount de Sales graduate and Mercer University student Noah Silver is an LP-selling, entrepreneurial, social media phenomenon; the picture of Malone’s theory of generational convergence through vinyl. The newly 19-year-old Silver’s success came through online and social media efforts that led to opening a storefront in Mercer Village at 1305 Linden Ave. this past year called Vertigo Vinyl. 

Silver’s business has a nearly half a million followers on TikTok alone and his store draws customers far and wide. His social media posts showcase store tours, day-in-the-life content, and, most predominantly, mesmerizing packing videos. Silver does the ubiquitous unboxing trend in reverse – he tags the customer who purchased the items and shows the order being packed, camera lingering briefly over each record.  

In these videos, albums satisfyingly slide into precisely fitted boxes, their bubble wrap and plastic corner protectors promising future ASMR. A recent post showed hard-to-get Taylor Swift records, and over his birthday weekend, he included one of what he would buy for himself from his store. It included PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, The Velvet Underground, Grimes, and Hole. 

Silver’s savvy has led to some remarkable coups, like exclusive Vertigo pressings with Monostereo, a top vinyl distributor, and special promotions with major record labels. He expects the number and scale of collaborations to swell. 

“I appreciate music, and I see that other people appreciate music the same way,” he said. “I see all age groups coming in, old and young, and I like seeing how music appeals to everybody. I love running a business, too.  Mainly I love what I do because I get to be surrounded by what I love – music.” 

Silver started selling online in high school. He dabbled with various products, but music was his love and LPs quickly became his sole pursuit. Dantzler of Fresh Produce said he remembers when Silver would spend hours going through his bins looking for music. Even after Silver’s videos took off and he started his own website, Silver said he never expected things to grow as they have. He believes he has the most-followed record store account in the world, with even more TikTok followers than the world’s largest independent record store in California. 

With the vinyl boom, online sales are key for most local shops – but don’t assume online equates to easy. New business owners rarely rest, even on their 19th birthdays. Silver celebrated by bookkeeping sales taxes, creating content, overcoming software snafus, and dealing with a supply hiccup – employees were on the clock to pack and ship orders, but they’d sent so many that week, no boxes were left. Silver had to pivot and task employees with other duties, then send customer notices that shipment would be delayed until the following week. 

“We’re hiring,” he said. “There are tons of orders.” 

That’s a good problem to have for a product once pronounced dead.

Macon K-Pop 

While she doesn’t deal much in vinyl yet, hold a place for Chase Kiernan, age16. She runs Macon K-Pop at 2320 Ingleside Ave. which concentrates exclusively on youth-oriented, multi-genre pop music originating from South Korea. While it may rightly be said Taylor Swift played a major role in vinyl’s renaissance, K-Pop drives renewal of CD sales. K-Pop vinyl albums are rare, but Kiernan has her eye on a few special releases. Kiernan said they are too expensive for her young shop to handle yet. But vinyl’s on her radar. Right now, she’s growing the store. It opened in February, and her online sales are already significant. 

“K-Pop is big, and there are only three K-Pop stores in Georgia,” she said. “People stop in while passing through Macon on their way to concerts. Or they just come to hang out.” 

The other stores are in North Georgia and Atlanta, but Kiernan said people learn about Macon K-Pop online. Like Dantzler, Kiernan’s motivation is to build community. Her goal is to provide a place for fans as they enjoy the music, swap K-Pop trading cards, and learn dance moves. Those and similar products and activities are central to K-Pop.