Saturday, November 1, 2008

Indie Record Store Thrives

Dynamite Records in NoHo moves to new location with continued success

The indie record store is a piece of Americana that has influenced the lives of adolescents throughout the latter part of the 20th century. It's a home where the smell of vinyl is the only air freshener, and friendships form out of a love for Glenn Danzig. It's a place where local, music-obsessed individuals can interact with others like themselves while surrounded by the thriving force of good music. However, in the age of iPods, MP3s and music piracy, this important piece of American culture is becoming as outdated as hair metal.

One independent record store in Northampton, Mass., won't let the age of iTunes bring them down. Dynamite Records opened in 1982, and is the longest running independent record store in western Massachusetts. Dynamite started in the back of a station wagon in front of the Amherst Post Office, then moved on to spend 20 years in Thornes Marketplace. Recently, it moved to 33 Main Street in Northampton, between Lucky's Tattoo and Piercing and La Veracruzana. When Dynamite was invited to use the store front on Main Street, owner Ronnie Kwon jumped at the opportunity.

"We spent 20 years in Thornes, and we had really outgrown it," said Kwon. "We wanted a more visible location, since Dynamite had become a local secret that was difficult to find."

The store is as cozy as any home, with hardwood floors and an actual living room display in the front window, and an array of artists swarming the shelves. Dynamite Records specializes in new and used vinyl records, but also carries a wide variety of new and used CDs, pins, patches and posters.

"There's a lot of love in Dynamite Records, and that's why I love it," said Kwon. "I love records; I love the way they look, the way they sound, the way they feel, just everything about them."

The music industry is at a noteworthy place at this point in time. With the emergence of MP3s and digital file sharing, shelves containing a music library have been reduced to a hard drive that can crash at any time. The current echo boomer generation has taken creativity and good music for granted. Many people have substituted quality for convenience, and face-to-face communication for computers. Buying music online is nothing like going into a store and having the power to listen to everything happening around you.

"Independent record stores allow us to bypass what's playing on the top 40 and fill our ears with something real, something with heart," said UMass senior and psychology major, Rachel Schein. "It'll change your perspective on what music's all about."

However, it seems as if more and more people are trading the experience of a record store for the cheap thrill of a download timer. It has been proven however, that MP3s have a far worse sound quality than CDs or even records. In order to fit an MP3 onto an MP3 player, the file from a CD has to be compressed to an extremely small size. As a result, the song may sound much different, and small subtleties, like key changes, can't be detected by the listener. Yet many people, both young and old, are standing by their vinyl. Kwon has faith in his store and doesn't believe he'll lose many customers as a result of this new technology.

"There's always going to be change," said Kwon. "I think you have to learn to adapt and evolve and know that people still value music. We choose our standards and we have a lot of loyal customers."

One can truly feel at ease and at home inside Dynamite. There's always good music playing as the gazes of Siouxsie Sioux and Robert Smith look down from displayed posters. The store has a very relaxed atmosphere, where no one peers over your shoulder and you're allowed to be with the music in your own way.

"I think independent record stores are a good idea; keeps the small businesses up and running, and the awareness that records are still being produced and used," said Hampshire College student Taylor "Matchstick" McNeilly. "[Records have] a very different quality of sound, and are definitely enjoyable. I'm glad such places as Dynamite Records are still around, because it really lends something to the culture."

Dynamite Records also tries to help local artists obtain success by offering them a place to perform. The shop often has artists perform in the store itself or in the display windows. This gesture is how Mr. Kwon and his employees give back to the community.

"I feel like there are fewer opportunities than before for local artists to get out there," said Kwon. "Even in New York, there aren't a lot of places where local artists can perform. Music is such an important part of people's lives and of important value in communities. Dynamite Records has always been a community store and will always be a community store."

While Kwon is giving back to the artists, the artists are giving back to the record stores. Record Store Day, which will be celebrated on April 18, 2009, aims to make people more aware of the culture and history that record stores have.

On their Web site,, Boston native Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls said, "My early record shopping experiences were my musical backdrop… it's not just the ability to touch, see and smell an album and the artwork ... it's the fact that you're in a real place with real people ... you can't get that feeling sitting behind your computer, ever."

Kwon doesn't wait for April to celebrate his love of music. To him, every day is Record Store Day.

"I just hope people still enjoy the experience of buying music," he said. "If you don't know what that is, come on in and we'll show you."

Independent record stores, their employees and their loyal customers are filled with a passion for music. They do more than just hear music; they can see it and feel it. It's a part of them. To them, shopping for music is more than just retail therapy, it's a ritual. It's not something they do, but something they experience. Independent record stores are alive today because of the people who want to have that experience.

Dynamite Records is located at 33 Main Street in Northampton.

[Daily Collegian]

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