Monday, December 1, 2008

Salem record store goes back to its roots

Since opening Ranch Records in 1982, Kit Close has been providing the kind of rare, offbeat music and collectibles that you won’t see in the Wal-Mart music section. A self-described “record nerd," who has always had a huge record collection, Close has followed his dreams to a profitable business, opening two other Ranch Records stores in McMinnville and Bend. Close’s wife Lori runs the McMinnville store and his partner John co-owns the Bend store. Even though this might seem like a modest chain, Close says, “Surprisingly, we find ourselves as the largest independent chain of music stores in Oregon. Who saw that coming?”

Ranch Records recently opened in its new Salem location on High Street, the sixth space it’s inhabited, from its most recent spot on Liberty Street. Close says he moved because the old space was larger than he needed and the heating bills were enormous.

“[The] place was a little run-down," Close said. "There was an oil burner in the basement from the '50s. Heating oil got so expensive last year it was costing me $1500 a month to heat it.”

Kit estimates that about 90 percent of his stock is rock and roll, with a little bit of jazz, blues and hip-hop making up the other ten percent.

Music released on vinyl records has had a recent resurgence, Close says. With the move, Ranch Records has cut back on CDs to focus more on records.

"It’s what all music stores are doing these days. If you want digital music, you just download it off the Internet really cheap. We still sell a lot of used CDs, but new CDs are almost going away. I don’t want to pay $16 for a CD. We’re bringing in a lot more records than we used to. Plus, I’ve been stockpiling records for the past 20 years and we’re starting to break into those.”

The appeal of vinyl records, Close thinks, is that it’s like a piece of art.

"It’s like books or anything else. It’s something you can hold. When you play records you’re more connected to the music because you have to get up every 20 minutes and turn the record over! You put CDs on, sometimes they just become background. I have a six-changer CD player and I won’t change the CDs for a week.”

According to Close, records aren’t cheap, and even more expensive than CDs. But he doesn’t think people mind paying the extra money because of the artwork that you get to see on a record.

Some records are being released on extra-thick, 180 gram vinyl that can run from $30-$40, but Close is convinced that the sound quality is “absolutely” better than a standard vinyl record. In the '90s, vinyl was dying out. CDs were hyped as what would make vinyl obsolete. New records were still being made, but the punk and underground music scenes were what kept the medium of vinyl records, especially singles, alive. One of the claims about CDs (espoused by the makers of CDs) was that they were a lot more durable than records. Close agrees.

“When they came out, they said that CDs were indestructible. But that’s absolutely not true.”

Ranch Records doesn’t try and compete with mainstream music stores.

On the future of recorded music, Close says, “the days of selling 20 million records are over. Bands are going to have to rely on touring, T-shirts, and merchandise and stuff to make a living. There’s a lot of other ways for bands to make money these days. Commercials have become huge. Bands come out and do commercials before they’re even known. People come here all the time, ‘what’s that song on that so-and-so commercial?’ There was a day when we looked down on bands for doing that though. We were idealistic; it was the '60s.”

[Willamette Live]

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