The Rapidian

Corner Record Shop defies digital revolution

Most businesses desperately try to stay ahead of the curve. Corner Record Shop in Grandville has found success by doing the opposite.

Visit the Corner Record Shop

Where:

3562 Chicago Drive SW

When:

Mon- Sat 11 a.m.- 8 p.m.

Sun 12-5 p.m.

/Jordan Schulte

Steve Williamson, owner.

Steve Williamson, owner. /Jordan Schulte

In an unassuming plaza on Chicago Drive, between a family diner and a used car lot, sits the Corner Record Shop. Inside you’ll find over 80,000 alphabetized records, tapes, CDs and more. Owner Steve Williamson says he isn’t sure exactly how many items his store has—there’s simply no way to keep track of it all.

Nearly every available space is overflowing with music. There are tables with bins full of records, shelves packed with VHS tapes and even more miscellaneous music resting on top of the shelves. There's a section dedicated to local music. There’s a storage area in the back with countless more records that Williamson can’t even fit in the store.

Putting them into a computer system is out of the question, too. Many of the records come from a time before barcodes.

The place is a music fan’s dream. For Williamson, it was a way out of an undesirable situation. Before starting Corner Record Shop in 1999, he worked in a factory.

“It was a time where everyone was getting laid off…or would get called back sporadically, and I’d had enough of it,” he says. “I thought I’d try this for a while and see what happens.”

At that time, CDs were still the most popular format. Corner Record Shop sold vinyl, but mostly to older people who grew up spinning records.

In 2003, Williamson’s growing business relocated from its dinky strip-mall storefront to a new, much larger location at 3562 Chicago Drive SW.

Coincidentally, that’s the same year iTunes came out. In the following years, physical media would take a nosedive. In 2004, hard copies constituted 98.4% of all music sales. By 2012 it was just 39.9%. NBC News said in 2013 that “iTunes killed the music shop in the last decade.”

Somehow, the Corner Record Shop escaped unscathed.

“That really had zero effect on me,” Williamson says. “I don’t know if it’s a niche thing, or if it was just the records people came in for, but it never affected me.”

How is it that iTunes, which some say tanked legendary record stores like Tower Records in California, didn’t harm a comparatively unknown shop at all?

Williamson thinks it’s because his store has always catered to vinyl lovers and audiophiles.

“I think the CD thing got hit harder than vinyl. That’s the only explanation I can give for it,” he says.

Traditional business wisdom says “adapt or die.” Williamson has found success doing the opposite. In fact, he says his store has noticeably increased in sales every year since he started.

“I’ve never, ever looked at iTunes out of the corner of my eye. I’ve just never been into that,” Williamson says. “That’s what you use when you don’t care what you’re hearing.”

Luke Gessner, who handles everything from accounting to turntable repairs, attributes their continued success to Williamson’s dedication to the business.

“The reason this place works so well is because of Steve,” he says. “I’ve seen him do things for customers, just bending over backwards to give them what they want. It goes beyond customer service at this point.”

Vinyl isn’t the only niche market that Corner Record Shop caters to. In the back of the store you’ll find a “room of lost formats” featuring everything from laser disks to 78s. Surprisingly, Williamson says his store still sells a lot of VHS tapes.

“People come in and they’re always looking for drive-in movies, or just stuff that’s really out of print…there’s people who still play video tape,” he says.

Williamson says he thinks VHS could make a comeback in the same way vinyl did around 10 years ago. But how did vinyl see such a resurgence, particularly among young people?

Gessner says it’s because vinyl simply sounds better. It may have started as a novelty for hip youngsters, but many soon realized that the medium can sound better than any other.

Once it started with young people, Williamson says the snowball effect began.

“They get in because everyone else is doing it,” he says. “But once you get into this, if it’s done right…vinyl sounds better than anything you can play.”

Gessner says Williamson talked him into selling his entire CD collection a few years ago. He has a smartphone and uses it to play music in his car, but only because it’s convenient.

“When I get home from work and open that beer and sit on the couch, I don’t want to listen to my phone anymore,” he says. “I wanna flip records.”

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