The Vinyl Frontiers

James Kosharek photo
A front window at Nehalem Music & Game

Places on the North Oregon Coast to revel in the resurgence of records

Story by Erick bengel • Photos by Colin Murphey

A few years ago, North Oregon Coast shop owners who carry records noticed an odd trend: Vinyl was suddenly selling again, big time. The curious comeback of this antiquated medium — the so-called “vinyl revival” — allowed several stores to build upon their selection of new and used records. “It’s hot now,” James Kosharek, a musician and owner of Nehalem Music & Game, said. “It’s ridiculously hot.”

These outlets deal in other offerings: antiques, clothing, instruments, music lessons, stereo equipment and fading formats such as 8-track, cassette tapes, and VHS. They don’t survive on records alone. But a surprisingly robust vinyl selection exists between Nehalem and Astoria, bolstered by a demand that, up until a decade ago, had nearly disappeared.

People are still shocked that (vinyl) albums exist,” Chelsea Johnsen, owner of Doe & Arrow in Astoria, said. “It’s a pleasant surprise for people.”

And it’s more than a trendy throwback. As Billboard recently reported, vinyl saw the 12th straight year of sales growth in 2017, accounting for 8.5 percent of all album sales. The No. 1 vinyl record in the U.S. last year? “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The old is new again. In addition, a spate of deaths among musical icons, such as Prince and David Bowie, has helped spur record sales as people take another look at the late artists’ oeuvre.

Lois Miner-Fleming, director of Bach ’N Rock in Astoria, said that, for a while, record buyers were “mostly older people who were sorry they lost their albums, or had sold them or thrown them away.” Things have changed. “Younger people are coming and starting to buy them more now, too.”

Though demoted from staple to specialty item, vinyl albums never really went away; they just lay low. Some bands continued pressing to vinyl when most went digital-only. Enthusiasts kept collecting and caring for their stockpile. Meanwhile, a lot of good music was never transferred to CD. Now a new generation is finding something hip and fresh to love in the old and funky.

It was a novelty for a lot of these younger people to discover this different form,” said Greg Glover, co-owner of Commercial Astoria. Glover worked in the music business in New York for many years and remembers listening to his mother’s albums as a kid. “And, for some of us, it’s just never gone away.”

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian
Records and record players are available at the Phog and Bounder’s Antique Mall in Astoria.

Groovy

Part of the appeal, of course, is that vinyl is … well … groovy, fashionable — a retro rush for young’uns, a nostalgia kick for baby boomers. Vinyl recalls the counterculture and cool lifestyle of the ’60s and ’70s. When Tom Schmidt, co-owner of Phog Bounder’s Antique Mall in Astoria, sees an album cover of the San Francisco band It’s a Beautiful Day — a group he saw at the Salem Armory Auditorium as a teenager — “my heart just goes, ‘Ahhhhh,’” he said, half sighing, half swooning.

Listeners weaned on CDs often don’t know, and could never tell, that many vinyls sold today are basically CDs printed onto LPs — digital converted into analogue — rather than a reissue of the studio tapes. For discerning ears, though, the difference is plain. The sound of an original vinyl album, they’ll testify, is richer, deeper, fuller. “Vinyl captures all the undertones in ways that you can’t reproduce in a digital form,” Tim Fleming, Lois Miner-Fleming’s husband and co-director, said.

For those who cavil about vinyl’s irksome pops and crackles, Schmidt has a piece of advice: “Get over it.” Better yet: Get a nicer copy and stereo, he said. With good equipment, treated honorably, the problem isn’t as pronounced. In fact, some music mavens consider those minor distortions part of the personal experience: The imperfections in one person’s copy — the scuffs and warps that make it distinct — won’t match someone else’s, Terry Erickson, owner of Christie’s Mallternative in Astoria, pointed out: “The whole thing is familiar; it’s like, ‘This is my record.’” A used record is like a used couch: comfortable precisely because the owner has loved it and worn it out.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian
Nehalem Music and Game is worth a stop on the way out of town.

It demands you’

Superior sonics aside, records also provide an experience more immersive than mere media consumption, from the large cover art you can put on display to the liner notes you can obsess over. Vinyl itself now comes in many colors, like Chuck Taylors. “My friends — myself included sometimes — will smell a record when we open it, the fresh seal,” said John Gentner, owner of Metal Head in Astoria.

There are perks to having your music take up physical space in the world. The intimate ritual of pulling the record from its sleeve, placing it tenderly on a turntable, dropping the needle, and exploring the terrain of a full album — including flipping the LP over to enjoy Act Two — creates a tactile relationship with the object, something that clicking on a few stray singles doesn’t duplicate. “It demands you,” Glover said.

And, Miner-Fleming noted, customers want to have a relationship with store owners as well. Indeed, the resurgence of vinyl has led to the rebirth of the record store as a sacred site of musical nerdery. “They want to come in and talk and be social,” she said. “Much as the world seems to think it doesn’t, it does.”

At Metal Head, Gentner interacts with customers from all professions, social echelons, and life stages. From dentists and lawyers to 20-year-olds between jobs, people from different backgrounds walk in and see eye-to-eye on music. It’s a “good equalizer,” Gentner said. If the same individuals showed up at a fast-food joint, it’s unlikely they’d bond over a shared love of cheeseburgers. But Electric Wizard? At a record store, that’s a built-in basis for human connection.

Collecting records is once again part of growing up. Johnsen notices Astoria’s school-age crowds enter her shop, pumped that they get to buy them. On about the same day every month, a young man comes into Doe & Arrow with money he saved up to buy a record he really wanted (recently it was Bon Iver’s “22, A Million”). “That just wins my day,” Johnsen said.

Though demoted from staple to specialty item, vinyl albums never really went away; they just lay low.

There are perks to having your music take up physical space in the world: the intimate ritual of pulling the record from its sleeve, placing it on a turntable, dropping the needle and exploring the terrain of a full album.

Antique stores, resale stores and thrift shops often have record racks amid their miscellany. Here are some local options:

Commercial Street Antiques & Collectibles

969 Commercial St., Astoria, Oregon

Phog Bounder’s Antique Mall

892 Marine Drive, Astoria, Oregon

Old Things & Objects

1015 Commercial St., Astoria, Oregon

Rag & Bone Thrift Shop

1011 7th Ave., Seaside, Oregon

Seaside Antique Mall

726 Broadway St., Seaside, Oregon

Spay & Neuter Thrift Shop

600 Broadway St., Seaside, Oregon

CARTM

34995 Nacarney Road, Manzanita, Oregon

Record Round-up

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian
Tim Fleming poses for a photo with some of his vinyl selection at Bach ’N Rock in Astoria.

Bach ’n Rock

1606 Marine Drive, Astoria, Oregon

A place to dig into older and esoteric music, Bach ’N Rock has thousands of new and used records in every genre, some of which were released more than a century ago. Their vast music collection also includes several thousand cassette tapes and other formats. They think of themselves as a music-and-movies store, carry odds and ends, and offer other services (Tim Fleming repairs and rebuilds instruments, for example). The store supports their nonprofit, Spay & Neuter Humane Association of Clatsop County, the oldest no-kill animal sanctuary in this part of Oregon.

Christie’s Mallternative

1167 Marine Drive, Astoria, Oregon

A music shop with a healthy selection of mostly used records in back. This buy-sell-trade store also carries instruments (including a lot of guitars), stereo equipment, furniture, VHS, and video games.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian
Commercial Astoria offers a wide range of items including a selection of vinyl.

Commercial Astoria

1269 Commercial St., Astoria, Oregon

The record room houses a carefully curated vinyl collection with a broad selection, from classic rock to new wave to soundtracks. Greg Glover owns the shop with his wife, Alana Jevert-Glover, who is responsible for the front of the store with gifts, jewelry, accessories, and new and vintage clothing.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian
Chelsea Johnsen thumbs through some of the records for sale at Doe and Arrow in downtown Astoria.

Doe & Arrow

380 14th St., Astoria, Oregon

Doe & Arrow follows a similar model: a women and men’s clothing shop featuring new and vintage wear, plus jewelry, home goods (candles, incense, Southwest-style blankets), and an eclectic variety of mostly new vinyl records ranging from punk and jazz to indie folk and hip-hop.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian
The selection of vinyl at Metalhead in downtown Astoria is of a very specific genre of music.

Metal Head

1126 Marine Drive, Astoria, Oregon

A store that specializes in all things metal. Death metal and heavy metal are represented, but so are metal’s progenitors and progeny: ’60s hard rock, psychedelia, and subgenres, such as doom metal, speed metal, stoner rock, and thrash. The store also sells collectible objects, including fantasy art, paintings, toys, cassettes, and clothing.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian
Richard Moore of Play It Again in Gearhart poses for a photo among a few of the 300,000 records in his collection.

Play It Again

1140 G St., Gearhart, Oregon

A warehouse of records off U.S. Highway 101. Owner Richard Moore (who moonlights as an Elvis impersonator) said he has about 80,000 records in the building now, arranged on towering pallet shelves. (For his full collection, he says he stopped counting at 300,000.) “You have to have something for everybody,” he said. His most popular LPs are the “glue-sniffing, head-banging stuff,” he said. He has assorted other items, including VHS, 8-track, and reel-to-reel.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian
Michael’s Music in Cannon Beach sells instruments and other musical supplies in addition to vinyl.

Michael’s Music

1347 Hemlock St., Cannon Beach, Oregon

This music store carries a collection of about 100 records, and is poised to expand its selection of new ones. The store sells instruments, including a lot of guitars and ukuleles, and accessories for professional musicians: sheet music, instructional books, stereo equipment, amps, and PAs. Michael Corry, an accomplished local musician, also gives music lessons.

James Kosharek
Nehalem Music & Game

Nehalem Music & Game

35990 North U.S. Highway 101, Nehalem, Oregon

Nehalem Music & Game carries a full line of music media and instruments: about 2,000 vinyl albums, another 2,000 or so CDs, plus a couple hundred cassettes — and retro video games to boot. The store has many genres but specializes in hard rock and metal. Turntables, amps, and CD players are on offer. They also sell fanfare: shirts, patches, stickers, music magazines and rock history books. Kosharek, a bassist by trade, plans to launch his new record label for local hard-edged bands, Bandageman Records, later this year. He owns the store with his wife, Krysta Kosharek.