How do you listen to music?
A few decades ago, it would be commonplace to have a collection of eight-tracks or cassettes with all the best tunes. More recently, CDs were the way to go, and many people still hold onto their favorite digital music discs. The most popular digital music methods of the modern era are streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music or downloadable files that allow one to carry thousands of songs in their back pocket.
Some listen to their music digitally, and some listen to vinyl. Despite the popularity of digital, Tucson has a strong vinyl record community. The love for the format has brought collectors out of the woodwork and caused shops to open all over town. From the Zia Record Exchange chain to independent shops like Wooden Tooth Records and Old Paint Records, the passion for vinyl is strong in Tucson.
“In a world where things seem to get more and more digital and more and more minimalized every day, it’s cool to sit down with a vinyl record,” said Billy Englert, the Zia Records Tucson store manager. “I think it’s a more active way to listen to music.”
Zia has storefronts in Phoenix and Las Vegas in addition to their Tucson location. The Tucson shop has been around since 1992 and has ridden out all the market changes and fluctuations in vinyl interest.
Many record stores in town have a large stock of used vinyl provided by the numerous resell customers, but some feature new records. Zia has a particularly large stock with reissues and remasters of iconic albums, previously unreleased tracks and new albums from current bands.
With so much variety among the record stores in town, their clientele spans all generations, backgrounds and tastes.
“You’ll see families come in,” Englert said. “You’ll have grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, young kids and all of them are digging around in the vinyl section.”
Kellen Fortier, co-owner of Wooden Tooth Records, said Tucson Magnet High School students from down the street and collectors in their 60s are just some of the customers who visit the shop on a typical day.
Like the students who are now his customers, Fortier discovered his love for records as a teenager when he began listening to his mother’s collection. After his uncle gave him his first record, Fortier was hooked.
Two years ago, Fortier and his co-owner, Jacob Sullivan, decided to turn their passion into a business and have been a staple in the vinyl community ever since. While every story is unique, each record store owner shares a passion for the medium. Having a store where they can buy and sell those records gives them a place to share their love of music with others and perpetuate the vinyl they treasure.
“My favorite thing is just talking about music with people, nerding out about stuff,” said Lana Rebel, one of the owners of Old Paint Records.
Rebel said one of the regulars to the shop is a lover of James Brown and '60s soul music, which is something Rebel and her co-owner, Kevin Mayfield, have in common.
“He’s one of the only people that we can just sit here and riff about stuff with,” Rebel said. “It’s so fun to be like, ‘Oh my god, that record’s amazing’ and ‘did you hear that one song because it’s so good.’”
Currently located in the Old Town Artisans plaza, Old Paint opened three years ago after Rebel and Mayfield noticed the lack of independent record stores in Tucson and decided to take the matter into their own hands.
The vinyl community continued to grow after Old Paint’s opening. PDQ Records reopened, Wooden Tooth was established, Desert Island opened their doors and countless second-hand shops in town now have vinyl sections.
There are even groups like Lathe Cuts, a co-op record cutting group that custom-cuts records for bands from around the world. Some of their projects, like Bailey Moses’ lathe-cut record zines, can be found at some of the shops in town.
“Everyone’s kind of back into vinyl or just into vinyl depending on your age,” Fortier said. “You have something to hold and look at, and with the physical act of switching the sides, it just feels good, and I think people have caught onto that.”
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