Three years ago, when Phil Machemer opened Revolver Records on Hertel Avenue, success for the new venture was far from guaranteed. Streaming services had all but decimated the world of walk-in, local music retail. In the time since Revolver opened, local stores Spiral Scratch and the last of the once-bustling Record Theatre stores closed. And though a handful of local record stores specializing in used vinyl – Record Baron in Kenmore, Black Dots on Grant Street and Rick’s Record Shack on Woodlawn among them – the survival of new independent music retailers in Buffalo – or anywhere, really – seemed unlikely.
And yet, on Nov. 1, Machemer and his staff will open a second shop at 831 Elmwood Ave., following the opening of the first storefront by almost three years to the day. Perhaps this whole “sound the death knell for music retailers” mantra is a bit premature after all.
“I would have never thought that in three years I’d be able to open a second location – though shortly after opening the Hertel shop, I was positive that I made the right move and that there was a place for my shop in this city,” Machemer said. “The idea has crossed my mind that I might be able to expand the Hertel shop in some way, but it was only maybe six months ago that my focus was set on the Elmwood Village.”
The new shop will perhaps remind some customers of the former record shop glories known to the Elmwood Village – New World Record and Home of the Hits, two staples of my own vinyl/CD junkie’s diet for decades, both now long gone and dearly missed. None of this is lost on Machemer, who recalled skipping school with friends to frequent those shops as a kid.
Perhaps, had the surge in vinyl sales over the past 10 years arrived a bit sooner, those stores would still be with us. But Machemer has been happy to fill the void left in the music marketplace by their absence.
“The closing of Record Theatre played a big part in my being able to open a second shop,” he said. “I certainly saw new faces and more sales come my way shortly after they announced the closing of the Main and Lafayette shop.”
What might save local music retail is the fact that collecting used and new vinyl is now a practice shared across multiple generations. While you’ll undoubtedly see males of a certain age digging through the bins at Revolver and shops like it, you’ll also find young people, and more women than the stereotype of the record collector might suggest.
“There really isn't an average customer at my shop,” Machemer said. “We see all kinds of people – young, old, male, female, folks new to collecting vinyl and folks who started their collections back in the '60s. I love so many different kinds of music and it’s just awesome to be able to interact with people every day who are passionate about the music they love.”
But what about the ever-present specter of digital streaming as a generation has grown up with the idea of mostly free, limitless music selection on a device that fits in their pocket. How do we convince them that vinyl offers a much more rewarding, immersive experience?
“Yes, digital music has hurt the sale of physical media, but there is always going to be a strong base of people who want to own a physical copy of the music they love and I think vinyl is the ultimate physical media,” Machemer said. “Vinyl is clearly not a necessity when it comes to listening to music. It’s much easier to play music digitally, and many of my customers do also listen to digital music, but there's just something about sliding a record out of the inner sleeve and holding in your hand, seeing the grooves, placing it on your turntable and dropping the needle. That cannot be replicated. It’s a welcomed inconvenience.”
Machemer hopes to entice first-time vinyl buyers by making the new location a one-stop shop for all things vinyl-related.
“My intention for the new shop is to keep the same vibe as the Hertel shop – quality vintage vinyl and nice selection of new vinyl releases. I may sprinkle in some non-vinyl gift ideas such as artwork, vinyl accessories etc. I also plan to sell some turn tables, speakers and receivers for folks looking to try vinyl for the first time.”
Prominent among Machemer’s concerns, however, is the fulfillment of a childhood dream, and the opportunity to carry on a deep Buffalo tradition.
“What a dream come true this is for me, to own a record shop on Elmwood,” Machemer said. “I was such a big fan of Home of the Hits and New World Record. I hope that I have even a fraction of an impact on the area that these shops did.