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Updated: May 13, 2024 Focus on Small Business

Maine’s vintage record sellers thrive on the chase of finding vinyl treasures

Photo / Tim Greenway Mike Breton, owner of Electric Buddhas, a record store at 556 Congress St. in Portland.

There is nothing like walking into a record store and seeing the shelves and rows of different vinyls just waiting to be gone through.

The excitement peaks when one store may have the Def Leppard “Pyromania” vinyl you're after, and the other has the Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” album that you’ve searched high and low for.

As soon as you step foot into Electric Buddhas, you are immersed into another world of everything retro.

You are greeted by the owner, Mike Breton, who is cashing out customers at his tiki-inspired cash register stand surrounded by a wide variety of things — everything from a “Godzilla” poster to albums to old video game systems, cassettes and VHS tapes.

There are rows and rows of different albums to file through, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Elvis to Duran Duran. There’s a range of rock and roll, country, R&B, jazz, classical, hip-hop and everything in between.

Like many vinyl lovers, Breton’s obsession with records started in the late 1980s, while browsing a Portland record store called End of the Rainbow, which used to be on Oak Street.

“For some reason, I was enthralled by it. I didn’t grow up with my parents listening to music,” says Breton. “I think they had records, but we weren’t really a musical family. A short time later, at a yard sale, I found my first turntable, some records, and a stereo, got it hooked up, and that was it.”

Breton later graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in advertising. “It was what I was supposed to do when I grew up,” he says.

But in the back of his mind, he had never forgotten that first record store that he had been blown away by.

“I said, ‘Screw it. I am not going to do what I am supposed to do. I am going to max out my credit cards and start a shop,’” Breton recalls.

He opened Electric Buddhas in 1991 at the base of Munjoy Hill and has since moved around a bit. He started the store with his own record collection, but now he puts out the feelers and sees what he can get.

“With vinyl’s current popularity, it’s more challenging than ever to find quality collections,” says Breton.

Photo / Tim Greenway
People shop for vinyl records at Electric Buddhas in Portland.

Breton says that vinyls have made people start to slow down in a fast-paced world where everything is quick and right at your fingertips. Listening to records means sitting and listening to one side of the album, and then you have to get up and flip it, unlike listening to music streaming services, which offer instant gratification.

“It is a real, tangible item; I guess the buzzword is physical media,” says Breton. “When you listen to streaming music, you are like, ‘Alexa, play the White Stripes,’ and you are disconnected from that. Yeah, you get the music, but it’s not really something that you’re intimately connected to. There is an isolation with that.”

“With a record, you are involved,” he continues. “You have the physical record itself, you have the artwork, you have the liner notes, and it kind of forces you to listen; that is what you are doing; it’s not like you’re doing it in the background.

"You really have to pay attention and be present. I mean, put the disk on the player, drop the needle, and listen. I think just that alone is extremely novel, especially to those who have grown up with the lack of physical media and the fact that it is intimate and real. You are connected to the spiritual aspect of listening to music.”

A new generation

If you thought vinyl records were so 1970s and 1980s, you’re wrong because vinyl records are back. Of course, vinyl never truly went away. It’s outlived the iPod, cassettes and now CDs. A whole new generation is discovering vinyl, and it’s easier to buy records and get into the hobby.

While music fans may love the immediacy of streaming music, that hasn’t stopped them from mainstreaming vinyl records.

A simple Google search will unveil the treasure trove of record stores in your vicinity. The beauty of independent shops lies in their individuality. Each store boasts a distinct inventory, offering a thrilling opportunity to unearth rare records that are a challenge to find online.

These shops occasionally boast their own exclusive pressing of an album, a true collector’s dream. They might even surprise you with promotional singles or posters accompanying the first pressings of an album.

Breton told Mainebiz that his brick-and-mortar has patrons of various ages and generations, but he has seen the younger generation start to show more interest in records.

“Record collecting can be a little addicting,” says Breton. “When you start, you’re like, I might find that special thing I have been looking for if I hit the store now. Vinyl is so popular now.

"Certain popular, desirable, sometimes hard-to-find records don’t last long at all; they can sell almost immediately, so you’ll get the people coming in hoping to hit you at the right time just to find that special something before someone else does.”

Sales growing

The industry’s total vinyl album sales for 2023, across all artists in the U.S., finished at 49.6 million records — up 14.2% from 43.5 million in 2022. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, sales of vinyl records totaled $1.4 billion in 2023. For the second time since 1987, sales of vinyl records surpassed those of CDs.

While Taylor Swift may be known for her Eras Tour, which broke the Billboard charts, she also ranks as the best-selling musician on vinyl in 2023. According to Billboard, Swift was responsible for 7% of all vinyl records sold in the U.S. in 2023. On her own, she sold almost 3.5 million vinyl albums.

Swift is also creating a new art form with her vinyls.

Each record is a unique color representing the album and the color scheme. When Swift released her “Midnights” album in 2022, she announced she would be releasing special edition vinyl. Fans could buy the vinyl editions in jade green, blood moon or the mahogany.

“Taylor Swift has figured out how to make records more fun,” says Chris Brown, vice president of finance at Bull Moose and the creator of Record Store Day. “Everyone remembers the first record they bought, and Taylor Swift is making it special for the new generation who are buying her record as the first vinyl to their collection. And that is what I am extremely excited about.”

A day for vinyl

Record Store Day is celebrated around the world, but its inventor, Brown of Bull Moose, is located in Maine.

Held on one Saturday every April and every Black Friday in November, the day brings together fans, artists and thousands of independent record stores worldwide.

Brown suggested the idea in 2007 at a conference in San Diego to help community record stores stay afloat.

“A lot of chain stores were closing at the time while independent stores were growing,” says Brown. “I wanted to let people know that there was probably a record store near them. Record Store Day was a huge success when it first started and a lot of fun.

“Record Store Day helped share how fun it is to listen to records and I think it is going super well,” he adds.

Record Store Day has grown into an international event and hundreds of stores participate in Record Store Day.

Finding vinyl in the 2000s

Nick Robles, co-owner of Moody Lords Vinyl/Vintage record and clothing store on Portland’s Congress Street, started his record collection in 1999 or 2000. He noticed that Bull Moose in Portsmouth, N.H., had a vinyl record by an indie rock band that he liked called the Get Up Kids.

“I didn’t have a turntable yet, but I was surprised and fascinated that records were still being manufactured, so I bought it anyway,” says Robles.

“After high school, I worked as a projectionist for years,” he continues. “I still bought records, but I occasionally sold or traded from my collection to local stores if money was tight or to lighten the load.”

In the late 2000s, he started advertising on Craigslist that he would buy record collections. To make it easier to find rare records for cheap, he discovered that he could also make decent money selling the stuff he no longer wanted.

While picking through records at a thrift store, Robles met his now-business partner, Andrew Chang. Chang started Moody Lords in 2010, and Robles decided to join the business.

Photo / Tim Greenway
Nick Robles is co-owner of Moody Lords Vinyl/Vintage, a record and clothing store on Portland’s Congress Street.

Moody Lords, now co-owned by Robles, Chang and Morgan Newell, is one of more than a dozen stores in Maine selling new or used vinyl records. More than half a dozen of those are in Portland.

“Since then, we have developed a reputation for paying fair prices for record collections, so we get calls or walk-ins frequently,” says Robles.

Moody Lords, whose annual sales are in the low six figures, has a variety of customers, some of whom have been collecting for years, some searching out expensive rarities, and folks of all ages just getting into creating their own vinyl collections.

“Another customer worked at a record store across the street from us decades ago, and he almost always reaches us on bicycle, even in winter,” says Robles. “We have also consistently had numerous DJs visit us, some of whom travel quite far to buy soul records to play live.”

“There is one customer who used to shop at a store called Recordland, which was located decades ago just about where we are now,” he continues. “He is extremely passionate about Beatles records and 45 [rpm record] picture sleeves for the cover art band photos and the record does not have to be present.”

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