If I had to make up a word to describe Paul Smith, owner of RecordSmith in Mechanicsburg, it would be “vinylphile.”
The music aficionado bubbles over with enthusiasm when speaking of his favorite music medium—vinyl records—and he is eager to share that zeal with the many customers who frequent his small shop located on N. Market Street.
Smith, who also works in furniture restoration, runs the operation with the help of manager Dan Blacker, a friend and fellow music lover.
The Mechanicsburg resident is no stranger to the industry, having dabbled in the record business prior to opening the brick-and-mortar store in 2010. Previously, he ran an online store and sold records in a couple of antique malls.
“I also worked in radio for eight years and wanted to be a little more hands-on,” he said. “I suppose I have a bit of a rebel spirit about me.”
His work in radio likely served him well in predicting when such a business model would be viable. According to an article in Forbes magazine, vinyl sales began surging in 2010, at an average year-over-year rate in the 30 to 40 percent range. Though, for Smith, it’s also a labor of love.
“I do this because I love music,” he said.
And it shows, as his friendliness and in-depth knowledge have earned him a loyal following.
Today, Smith’s inventory is somewhere in the range of 4,000 mostly used records, with more in storage, although he does carry a few new here and there.
“They’ve gotten so expensive though,” he said. “Adele came out with vinyl, and it was selling for $27.98. They do themselves a disservice by starting out with a high base price. It hurts business in the long run.”
According to Smith, the vinyl resurgence started in college towns because that’s what kids could afford. Over time, more and more people became nostalgic as CDs started to die and digital downloads became popular.
“In a way, it was a divergence,” Smith said.
For the avid record collector, there’s a bit of a reverence for the tactile permanence of it all, and it’s not hard to find more than a few who are willing to comment on their devotion to the medium.
Those who remember the shops Sight & Sound and Music Fair may have purchased a few records from Jim Gordon, who worked as a manager at both locations in the Harrisburg area. These days, Gordon plays in the band, Jump the Gun, and continues to add to his collection of vinyl.
“I love the package, the cover art, the readable content,” said the Harrisburg resident. “Listening to it is an experience, and the quality of downloads doesn’t nearly match that of vinyl.”
Smith caters to a diverse demographic that spans decades.
“I’d guess the average age ranges are between 20 and 60,” he said, with a laugh. “There’s a bit of a novelty aspect to it. It’s kind of the newest thing for the younger generation, and it’s almost a counter-reaction to digital downloads.”
He likens streaming to renting music.
“With streaming, there is something missing there,” he said. “For the record collector, it’s somewhat of a tribal thing. There is a bit of a formality to it.”
Customer Fred Trout, Jr., has been patronizing the store for about three years and said he enjoys browsing the large selection, the shop’s welcoming, hometown feel and chatting with Smith.
“Paul always takes time out of his busy schedule to talk and share his knowledge of the music industry,” he said.
Trout added that he likes the personalized service and the fact that Smith is knowledgeable about the artists and willing to play various tracks for the curious.
“All genres of music are on display when you walk through the door, from Loretta Lynn to Led Zeppelin to today’s artists like Adele and The 1975,” he said. “He even carries a nice collection of CDs, for those who are interested.”
Another draw for RecordSmith customers are the live performances on the small stage at the front of the store. Trout said he makes it a point to attend the shows on First Fridays, the borough’s monthly arts walk. The musicians seem to appreciate the opportunity, as well.
“I feel that two things would survive if there were ever a nuclear fallout—cockroaches and RecordSmith,” said Manian Van Hacker, a Harrisburg-based singer/songwriter.
He called Paul a “rock star” for supporting the local music scene.
“He and Dan have opened their establishment to me so many times and have given me a stage to share my truth to those who would listen,” he said.
Colby Dove of Carlisle is another a singer/songwriter who has enjoyed performing at RecordSmith.
“I love the fact that Paul and Dan provide us with an intimate venue that allows us to play while surrounded by the history and legends of music captured on vinyl,” he said.
As for Smith, he’s in it for the long haul, even if vinyl sales start slowing.
“Hey, if it starts slowing down, the big box stores will quit carrying vinyl, and we’ll get some of that business,” he said. “But, right now, we’re going to continue riding the wave and see how long it goes.”
RecordSmith is located at 16 N. Market St., Mechanicsburg. For more information, call 717-713-1636 or visit www.recordsmithpa.com or the Facebook page: RecordSmith.