Premium Sound, the small record store that could close shop


Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

Here we are in 2022, a year when it’s hard to make sense of things, so of course a little vinyl record store in east Charlotte is closing because business is going too well.

What is happening: Luke Stemmerman’s Premium Sound store inside Tip Top Market made its final sale this week amid its best year financially.

  • The independent bookstore she shared a space with, I’ve Read it in Books, was also packed up and closed.
  • Tip Top, the casual market offering craft beer, wine and local produce, is thankfully still open.

Why is it important: Still, for regulars like me, the changes hit like a hard scratch in our favorite track.

  • The combination of Tip Top + Premium Sound + I’ve Read it in Books – three independent companies sharing the same space – gave us the divine trinity of music, books and beer.
  • It was a communal space where you could spend an hour browsing alone in peace and quiet, because everything you browsed had something to say.

Yes, but: It’s not a funeral. Stemmerman will still sell records in popups and in small boxes organized at breweries and other businesses. You might see Premium Sound at flea markets. He wants to find ways to create parties around vinyl shopping, with DJs and beer. Follow Premium Sound’s social media to see where it lines up next.

  • It’s not closing the physical version of the record store because the music is dead. He shuts it up because he couldn’t keep up and wanted to get some of his life back.

By the numbers: There is an art to doing good business; success is determined by more than just numbers. But numbers still matter, so here they are:

  • When Stemmerman opened Premium Sound at Tip Top just over four years ago, he says he struggled to generate $1,000 a month in sales.
  • This year, he cleared $25,000 a month.
  • Yes, in the archives.

The big picture: What was just hipster stuff in the 2000s and early 2010s has become mainstream today, as record sales have skyrocketed.

  • In 2021, US record sales topped $1 billion for the first time since 1985, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
US Vinyl Sales Chart 1973 - 2021

Data: RIAA; Graphic: Axios Visuals

So why, So would Stemmerman shut down a record store in this economy?

His costs kept rising along with his income, and he never quite reached a point where he could quit his day job at Mood Media. So he worked 80 hours a week and he knew that if he wanted to get his life back together, he would have to hire employees.

  • And that felt like over-complicating things with his first love, music.

Past: As a teenager growing up in the college town of Lawrence, Kansas, he spent most days at a local store called Love Garden Sounds. He’s 43 now, so that was the 1990s, the heyday of CDs, and when records were left for dead.

  • But dance, hip-hop, punk and indie continued to squeeze vinyl. Mainly hip hop. DJs from all over the country spun and spun. New artists used cheap records no one wanted anymore as a backdrop for new beats, and in doing so they unearthed forgotten music from the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Stemmerman loved all of these genres and collected as many as he could.
  • One disc led to another, and soon he had thousands, at a time when most of his peers rode with CD cases strapped around their sun visors.
  • He took over the collection when he moved to Chicago and then, in 2005, to Charlotte. When the movers showed up, he told them to put everything in their truck except the files. He and a friend drove them separately in his air-conditioned Mitsubishi SUV.

Reality check: Stemmerman will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t fit the corporate culture that sits on the Charlotte surface. He does not pass interviews well in banks, does not like shirts and ties very much.

  • As he neared middle age, he began to ask himself, “Why do successful people succeed?”
  • And soon he replied, “Because they do things they’re good at, things they know about.”

“That’s when I realized that flipping through files, knowing what’s good and being able to talk about it is a skill that I probably have better than a lot of other people,” he says. .

He also thought selling records would help him get rid of the clutter. So he started doing popups all over town, selling tracks from his musical journey. But a funny thing happens to people who sell records well – other people start selling their records, hoping to unload their own collections.

  • Stemmerman bought the ones he liked, sold a few more, and soon the popups were so popular that one of the Tip Top Market owners asked if he wanted a permanent place. It opened in April 2018.
  • During the pandemic closings, Tip Top was able to stay open because it is essentially a convenience store, which made it essential. And since there was no door between Tip Top and Premium Sound, the record store remained open.

How it worked: He’s a human Pandora. People tell him what they like — mostly the famous stuff, “like Taylor Swift or whatever,” he says, — and he can direct them to someone else along those lines.

He also has another skill: he does not judge. He walks into a record store is intimidating to newcomers.

“There’s a stigma with independent record stores that most people starting out expect to be judged,” he says. “You think the people working on the other side of the counter are snobby snobs who think they know more than you do.

  • “I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be felt in my store.”

My thought bubble: It never was.

i know it’s silly mourning a record store that has been open for less than five years. It’s not exactly like Ernest Tubb’s record store in Nashville, which my colleagues at Axios Nashville announced was closing after 71 years.

  • But every year on my last two birthdays, I’d spend about an hour at Tip Top and Premium Sound, wandering around with an afternoon beer surrounded by songs that will outlive me, whatever format they take. .
  • I will miss the Premium sound, I think I will see it again.

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