Independent Retail

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Independent Retail
Your dealer takes mastercard -- how the small fry battle the big boys at their own game.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Having lived through a lifetime of paved paradise, put up a big box everywhere, it-s nice to see a return to the ideology that small is beautiful. Though the large retail chains still dominate the sale of all things Usher, Beyonce and brother Ray, independent retail has chosen to fight for survival on its own terms. And though the final results are not in, it would appear that many of the indy and small music chains are not just keeping the lights on - some of them are actually thriving.

Just in my neighborhood, two large music chain stores, were poised directly across the street from each other in a mindless game of consumer faceoff. Most recently, they-ve both closed their doors. I used to walk into those stores just to remind myself what not to do in business. Every aspect of the vitality, vision and fortitude that music injects into people-s lives was stripped away. There was no no jibe and no rhythm. It was the essence of white noise.

Most record stores sell the same prepackaged cds so why, you might ask, should the esthetics of a store be so important?

Turns out, a lot of Americans don-t wanna buy music from just anyone. They know that their spending dollars vote every time they make a purchase, and they want their votes saying, give me an experience I can remember.

The small music retailer understands the distinction, and the best stores will offer a unique experience. But what-s really interesting, is how the whole interpretation of the independent retailer has changed dramatically in the last five years.

Independent music retailers around the country have united with their limited strength, and created coalitions of significant impact. These coalitions, have a combined coolness factor, creating a nationally recognized network of small indy stores and chains. Labels and bands are applauding and are creating exclusive releases, just for them.

Back in the 90-s, when Target and Best Buy made side deals with labels for exclusive recordings, every other retailer was out of luck. Fighting back, the indie coalition stores asked and got artists to deliver special limited-edition CD's, only available at coalition stores. Artists like Joseph Arthur, Rilo Kiley, Daniel Lanois, Nick Lowe, Interpol, Blonde Redhead, Iron and Wine, PJ Harvey, Chris Stamey and Yo Lo Tengo, John Mayer, DJ Shadow, The Pixes and yes, even Elvis Presley all have special limited editions of music, now available only at indie retail.

In another stunning example of a continuing shifting tide at retail, recording artists championed the cause even further. Late last year, Green Day, Simple Plan and The Donnas all recorded 30-second TV spots, urging their fanbase to shop at local independent retail, to help support the folks that helped them get where they are today. The labels paid to make the spots, and the indie stores paid to air them.

In an age of mass corporate conglomertization and over population, it-s highly refreshing to see that the small music retailer is returning to be known as the dialed in local hero. All I can say is, Amen.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.