CLINTON — Tre'Mere Hansen spent many hours at Co-op Records in downtown Clinton long before he was hired for what he calls his dream job there at the age of 17.
Standing behind the cash register, surrounded by posters, albums and memorabilia, Hansen recently recalled how he was introduced to the store as a pre-teen.
"It was right by the bus stop," Hansen said. "I would look at magazines and comics or listen to music while I waited."
But as Hansen grew up, music formats changed. CD sales plunged and downloads, legal and illegal, threatened to put an end to physical music sales. Then people started to miss some of the aspects of music-listening habits that digital songs and albums do not provide.
Hansen noticed that his friends were buying albums on vinyl and talking about how great they sounded. They would discuss the cover artwork, which is not as easy to appreciate on CD cases or digital albums. They started to pay more attention to the vinyl vault at the back of the store.
According to sales figures released in March by the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl album revenues in 2015 reached $416 million, the highest levels since 1988. That is more revenue than was generated for the year in ad-supported streaming music. Those numbers also account for 20.6 percent of physical album sales. CDs account for the remaining 79.4 percent. These figures measure new music sales only.
According to Co-Op Records owner Rick Yates, new vinyl sales account for a small number of his total vinyl sales, but demand is increasing for the format across the board.
Yates took over Co-op Records Clinton in 2000 at a time when sales numbers for vinyl were dismal. A few years later, CDs appeared to be headed in the same direction.
"Five or six years ago, downloading was dominant and record stores were closing left and right," Yates said. "We somehow survived. Then vinyl began to make a comeback and illegal downloading became more difficult."
RIAA sales figures from 2015 show that the top 10 best-selling vinyl albums include a mix of contemporary artists such as Adele and Alabama Shakes and classic albums such as Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and The Beatles' "Abbey Road." Yates has witnessed the appeal vinyl has across generations and genres.
"My two biggest selling albums are Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" and The Eagles' "Hotel California," Yates said. "I can't keep those in stock. Young people are buying those."
Yates has ordered new copies of those albums in the past, but the used copies sell faster. He believes it has to do with the lower price for used albums and the unique popping and hissing sounds resulting from use. While traditionally seen as undesirable by collectors, Yates believes many younger buyers now prefer albums with those sound artifacts.
Despite the increase in sales, summer is a slow time of year in the shop. It is possible to be there for an hour and not make a sale or see a customer.
"Summers are always brutally slow," Yates said. "People aren't in the local shopping mood." He added that when the weather gets cooler and people aren't leaving town on vacation, business picks up. The store's biggest day of the year is always the spring Record Store Day. Although there are currently two Record Store Day events throughout the year, the one in April is always much bigger than the one on Black Friday.
Both events are for independent record stores only, and many artists release special singles and albums exclusively for independent record stores throughout the country.
"Record Store Day 2016 was really good," Yates said. "For the second year, we put used vinyl on sale and sold a ton of that on top of the exclusive titles."
In addition to selling vinyl, CDs and cassettes, Co-op Records sells movies, collectibles and magazines. Hansen recalls being impressed with the variety when he was younger. He also decided it was a place where he would love to work, and began asking Yates to hire him when he was 13. He continued to ask for four years until a position opened up.
"I get asked about job openings here a lot," Yates said.
For Hansen, working at Co-op Records led him to try out vinyl for himself.
"I have a really bad record player that I got for free," Hansen said. "I started working here and a lot of people were buying vinyl. I wanted to find out why so I tried some albums and they sounded better even on my player."