When brick-and-mortar record stores bit the dust, no one mourned their demise more than Tim Downie. As proprietor of Mars Records on Boston’s Newbury Street in the early 2000s, he was blindsided as digital downloading — seemingly overnight — made indie music shops like his obsolete. And now, no one is more surprised than Downie as vinyl continues to make a comeback. “I have always known that vinyl albums are the superior tangible music medium in sound and coolness. But I never figured they would be back,” said Downie, 54, who has resurrected Mars Records, this time as a tiny LP-crammed trove in his native downtown Plymouth. A rhythm guitarist and obsessive record collector (as well as former stereo system salesman, entertainment manager, and punk band roadie), Downie is the ultimate — and authentic — musical hipster, a curator of all things vinyl. He spoke with the Globe about why he’ll never give up the groove.
“To boldly go where no man has gone before! That’s the ‘job’ of the independent record store owner. But seriously, it requires years of knowledge to finely curate my store to [include] albums that are interesting and less common but will still sell. Vinyl record sales have been rising an average of 25 percent a year for the last six or seven years. The classic rock bands — Zeppelin, Bowie, and Pink Floyd — are all hot on vinyl, but so are the jazz greats of the ’60s, and the blues legends.
“There will always be a collectors base — including more young females collecting now — which is very cool. Vinyl is a tangible music medium; the album artwork is eye-catching, and you can listen to beautiful, uncompressed analog sound, just like it was recorded.
“I have thousands of records here, and easily the most frequent question I get is, ‘Where did you get all of these?’ People sell me their collections; I go to auctions, record fairs, thrift stores, and do house calls. Once I was at a yard sale and paid 50 cents for an obscure garage rock band called the Savages, from Bermuda. I went home, played it, and immediately thought, ‘Oh, people have to be looking for this one.’ Sure enough, I resold it for $1,300 on eBay. Some bands are more collectible than others, and these include extremely aggressive rock and roll, hardcore punk, and other underground movements — subgenres include death metal, doom metal, sludge, thrash, hair metal, and grindcore.
“I’m a self-confessed music nerd myself, a true audiophile with a $900 turntable needle that spins only the cleanest of records, no pops and clicks. I take time out every night to listen at least one side of a record; last night I listened to ESG, a punk band. And as a music purist, I am really bothered when people call records ‘vinyls’. Actually, the plural of vinyl is vinyl. When someone says ‘vinyls,’ a small piece of me dies inside every time.”
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.