For almost ten years, Vinyl Conflict Records has been the bastion of all things heavy in Richmond. Opening long before the vinyl resurgence of recent years, visiting the store is a timeless experience where you can meet friends, find out about shows, talk with the staff about new/old bands and have a real connection with the brick and mortar space where you buy your music.
For the past three years, the shop has broken off from the nationwide Record Store Day festivities to create their own event, Customer Appreciation Day. Last year, Iron Reagan and Down to Nothing played in the parking lot adjacent to the store alongside a plethora of businesses and carnival games to create a truly unique experience centered equally on music and community at large.
Shop owner Bobby Egger spoke with us about what its like running a record shop in 2017, why he split off from Record Store Day and what to look forward to at this year’s Customer Appreciation Day.
When did you first start buying records? Do you remember a certain purchase or period of your life when vinyl and other physical media started to have a lot of meaning to you?
I started buying records in my early teens, mostly from thrift shops, and listening to my parents’ collection. I started really collecting when I started going to hardcore shows. I would buy vinyl from any band that has them for sale, which wasn’t super common at the time (2001-2002).
I think the thing that really got me addicted was the first show where I brought a box of 7″s to unload. I had just a bunch of stuff I didn’t care as much about, so I put them out for sale at various prices. I ended up making a decent amount of money and at the end of the show, the touring band approached me about selling copies of their record along with my used records. So I did that, and it went from there. I was selling whatever records I wasn’t into anymore and purchasing records off touring bands whenever I saw someone I liked that had a record for sale. I was going to shows in Richmond, all over northern Virginia, DC, Maryland and I had quite the mix of stuff after a while.
When did you start working at Vinyl Conflict? And how did you end up inheriting the store from the original owners, Lauren and Brandon?
The shop opened in 2008 and it was the only other shop in town other than Plan 9. Since then many other shops have opened. I was working at the store when the previous owners (Lauren and Brandon) found out they were going to have twins, they made the decision to move and be closer to family. I was offered the shop, I had no idea what I was doing, but we arranged something that worked for both of us and I took over in 2012.
I’ve done my best to keep the ideals of the shop the same, while trying to grow and expand all the media in the shop. We currently have the largest amount of vinyl, tapes and cd’s that the shop’s ever had. I’ve attempted to increase our metal and hardcore selections as much as possible.
When did you start pressing records of your own as Vinyl Conflict the label? How does running a label relate to the store and your overall interest in tapes and vinyl?
The shop label has been active since 2013 when we released our first 3 records. Although not to confuse Brandon did release an LP and a couple 7″s under the shop’s name.
A lot of the titles we stock in the store are from newer contemporary punk bands trying to get their names out there. So the shop label is just essentially that. I also book shows, so quickly I was seeing local bands that I really thought deserved to have records and get more exposure. For the most part being able to release records for locals has really helped these bands get out there make some money and a name for themselves.
In years past, the record store would act as a sort of hub of all things music in a town. You’d learn about new bands, find out about shows and really develop a taste and identity based on who worked in the shop and the conversations held there. Do you think that the role of record store has changed since people rely so heavily on social media and online shopping?
The role of the record store is and always will be that. Sadly in recent years I don’t think people are above that, but I think they’ve never been exposed to it. You don’t necessarily need that to find out about bands anymore, you can use social media. I do think however there is a certain amount of quality control that is lacking with social media. Also it’s very fast moving. I can’t tell you the amount of Bandcamps I’ve listened to off a link, and I can’t reference it again.
What about those days do you try to preserve in your shop?
I try to be as inviting as possible to anyone who’s willing to wander in. People my age and older know the deal, most people aren’t buying the physical format at all anymore. So with younger people it’s really make or break to show them an inviting and nurturing atmosphere. The most common thing I’m told is “I don’t know what 90% of these bands in here are” and my response is always, “Well, where should we start?” Digital is great in the sense that I can preview literally anything in here with out having to open a sealed item, or I can sample a load of stuff for someone without having to pull inventory out from everywhere.
Beyond your own taste, why do think its important for Richmond to have a record store that focuses on punk, hardcore, metal, etc.?
Underground music is already semi-risky for music shops to carry. Often it’s just mixed amongst the shelves or has its own little row just of whatever is in stock. Flyers are mixed in with other flyers for kung fu studios, new coffee shop flyers and flea market flyers. Being able to have everything here curated allows people to know that they can swing by the shop and know they can find out about a dozen or so shows that are actually in their interest realm. Customers can dig the shelves looking through metal/punk records and find something they’ve been searching for or something new rather than scouring hundreds of records hoping to find a punk record. Also I’ve seen so many people meet in here that went on to start bands, house show spots and so much more.
It is no secret that Record Store Day elicits mixed feelings for many independent shop owners, especially as its grown over the years. What made you decide to ditch RSD?
Initially the thing that really bummed us out about RSD was that the amount of titles that were relevant to us in the catalog was really not all that much. It causes this mad dash to find your items in-and-out and on to the next store until you find all your prized items. The idea is to bring attention to the physical record store. I could write a novel on what sucks about RSD, but there are plenty of well-written articles on the topic.
The true nail in the coffin for us was one of our best distributors cut us off for not signing a pledge which limited the hours, prices and other factors of the event. I could go on for way too long about my issues with the event but a short list would include: backs up pressing plants, poor fill rate for items, not being aware of what you in fact are getting from your pre-orders you have to place months in advance, price gouging, most of the items get repressed after, no returns, priority given to larger stores, and quality control.
How has your counter-event, Customer Appreciation Day, evolved over the past three years?
It started off as just an anti-RSD event where we chose not to carry their titles, but instead picked up limited releases from DIY labels, had limited edition merch and put out a couple collections.
We also like to have other local businesses participate with us. In past years we had 821 Cafe do a menu take over with band puns, Hold It Down Tattoo did flash sheet tattoos for us.
Last year Rest In Pieces set up some morbid carnival games. But this year we are doing the event in conjunction with them as they moved over to Laurel St. and became our neighbors!
What does CAD mean to you as a shop owner? What do you hope your friends and regulars get out of the experience?
I would like CAD to be something fun where people just come hang out with us in Oregon Hill. There’s a lot of stress and work that goes into doing a retail store, and for one day in the year, we just want to let loose and have a good time.
The planning for RSD is mental. While our event has plenty of stress involved, I know at the end of the day we’re all just going to be hanging out having a good time. The biggest thing is there’s no sales goal attached to it. Of course I hope people swing by and buy stuff, but there’s no real emphasis on having to buy a bunch of fake limited edition merchandise and rely on it selling.
We know not everyone buys records, and that’s totally fine. This is something for everyone from our most dedicated customers all the way to our neighbors who have never set foot in the store. I want people to meet each other, eat some good food, check out some bands and just hang out.
If people just spend the day on Pine St. hanging out, I’ll be stoked. If people come in and buy stuff, that’s even better.
Vinyl Conflict and Rest In Pieces present Customer Appreciation Day 2017: July 1st from 10 am to 6 pm featuring a sidewalk sale from Vinyl Conflict and Rest in Pieces, Studio 23’s Mobile Print Truck, a Mechanical Spider, Black Rabbit Tattoo flash sheets, food from Go Go Vegan Go, The Dog Wagon, Charm School and Lamplighter Roasting Co. and performances by Prisoner, Left Cross and Dark Thoughts starting at 3 pm. For more information check out the Facebook event page here