Exit the interstate just north of downtown St. Petersburg, Florida; take a few turns until you’re on a dead-end street in a lifeless commercial zone; climb the rickety metal steps to the second floor of the nondescript, two-story brick building; enter the forest green door into a 3,000-square-foot space crammed with floor to ceiling shelves and you’re in it: Bananas Music’s Vinyl Warehouse, the largest collection of vinyl records in the world.
The dusty space with its circa 1980 decor doesn’t appear like much, but contained within the building are more than just the approximately 3 million records prized by audiophiles the world over. Bananas also preserves a century-old aural tradition threatened over the years by 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and now MP3s.
The MP3 has turned the music industry upside down. Portable players allow people to carry tens of thousands of songs in their pocket. Brick and mortar stores are obsolete in favor of online ordering. Buyers no longer have to buy an entire album just to get the one song they like, so artists are more inclined to create a collection of unrelated singles rather than a unified record. And record companies spend less on album artwork that buyers now only glance at on a screen.
Yet despite–or perhaps because–all the changes incurred by the MP3, vinyl records have endured–and even thrived. There are a number of reasons for this. Some say vinyl gives off a “warmer” sound than the sterile MP3s. Others feel a deeper connection to the record when its tangible and they are more involved in the playing process (place on turntable, set down needle, flip over when side is done playing, etc.). The large liner notes and sleeves that come with LPs provide listeners with a visual experience as well. Then there are those who buy vinyl because it’s the trendy thing to do.
Last year was the best for sales of new vinyl records since numbers were kept beginning in 1991. (CD sales continue to nosedive and MP3 sales are flat.) Though vinyl makes up a fraction of music sales, more and more artists are releasing on the format and then give the vinyl buyers the option to download the digital version at no additional charge.
Inside Bananas, I put the store to the T. Rex test. I use the 1970s English glam rock band to determine the breadth of a record store’s collection, because T. Rex has indie cred with today’s tastemakers, yet my middle-aged brother-in-law likes them, so they can’t be that cool. The results? Forty-seven T. Rex records. A-plus.
A record store can’t really call itself a record store without at least a few Beatles LPs. Bananas has hundreds, including about a dozen copies of each major release.