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Photos by Barry Courter / Ben VanderHart looks over part of his inventory at Yellow Racker Records on Main Street.

Ben VanderHart describes himself as "kind of stubborn," so when the coronavirus pandemic hit just about a week or two after he'd signed a lease on a building on Main Street, he dove head first into opening the Yellow Racket Records store he has dreamed of owning for several years.

Like everyone else, he has had to adapt his original vision, so the coffeeshop and live music aspects of the store are on hold, and customers can't actually enter the store to browse his inventory. Instead, they can go online at yellowracketcha.com and shop. They can either have the product shipped to them, or they can drive up to the front door, text him and get the item brought out to the vehicle.

"We launched at the end of June," VanderHart said.

He hopes to open the doors later this month or in early August, but is weary of opening only to have to close because the case numbers keep rising.

The store is on East Main Street across from East Side Elementary, and the current inventory includes about 800 new-in-the-shrink-wrap records and somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 used records.

"It's always growing, and it's just been from word of mouth really. I'm almost out of cash," he joked.

People have also been buying, he said, noting that he did about $3,000 in sales in the first three weeks.

VanderHart envisions the shop as a place where people can hang out, enjoy a coffee and maybe a craft beer on special occasions and even listen to live music played by local and touring musicians who show up to perform a few songs in an intimate setting.

The 2,500-square-foot space is divided into three rooms, with the center space housing the records and few CDs he has on hand. One third will be home to chairs and couches and will be home to the lounge and stage for live performances, and the other will have check-out, the coffee bar and merchandise such as posters, T-shirts and, eventually, turntables and related items.

"I want this to be a communal space and not just a record store," he said.

The pandemic notwithstanding, VanderHart's timing in opening a vinyl record shop is good. Vinyl sales have increased each of the last 14 years, according to Billboard, and in 2019, they represented 26% of all physical sales.

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Photos by Barry Courter / Ben VanderHart opened Yellow Racket Records at 2311 E. Main St. at the end of June. It currently only offers online and pick-up sales through its website.

Vinyl accounted for an estimated 9.7 million album sales in 2018, according to an annual music consumption report from BuzzAngle. That's up about 12% from 8.6 million in 2017. Vinyl album sales accounted for 13.7% of all physical sales, up from 10% in 2017 and 8% in 2016, according to an article on Forbes.com.

The Beatles led all sales in 2019, according to Billboard, and Yellow Racket Records carries plenty of Fab Four vinyl. You'll also find copies of other classics from Marvin Gaye, Iggy Pop and the Grateful Dead, as well as newer releases from Tame Impala, Imagine Dragons, Fiona Apple and My Morning Jacket, when the vinyl becomes available later this month.

"If we don't have it, we can order it, but we try to stay up on whatever there is a buzz around," VanderHart said.

You won't find a lot of 45s, though he can order them, because the vinyl buyer today is interested in the full experience, VanderHart said. They want to enjoy the feeling of taking the LP out of the sleeve, putting it on the turntable and hearing the initial pop as the needle finds the groove. And, they want to hold the cover in their hands as they listen and read the liner notes and study the names of the backing players and sound engineers.

"Vinyl is a tactile experience," VanderHart said. "It's not just about hearing the songs."

Jesse and Melanie Feldman, who own Rust & Wax in Boynton Beach, Florida, said they had a great year in 2019 but have had to rethink how to survive since March.

"I would say last year November through February were some of best months we've ever had," Jesse Feldman said.

"We went online and it has taken a while to get up to speed. We're now in a groove, but even, with online pulling in half what we were."

Feldman said the key to surviving is, "You gotta have back stock and the ability to tap into new vinyl and be in a market that is desperate for a record store."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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