words and photos by Krystal Sidzyik
Sitting surrounded by stacks and bins of used records, cassettes and CDs, Antiquarium Records co-owner Brian Byrd tells me about how the decline of physical music sales over the past decade has made it tough to operate a record store.
He makes sure to greet every customer as they walk into the store at 417 S. 13th St., and he thanks them for stopping in as they leave. Judging by the number of customers moving through the door, it’s apparent there’s still a market for physical music, though it may be smaller than it used to be.
“It’s a daily battle,” Byrd says.
The late Dave Sink opened Antiquarium Records in the basement of the Antiquarium Bookstore (then located on Harney Street) in 1988. The record half of the store eventually took over the entire basement, so Antiquarium moved to a new location while the bookstore portion moved to Brownville, Neb., in 2007. In June, Antiquarium Records celebrated its fifth year at its current location.
Antiquarium is the youngest of the three Old Market music stores within a block of each other, with Homer’s Music & Gifts first opening in 1971 and Drastic Plastic opening in 1982. But competition isn’t a bad thing, Byrd says.
“I think that the more record stores that are in an area, the better, because that shows that there’s a strong market for that kind of thing,” he says. “As far as competition goes, I feel like all the stores down here are kind of focused on different things. I’m glad they are here — any competition that does exist is healthy.”
Since Sink’s days, Antiquarium has always hired clerks who boast extensive music knowledge and who can guide you to whatever you’re looking for — even if you don’t know what that is. The store’s huge used vinyl and local music selection makes it an even more significant Omaha gem.
But, like its cohorts down the block, Antiquarium’s sales have diminished due to digital music’s increasing presence. Byrd says the average music fan is no longer interested in the story behind the song, but instead the convenience of a download. It’s a trend whose roots harken back to the mid-20th century.
“With iTunes and iPods, you almost have a singles-oriented market,” he says. “Albums as we know and appreciate them weren’t really the main format until the mid-’60s, but singles were all the rage back in the ’50s. You didn’t necessarily know all the songs on Bo Diddley’s album, but you had one 45 of his.”
In 2011, digital downloads exceeded physical sales for the first time ever, according to Nielsen and Billboard. It’s forced Antiquarium and shops like it — whose profits come primarily from physical music — to evolve. One technique Antiquarium recently tried was a concert right outside the shop.
“It’s just fun. I’ve only done it a few times. I did for Record Store Day but I also did it for this local band called Capgun Coup,” Byrd says. “It was great. A lot of people watched and people love it.”
Byrd plans on having another outdoor show in the near feature with his band, Well Aimed Arrows. His band is set to release a 12-inch album soon, and appropriately so. In 2008, vinyl sales began to increase again. That year, nearly 2.9 million units shipped, the most in any year since 1998, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
“There’s definitely been a surge in vinyl sales over the last several years,” Byrd says. “Vinyl has always been our thing. But even back in the early 2000s, our bread and butter were selling used CDs and now nobody buys used CDs.
“They don’t exactly offset each other. It’s a difficult business.”
Krystal Sidzyik is a Hear Nebraska intern. This is the final story under her internship, but she promises to keep Hear Nebraska in her heart and to continue to contribute when she can. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.