Black Hills Vinyl Capitalizes on the Surge in Popularity of Records
When Jennifer and Michael Calabrese purchased Black Hills Vinyl in 2015, they had never owned a business before. In fact, they weren’t even Rapid City residents; the couple were living in Boulder, Colorado when they stumbled upon a Craigslist ad for the record store, which was located in the historic Fairmont Creamery building on Main Street at the time. Caught up in the 9 to 5 grind and disenchanted with skyrocketing prices in Boulder, they were looking for a change. They had been to Rapid City before and knew the Black Hills offered many of the same outdoor opportunities as Colorado, so they paid the store a visit and decided to give it a go. On January 1, 2015, they officially took over ownership.
The timing was ideal. Vinyl was enjoying a steady resurgence after being left for dead years earlier and record sales were on the rise. A year later, they relocated to their current space at 622 Saint Joseph Street, which gave them room to expand. “We got in at a good time,” Jennifer admits. “Every year, new customers kept coming in.”
Jennifer is the face of the business, responsible for daily operations, while Michael works at Property Meld. Ironically, she grew up listening to CDs, not records. It wasn’t until she and Michael moved to Boulder from Pittsburgh that they started going to thrift stores in order to build their own album collection. She attributes vinyl’s surge in popularity over the past decade largely to its novelty with the younger generation, who have never owned physical media, obtaining most of their music from streaming services. Because new albums typically include digital downloads, buyers get an on-the-go copy to listen to on their mobile devices, as well as a physical copy. “You get something cool to look at, like the artwork, or a poster inside,” Jennifer says. A physical record also helps customers enjoy albums in their entirety. “It’s so easy to shuffle and fast-forward on your phone; records help keep bands alive that wouldn’t otherwise be existing today.”
If Black Hills Vinyl’s sales are any indication, Rapid City residents have an appetite for rock ‘n roll—especially classic rock from the 1970s. Top sellers include Fleetwood Mac, Queen, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Credence Clearwater Revival, and the Eagles.
Like many independent record stores, Black Hills Vinyl is happy to purchase used records from customers eager to part with their collections—though it largely depends on supply and demand. “I will never pay for another Barbra Streisand record in my life,” Jennifer says. The same holds true for artists such as Guy Lombardo, Mitch Miller, Pete Fontaine, and Lawrence Welk. It’s nothing personal; when those musicians were enjoying their heyday, vinyl was the only medium that existed, so there are abundant copies available today. Jennifer says they literally cannot give those albums away. You’ll have better luck if you’re trying to unload rock n’ roll from the British Invasion era on or records from some of the bigger country music stars. Punk and metal are particularly hard to come by. “We try not to turn down anything if it’s good music,” Jennifer adds.
Her own tastes are admittedly eclectic. Jennifer enjoys artists associated with New Orleans, such as Dr. John and Professor Longhair. Other favorites include the Flaming Lips, Galactic, Primus, and Oysterhead. “I’ve probably listened to Dark Side of the Moon 1,000 times in my life,” she calculates, “and it never gets old.” She limits her personal collection to records that are irreplaceable; having her very own record store at her disposal every day has made her realize she doesn’t need anything more than that.
Records aren’t the only discs you’ll find at Black Hills Vinyl. The store also carries a selection of disc golf equipment; Jennifer and Michael are avid enthusiasts of the sport and board members of the Black Hills Disc Golf Club. “We like all things round,” she says with a laugh, but don’t get your hopes up: the store has no plans to sell fresh donuts.
Not once do the Calabreses regret their decision to move to Rapid City. They love the historic small-town vibe of the downtown business corridor and find it unique compared to other parts of the country. “In a town this size, word of mouth gets around and we seem to have customers that really appreciate us and tell their friends about us,” Jennifer says. “If I see you once a week or two, I will know your name and what’s going on in your life. I like that one-on-one. Smaller towns like this one help small businesses thrive better than in big cities.”
WORDS & PHOTOS BY MARK PETRUSKA