Much has changed in Indy and beyond over the last 25 years. Stock markets have crashed rebounded. Our sports teams have gone from bottom-feeders to title contenders and brawled in the interim. IU basketball has had nearly as many coaches as players (okay, that's an exaggeration, but you get the point.) One industry, which has transformed several times over in the last two and a half decades, is our consumption of music. Throughout the rise and fall of the "digital age" Indianapolis has been fortunate to host not just one, but a handful of world-class, independent, brick and mortar music shops.
"It was just a lousy time to be a record collector," Irvington Vinyl's Rick Wilkerson says of the early '90s, when he first opened his shop Missing Link Records. "Because the stores didn't have records anymore ... It was discouraging. That's one of the reasons we started this thing, because we couldn't buy records anywhere that we wanted to buy ... It seemed like there would still be a market. If nothing else, we would end up with good record collections at the end of it."
LUNA Music owner Todd Robinson remembers having a similar thought when visiting his brother in Indy in the early 1990s, before moving here from Ohio. "I would come to town and mutter that there aren't any really good record stores here," he says. "I muttered that loudly one day, and my brother said, 'Well, why the fuck don't you open one?' It was like, 'Oh. Okay.' "
Robinson and Wilkerson opened up shop around the same time in '94 and '93, respectively. Both have withstood their share of misadventures. Robinson moved LUNA from its original location at 86th and Ditch to South Broad Ripple, opened and closed a shop on Mass Ave Wilkerson moved Missing Link from the Southside to Broad Ripple before closing and leaving the industry for several years and starting anew in Irvington a couple of years ago.
One Indianapolis mainstay has survived alongside the various up-and-comers – Karma Records. "If somebody was 50 in 1970 when the stores first opened, then their kids shopped here. Then their kids shopped here," says Jim Ector, who with his partner Jeff Wicks, co-owns three Karma stores in town. "It's 45 years later. There's not a lot of stores, I don't think, around the United States that have been around that long. I don't mean that in an arrogant way, there's just not a lot of stores like it."
While the media plays up the various trends in the music industry: digital, streaming, the resurgence of vinyl, etc. husband and wife Andy and Annie Skinner, the owners of Indy CD & Vinyl along with friend Eric Davis, believe the market for physical music has remained remarkably consistent in the 15 years they've played varying roles in the industry.
"I don't think that, as far as this store is concerned, CD or vinyl sales have been affected by market trends as much as they've been affected by the economy itself," Andy says. "Overall sales fell off 2008 through 2012 or 2013 — only because of the overall economy, but I don't think that market forces have changed much."
Annie has noticed a change in the store's clientele since she first moved to Indianapolis from Salt Lake City with the store's original owner Rick Zeigler 14 years ago. "It's more of a family experience," she says. "I'm seeing a lot more females coming into the store. It's not just a dude fest. That, for me, is a huge deal. For so many years, it was so male-dominated, where it was almost intimidating. Now, I'm seeing dads coming in with daughters talking about what they're into, girls talking about what they're into, and them sharing this experience. I love it."
As for the future, most of the shop owners I spoke with were reluctant to make broad prognostications.
"It's really interesting how it continues to evolve, and you've gotta be ready for that," Robinson says. "Especially riding this last wave of digital crashing and vinyl coming back. Who knows what's going to happen next?"