It’s been a rough time for record stores, as consumers have turned to the internet and iPods for their music needs. A 2011 IBISWorld research report shows that 12,000 U.S. record stores closed their doors between 2000 and 2010—and Looney Tunes in West Babylon, NY, nearly became one of them after a 2007 fire gutted the entire business. Rather than throw in the towel, however, owner Karl Groeger Jr. pressed on, and five years later, with the public’s growing interest in vinyl, a hand from nearby pro audio manufacturer Samson Technologies and a loyal customer base, the store has regained its footing.
“Luckily no one was hurt in the fire, but there was a 100 percent loss in merchandise. We rebuilt everything. We lost a lot of memorabilia and autographs, but we’ve started to get that back,” Groeger said.
These days, the rebuilt Looney Tunes store contains an in-store stage for live performances, and in September, pro audio manufacturer Samson Technologies, based in nearby Hauppauge, NY, donated live audio gear as a sponsorship of the live events. “We do a lot of things with Samson,” Groeger said. “We’re glad to have them as part of Looney Tunes.”
Samson Technologies sponsors in-store events at Looney Tunes, and installed this audio system on the store's stage in September, 2012.
The feeling is mutual, according to Mark Menghi, director of Marketing, Samson Technologies: "I decided to donate a full-on sound system because I fully support indie music retail stores and all that Looney Tunes does. I have been buying music—records, tapes and CDs—at Looney Tunes since I was a young kid. If it wasn't for Looney Tunes, and the music they made me aware of, I might not be where I am today."
That sentiment reflects the community’s feelings for the store, a local institution since Groeger’s father opened it in 1971 (Groeger, Jr. purchased the family business in 1988). He said his father used to invite bands to play at the store, and wanting to keep the tradition going, he installed the stage for regular meet-and-greets and performances there.
“Everything we do, whatever decision we make, we think about it from the fans’ standpoint. When you get the opportunity to meet your heroes, it’s such a great experience for the fan,” Groeger said.
Four years ago, Groeger started another project: establishing his own record label, Brookvale Records, which specializes in releasing albums on vinyl. Since the start of the label, Groeger has released albums by Ace Frehley of Kiss, 311, Dream Theater, Taking Back Sunday, Black Light Burns and Grace Read.
Last month, Brookvale Records announced it will begin re-releasing the Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks live album Series on vinyl, too. “We’re trying to make deals with existing bands to try and get their albums out on vinyl. Dick’s Picks is a live series with 36 volumes, and the first two come out November 20,” Groeger said.
Vinyl's return has been good to Looney Tunes, which recently added more LP bins (shown being built) for the second time since 2007.
At the mention of the MP3 format hurting the sales of other music sources, Groeger argued that while the MP3 is popular, it hasn’t overthrown the CD. “Online downloading has been prominent,” he conceded, but explained that the best way to enjoy music is to physically place the album into a CD or record player and commit to listening to the album. “Music is an art form and the best way to listen to it is either by CD or vinyl record. When you listen to music on iTunes, you’re using one of your physical senses, but there is nothing to touch, nothing to see.”
Over the past few years, the music industry has seen a resurgence in the sale of vinyl records, reinforcing Groeger’s idea that people still want that tangible audio source. In 2011 alone, vinyl sales totaled 3.5 million, according to Billboard, a 25 percent increase over the 2.8 million sold in 2010—and that’s just new records, as used vinyl, too, remains popular. “People are looking for it,” said Groeger. “It’s such a superior way to listen to music as an art form.”