Black-Owned Record Stores are Disappearing while Vinyl Sales are Skyrocketing. Some Shop Owners Say it's a Sign of a 'Whitewashed' IndustryHistorians in the News
tags: African American history, popular culture, retail, music industry
When Le'Shawn Taylor started collecting vinyl records in college, he noticed a void in the vinyl community: There were no Black-owned shops. So in 2018, he started Vibes and Stuff in Valdosta, Georgia, which is now an online shop named Stokely's Records.
"I don't see no one like me doing this," Taylor said.
The 28-year-old sells vintage jazz, funk, and soul records by Black artists. He named his store after Stokely Carmichael, the US civil-rights activist who coined the phrase "Black Power."
In a sense, Taylor is continuing Carmichael's call for political, economic, and cultural empowerment by reclaiming Black music white shoppers might be quick to overlook and returning them to the Black community.
"Some of the best stores that specialize in what I do — I mean, they're all owned by white dudes," he said. "Of course, they know their stuff. I'm not knocking them.
"But in the back of my head, I'm, like, 'Damn, all this stuff, I'm pretty sure it was once owned by a lot of Black folks.' Some of them probably have no idea that it's valued that much or, like, the significance of what they once had. In my head I'm, like, 'Shoot, I gotta be one of the faces.'"
In a 2011 essay for SouthernCultures, Joshua Clark Davis, a historian at the University of Baltimore, wrote that during the '60s and '70s, there were between 400 and 500 Black-owned record shops in the South alone (though it was probably closer to a thousand).
Black-owned record stores across the country, but especially in the South, provided a sense of community for Black people at a time when they weren't welcome in white public institutions. In addition to having Black employees who were knowledgeable about Black music, some shops also sold beauty products, Black magazines, and clothing. Others started record labels or radio shows focused on Black music.
"By seeking out music from Black-owned record stores," Davis wrote, "African American consumers partook in a vibrant form of commercial public life, a community-based consumer culture that welcomed shoppers regardless of their color, age, or financial means."
Being a Black entrepreneur didn't come without challenges. Davis told Insider that Black record-store owners faced a number of societal and industry barriers during the '60s and '70s — including credit discrimination, difficulty getting loans, difficulty obtaining products from distributors, the stigma that Black entrepreneurs were more likely to fail — that made opening and maintaining a business difficult.
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