A Vinyl Oasis in Times of Crisis: RetroFit Records
Written by: Aisha Galliion
RetroFit Records. The name is simple. The establishment is easy to find. It’s nestled in a small plaza on W. Gaines Street in Tallahassee, FL. More importantly, the vinyl selection is absolutely stupendous. A variety of artists appear, from Bjork to Bob Marley, the local to international. You name it, RetroFit has it.
Sharod Bines is the owner of RetroFit Records. The establishment opened back in 2011 with two other business partners over a decade ago with the initial idea of opening a music performance venue + pop up shop. Sharod explained that one of the only record stores that existed back in 2010, didn’t even bother to be open on Record Store Day. Bines thought, “sh*t, this is an opportunity.” Him being a Tallahassee native and knowing the city helped a ton, so the perfect opportunity presented itself. After he watched the last huge record store in the city closed, leaving customers without a place to locally buy brand new records, he and others opened RetroFit.
Many days when I stepped foot onto the checkered floors of RetroFit, Sharod was busy cleaning records, diddling on his laptop rather productively, or talking to customers about, you guessed it, music. Today wasn’t very different. I entered the dimly lit space awaitinghis calm, “Hey.” Some customers stroll inside as I browsed the soul music section. While noticeable changes weren’t made to the store, Sharod stated something I’d never heard before this day…
“Hey, we’re trying to keep general browsing to a minimum since we don’t have a way to sanitize the records, CDs, and tapes. So, please let me know if you need help finding anything in particular.” The masked customers’ eyes scan the neatly labeled sections for all of eight minutes then leave.
In the last decade, there’s been a resurgence in vinyl records. Sharod believes that vinyl is gaining popularity again because “people think it’s cool, but also we’re going through a period where people want ownership again. They want to physically own something because everything’s moving in a digital direction.” Sharod says that listeners are leasing and renting music from streaming services (and streaming services are doing the same with labels). When folks buy a physical album, they are gaining their rights to the music back, and in my opinion, bear witness to more sentimental aspects of the music-making process, like album dedications and credits.
Surely, money from vinyl record purchases would return quicker to the pockets of artists than streaming their music. However, like an artist’s inability to make money from touring, Retrofit has felt the effects of COVID-19 since it began wreaking havoc in the United States With the death toll exceeding 100,000, businesses have taken various precautions to ensure the safety of their employees and customers; nevertheless, it may be argued that those shifts are easier for some businesses than others. How do owners of businesses like RetroFit remain open during such a trying time?
This curiosity led me to speak with Sharod about his experience as a music business owner during COVID-19. Below is a bit of what he had to say
Music Player Magazine (MPM): How has the Rona been affecting the business?
Sharod Bines (SB): Things have definitely been slower.
MPM: Yeah, I know you can’t sanitize the records…
SB: …Being a small, independent record shop there is never any point in time where there’s like, 10 people in the shop at one given time unless we’re having an event. Generally, unless people are coming in like big groups there’s not much of an issue. There have been a couple of times, like when the pandemic first started, and I just would break up the groups; “some of y’all gotta wait outside for people.”
Besides that, I sanitize things constantly. There is no way to sanitize the actual, physical, records. It’s not the right time to come through and flip through every single record with no intention of buying anything. That doesn’t help the shop, and potentially contaminates the records or you may expose yourself to contamination, just by flipping through for no real reason.
I’m, like, “if you’re looking for something specific, I can direct you to it or pull it for you.”, but if you’re just here to browse and not buy anything, you gotta keep it moving. It’s just kind of the wrong time for window shopping.
A good chunk of the population, students [from Florida State, FAMU, and TCC], aren’t currently here. When the pandemic took a turn back in mid-March, on-campus classes were cancelled. If you’re a student, and you don’t normally take summer classes, you may not be back until the fall, and that’s if on-campus classes resume…
Every summer I’m prepared and accustomed to things slowing down at the shop because a lot of people aren’t here for the summer, but now I’m not quite sure what the summer will look like. Things may be much slower than normal this summer, and that’s what I expect.
MPM: I think some people might…depending on their apartment leases they may stay for a little while. I know some people that are in school still live here.
SB: …But also, if you’re a student or someone that doesn’t currently have a job…you don’t have disposable income. Buying records is a luxury for some people…
MPM: It’s a luxury for me…I wanted to treat myself for graduating last week…
Sharod and I continued chatting about the effects of COVID-19 on his establishment. RetroFit Records’ discogs site or general website is a suitable place to search if you are interested in records. Ed Sheeran’s X is over there for a nice price.