COVINGTON, Ky. -- Phil Breen still greets customers with a joke and a smile, exactly like he has since he first started running his own record store in 1989.
At the height of business, Breen ran six locations of Phil’s Music and Memories, but times have been hard on the record industry. He’s down to a single location in Latonia, on Winston Avenue next to Klingenberg’s Hardware store.
While his staple product, record albums, has seen a bit of a resurgence in the past couple of years, it hasn’t been quite enough for Breen to justify seven-days-a-week business. He’s still there every day, but may not be able to be much longer, unless he sees an increase in business.
“In 37 years, this is the best bunch of records I’ve ever been around, but 95 percent of the business is free," Breen said. “If the artist doesn’t get a nickel, there’s no way for Phil to get that nickel either. Even the bigger stores aren’t doing what they did 20-25 years ago. I have more CDs than Wal-Mart and Target put together.
“I would do better if I went to straight warehousing, but I don’t believe in it. There still needs to be places where people can hold it and touch it."
Meanwhile, at Everybody’s Records in Pleasant Ridge, things are different. They’ve managed to capitalize on the national trend of increased vinyl sales.
“My joke is, it never went away," said Michael Shuter, who has worked at Everybody’s for more than 10 years. “We’re riding the wave right now. There’s been quite the explosion the last few years.”
He credits both Record Store Day, which sees special album releases, and a reactionary movement to the digital music world.
“The demographic is interesting. The young enjoy indie rock stuff on vinyl. Others are buying re-issued albums they originally bought in the 60’s," Shuter said. “It’s been pretty amazing."
Mark Burbrink of Norwood is closer to the latter. He regularly visits Everybody’s Records, perusing the vinyl albums. He likes records more than other ways to store and play music.
“I’ve always collected it," he said. “I sold some a while ago, but I decided to get back into it. I like the artwork on the albums; it’s much more interesting than CDs. Some thought went into it."
The looks serve more than one interest for Burbrink.
“Since the man cave stuff took off, it’s a cheap way to decorate your space," he said.
His preference is for classic rock albums, AC/DC in particular.
For Breen, he understands that the nature of the business is more demanding than ever -- but he is attempting to balance that with the demands of being a husband and father.
“I haven’t lived and breathed it the past few years. It’s not worth missing my kids’ games," he said. "I’d love to be open longer hours, but I can’t justify the staff it would take or the things I would miss with my wife and kids."
Breen hesitated to put his message seeking community support out on social media because he was worried about the signals it would send. But as he sees his regulars less regularly, he felt like it was worth the risk.
“I debated on doing it because it kind of makes me look like a whiner," he said. “But not three days go by where someone doesn’t come in and say, ‘Phil’s is still around?’ Even the people who came in all the time aren’t coming in as regularly as they used to."
With that in mind, Breen penned a message to his social media following on Facebook earlier this month that's been shared nearly 400 times:
“Thanks to all of you who follow Phil’s on Social Media. I’m here to tell you I really need your help. We need to further spread the word about Phil’s or big changes will have to be made.
I’m very proud of the store, its stock, its organization and most importantly its history. Many of you have grown up with Phil’s and hopefully we can keep it going. More traffic is needed or I will be forced to drastically limit days open or go to online only & close Phil’s. I have had many ups and downs as any longtime customer knows. Now however my financial situation needs to improve or closing/liquidation is a viable option.”
The store has moved locations around the area a few times, with six distinct storefronts at the heyday of music sales in the 1990s. Phil’s still sells more than just vinyl albums, which are both new and used, both classic and recent. The store also offers CDs, DVDs, artwork and more.
“We’re a full-service record store. I still order from suppliers twice a week, and we don’t charge extra to order for people," Breen said.
Meanwhile, locating in trendy, busy neighborhoods has helped Everybody’s Records, in a resurgent Pleasant Ridge, much as Shake It Records benefits from being in Northside.
“We’re not right downtown, but we’re close, and you can get here easily from I-71 and I-75, both," Shuter said. “This area is developing well."