Published: 06:00, 08 March 2021
Putting on a record may seem like a blast from the past, but increased sales, even through a pandemic, has ensured the vinyl revival rolls on.
Nostalgia or not, a total of nearly 5 million LPs were purchased in the UK last year alone, with many consumed in Kent.
Throughout the pandemic the county's record shops, like many other high street retailers, have vied for trade with online traders amid the debilitating impact of tiered restrictions and national lockdowns.
Despite the challenges many independent stores have managed to find creative ways to engage with the music lovers in their community.
From switching their operations online to door-to door deliveries and staging listening parties and radio talk shows, each has found their own unique way to stay in touch.
We speak to some of Kent's passionate independent record store bosses to get their spin on events ahead of their anticipated return on April 12.
The Record Store in Park Mall, Ashford, started trading in 2016 inside an old newspaper kiosk.
Since then it has gone from strength to strength under the stewardship of Vince Monticelli who opened the shop with his daughter Tahlula, after recovering from a cancer diagnosis.
As business boomed Vince quickly found himself upgrading to a larger unit a few doors down.
"I would say I have got the biggest stock in Kent," claims the 62-year-old record boss, currently cycling through his mammoth 23,000-strong haul. "The second hand record game is a weird one," he said. "You buy 100, you sell 10 and you retain 90."
But Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the ability of record shops to plan for key trading windows.
"They have tried their best to destroy a lot of small businesses," says Vince of the government's ad hoc approach to lockdowns.
As a result of the latest shutdown he now has piles of unsold stock purchased back in October.
"Everyone knows you don't buy your stock in November for Christmas," he explains. "We had stock piling through the doors but nothing going out the door.
"Generally we are hanging on," he adds. "Fingers crossed the day we open it will be like at Christmas time."
Take a 30-minute drive down the A251 to Faversham and it has been a similar experience at Creekside Vinyl.
Owner Simon Tyler opened the store specialising in new vinyl on Market Street in 2018 to fanfare from the music loving community.
"The main kick in the teeth thoughout lockdown, especially in Kent, was four days before Christmas.
"Five of my best days of the year gone completely and only half an hour to an hour's notice that was the end of trade.
"I lost £2,500 to £3,000 because of that," he adds. "That was a hard moment and a very difficult time."
Locked back down, many record stores have had to adapt their way of operating to survive.
Troy Osmond runs Smugglers Records in Deal which, in addition to spinning vinyl, boasts its own pub, record label and has even organised eight sellout festivals.
But with all these activities forced to shut it has turned to deliveries and click and collect services as its main source of revenue.
"People have been really supportive, they message me detailing what they are after and I pop it round on foot if possible," Troy said. "If it is a big order I get the car out."
But the store manager, who took over the full-time running of the shop from business partner Will Greenham, says there is another reason to keep up the deliveries.
"It is important to remind people we are still there," he said. "April 12 people can come in and look around.
"We aim to put everything in place but whether that actually happens or not..."
However, he remains hopeful and adds: "We are chomping at the bit to get back open really."
Elsewhere, Alison Wressell runs Vintage & Vinyl on the Old High Street, Folkestone, which stocks locally-sourced wines, spirits and ciders alongside vinyl presses.
The business owner, now in her 50s, describes the online sale process as rather "soulless" and longs for the return of customers.
"I have not gone heavy online," Alison said. "I do have a website but that is not really part of it I like."
"I prefer to be a shop that people can visit," the store owner adds, although she will pop in on Saturdays to organise the odd click and collect.
"For me I'm on my own and I don't work with anyone so I do everything," Alison adds. "It's much nicer to be in the shop and get the full social experience."
Simon, of Creekside Vinyl, is in agreement, adding that he misses the "camaraderie" between shop and customer most.
"The shop is the product rather than the records," he says.
"Sometimes I'm like a counsellor, people come in and talk and I think people miss that most. Sometimes it's about music and sometimes it's about all other things in their lives.
"I love the fact the shop does that, it creates that sort of community."
The Faversham music buff has also largely stayed away from trading online.
"I can't compete with the likes of Amazon," he remarks. "I can compete on price but I can't compete on the mechanics of getting it packed out to people, I'm just a one man band."
Keeping in touch with their loyal customer base has been crucial for many of Kent's independent shops.
Simon has been staying in touch with his via social media and also regular appears on a local radio show to discuss the latest releases and other musical musings.
Elsewhere, Vince, of The Record Store in Ashford has been staging online listening parties where fellow fans can meet and discuss records.
"It's a good way of keeping in touch," he explains. "I find it amazing how many people were lonely and needed to see someone and listen to music.
"They see me pogoing to a punk song, it is nice for us, it is a bit of a laugh."
Meanwhile in Folkestone Alison has also been staying in touch with her loyal client base.
"People message me all the time when they are after records. But also they message me to ask how I'm doing which is really nice."
There's also Record Store Day.
Each year the event, usually hosted in April but due to take place in June and July this year, marks the unique culture with a stream of special limited edition releases.
At the beginning of the last decade just one shop in Kent was participating in the trade's flagship event for collectors.
Fast forward to the present day and there are now eight.
But last year the event was split across three separate days across August, September and October in an effort to curb Covid-19 transmission.
What resulted was a mixed bag of results for traders.
Over at Faversham's Creekside Vinyl, one of Kent's newest record stores, Simon was marking his first time hosting the event with social distancing in place.
"I have nothing to compare it to as it was our first time," he said. "We did have people queuing up all three days.
"We also had lots of people who had not come to the shop before. It was really good for a first experience."
Meanwhile over in Ashford, record store boss Vince remarked that it did not have the same impact as previous years.
"First one went boom, second went good and then the third went dead," he said.
"People prepared themselves for the first one but didn't have the money for the next two tranches of RSD and stayed at home."
Likewise in Folkestone it produced "three times the admin" for Alison's store and difficult decisions over how much stock to order.
"You don't want to under order and disappoint customers and you don't want to over order and be left with stock," she explained.
"It is a balancing act, it is fun but there is an expectation on both parties. If you break even on the day that is great."
However, Troy, who runs Smugglers Record, was less upbeat about the event, remarking: "I generally think people just lost interest this year."
The shop owner put this down to restrictions meaning many were staying put or not travelling as far.
He adds: "We became more careful with our buying, we had a tighter budget. We probably ordered about a third and we just didn't have the footfall.
"It was a little bit disappointing but we expected it. It is what it is."
However, stores had plenty of cause for optimism with many record shop owners remarking how more and more younger people were getting interested in vinyl.
Creekside Vinyl boss Simon said: "I try to be really positive with young people, even if they don't have money to buy.
"I believe in a record shop being an exciting place to go to."