Kansas City needs its record stores to survive.

The Vinyl Word 

Kansas City needs its record stores to survive.

Mine was a Church of Christ family, and in that particular denomination of evangelical Christianity, instruments are forbidden in worship. Many C of C people love music regardless, and it's doubtful that a cacophonous pipe organ behind the pulpit would have caused anyone to stray into rock and roll. Still, when it came to secular music, I was more likely to be shown a video on the Satanism in shitty heavy metal bands than to hear a sermon on how affirmation and joy can be found in the music of Marvin Gaye.

So I came to music virtually on my own, with no guidance from a hippie older brother or a curmudgeonly 45-year-old record-store employee. My first cassette, circa second grade, was Genesis' Genesis. My first CD, Led Zeppelin's fourth album, was a seventh-grade acquisition. There was a record store in my hometown when I was a kid, but no one in my family saw fit to take me there.

But record stores — not clubs, not concert halls — are the churches of popular music. Think about it. Anyone can go to a record store — the young. the old, the consumers and the refusers of smoke and drink, the pious and the wicked, the rich and the poor, hip and square, lame or blind. And the best part is, there's never a sermon.

If churches were closing by the thousands, our government would be doing something about it. But that's what's happening to record stores, and the only people left to save them seem to be ordinary, fickle, debt-ridden music consumers like you and me. Someone's responsible for the fact that the bulk of the music industry's sales come from Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target. (RCA has claimed that fully half of its business comes from those three accounts.) It looks like the record store as we have known it will vanish on our watch.

Here in Kansas City, Music Exchange owner Ron Rooks has announced plans to sell, and now Anne Winter of Recycled Sounds is leaving the business.

It's not because she can't make a living with her store. And her store will at least be open through the end of the year, possibly with a huge holiday sale in December. If she can't find a buyer for the business, she may keep her famous storefront at Westport and Main operating until next summer. Still, one can't help but worry.

Winter opened her store when she was only 24. "It was the funnest year of my life, that first year of opening the store," she says over the phone while her kids, Max, 8, and Ava, 6, play in the background.

"We've had it [Recycled Sounds] for 17 years," she says. "It's been a great, great run. We've done so much and met so many people. It just seems like I had lost a lot of energy for the store, kind of running out of steam on the whole idea, and we decided we wanted to let somebody else have a shot at it."

The "we" refers not only to herself and her employees but also to her husband, Kurt Von Schlemmer, the cheerful but wary man you've seen in Winter's place if you've dropped by the store since she retired in June. Winter now works full-time in the membership department of "an international association" that she doesn't want named. She says she enjoys her job and that it allows her to travel.

"So far, the reaction from our customers has been everything from total shock to outrage," she says. "People are mad. They don't want their store to close — they consider it their store. Just think about some of the stuff we've done."

Winter runs down some highlights from the store's history, including a 15th-anniversary party that found customers smashing bad records (i.e., Gino Vannelli) against the store's brick wall with rockabilly legends the Cramps. Hip-hop DJ troupe the X-Ecutioners played its first Kansas City gig at Winter's store, presiding over six turntables before a rapt all-ages audience. The list goes on, and continues, too, with local band American Catastrophe planning a CD release party and chili cookoff on November 12.

If Recycled Sounds won't do things like this, who will?

There will always be places to get vinyl. Vinyl Renaissance in Shawnee, with a neatly organized collection and a knowledgeable clerk in Joseph Powell (aka DJ Radionic), is a great place to shop. And its neighbor, Needmore Discs, which has only a smattering of vinyl, displays posters for local groups. But these stores have a long way to go before becoming part of the national, independent network that serves as a line of beacons for touring bands. After all, a band from Portland, Oregon, can't call Barnes & Noble and expect help getting the word out. The Internet helps to an extent, but it's just not the same — as immediate as it is in terms of technology, it lacks the communal immediacy of the brick-and-mortar shop.

"It used to be that they [kids] would come to a record store to find out about new music," Winter says. "Now they find out about new music in their bedroom. The role of the record store has changed, but there's still that social aspect. On Saturdays, the store is packed with kids from all over the city who come to meet, or just see, other people who are into music."

Some of them buy CDs, but most buy vinyl, because, as Winter says, "You can't download a record." It's the record sales, in fact, that have helped Winter make a decent living off the store each year without working especially hard to boost Internet sales. "The Internet is an opportunity that's just waiting. We have a Web page that's more like a phone-book ad. We just haven't even begun to delve into that," she says.

If no one buys Recycled Sounds and it closes, the store's exit will knock the community off balance and drive bands and their fans further into cyberspace. Kansas City could conceivably become a model for online music communities across the country, but where's the joy in that? People don't come to KC to boot up a computer. Give me musty air, dusty vinyl, conversations with like-minded strangers — all the things available only at places like Recycled Sounds or Music Exchange — and I'll show you something close to heaven.

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