Dearborn Music, unlike thousands of other record stores, has survived the advent of big-box stores, lightning-fast internet speeds, satellite radio, and streaming services — and now it’s caught the new wave of popularity for vinyl records.
Between 2003 and 2008, 3,500 independent record stores closed, according to Rick LeAnnais, co-owner (along with his brother, Kevin) of Dearborn Records, which has been named by Spin magazine as one of the Top 10 record stores in America.
To survive since 1956 — when LeAnnais’ father bought the Dearborn Music Shop on Michigan Avenue — until now is a testament to the family’s willingness to adapt and pivot to stay relevant.
The original Dearborn Music sold guitars, sheet music, and 45 and 78 rpm records, in addition to offering music lessons. Instrument sales were phased out in 1976.
The store moved to the corner of Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street in 1958 and stayed there until 2012, when it moved to the current 7,900-square-foot location at 22501 Michigan Ave. Dearborn Music also had a store in Canton Township between 1989 and 2008, and opened a 6,400-square-foot store on Grand River Avenue in Farmington last year.
LeAnnais says Dearborn Music really had to adapt in the 1990s, when big box stores were allowed to sell CDs for below cost.
“They were using CDs as a loss leader,” he explains. “That was one of the biggest hurdles we had to combat. That’s when we started bringing in used CDs. They can’t offer that. We started bringing in deeper catalogs of music. They can’t do that.”
The next hurdle came in the early 2000s, when internet speeds made streaming a viable alternative to buying records and CDs.
“Napster really hurt the industry,” LeAnnais recalls. “We started taking stuff off the wall. You’re no longer ordering 608 Pearl Jam records; you’re ordering 30. You don’t have to display all that stuff. What do you put on the bare walls? We tried T-shirts and action figures. We tried anything music-related to put on our walls. We were trying to reinvent ourselves.”
Dearborn Music still offers a wide array of music- and pop culture-related T-shirts, games, mugs, socks, signs, accessories, lunchboxes, stereos, and other merchandise which, combined, makes up 10 percent of the store’s sales.
The current hurdle the store faces is that fewer CD players are being put in new vehicles. But the market seems to be helping in that regard. LeAnnais says 42 percent of his sales are new vinyl records, while 38 percent are CDs. About 20 percent are used records and discs.
“Vinyl is no longer nostalgia, or coming back. It is back,” he says. “It’s a hot thing. Production can’t keep up with the demand for all the genres.”