I remember when music on vinyl began its descent into a slow, gruesome death. It was in the late 1980s, and record companies began incentivizing consumers to buy CDs instead of vinyl or cassettes. By the mid-1990s, only hardcore nerds cared anything about vinyl, and new vinyl releases mostly consisted of local punk bands pressing 45s.
But rumors of vinyl’s death were greatly exaggerated. According to Forbes, 2015 marked the 10th consecutive year sales of vinyl records had increased, and last year the medium surged by 30 percent thanks to millennials scooping up records by Adele, Taylor Swift, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Miles Davis.
In fact, Adele’s 25 sold 116,000 copies in 2015 to become the year’s best-selling vinyl album.
Meanwhile, Louisville-based Crosley Radio has taken notice. The longtime maker of radios, which has become well known for its line of faux-vintage turntables, jukeboxes and other electronics, will roll out the Crosley Cruiser, a mobile record shop, on March 26.
The brainchild of Jason Menard, Crosley’s director of marketing, the Crosley Cruiser — which was named after a classic Crosley turntable — will feature not just albums for sale, but listening stations, electronics and more.
Menard says finishing touches are still being done to the truck, but based on recent photos, the interior will look astonishingly like a brick-and-mortar retail store, complete with glass doors for entry. On the right side of the truck, shoppers will find seating along with electrical and USB outlets for phone charging or Internet browsing.
On the left will be turntables, radios and the like displayed for sale, with a hand-crafted Crosley Rocket jukebox that’ll spin music at all times. On the walls will be dozens of records for sale, with a small checkout spot near the front and an exit in the rear. And near the exit will be a pair of listening stations. Expect plenty of Adele and Swift. Why? Because it isn’t your dad who is buying records — he already sold his at the last family garage sale.
“Our demographic has shifted from older consumers who grew up on vinyl,” Menard says. “It’s the 15-year-old girl who wants to buy a record player because it looks cool. The whole vinyl industry has seen a shift into this new generation. This resonates with that generation.”
It doesn’t stop there. In 2017, Crosley Records will open an actual record-pressing plant in Louisville. Research and development are still under way, and a site for the plant is being sought, Menard says, but the plan will go through. And it’s a natural response to the unlikely vinyl resurgence.
“We’ve been selling record players for years,” Bo LeMastus, Crosley’s CEO, told ARCARacing.com in March. “So getting in the record-pressing business is a natural extension of what we’ve already been doing. There isn’t a lot of record-pressing equipment out there, so we’re buying some. Now, we’ll be able to take a recording, make a stamp, press out a vinyl record and package it to completion.”
The pressing equipment is being purchased from a plant in the U.K., according to the ARCARacing report. The new Louisville plant will include a professional mastering studio as well, Menard says. Further details for that project are unavailable.
For now, though, the Crosley Cruiser will provide a unique opportunity for Menard and his team to show off the brand and take advantage of a trend. With exterior design by local artist Robby Davis (who also does the distinctive artwork for Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse), Menard feels it will connect with the right audience. The murals also feature plenty of Louisville references — from a bucket of chicken to a bourbon barrel.
On Saturday, March 26, the Crosley Cruiser will make its debut at Against the Grain with a launch party from 1-5 p.m. featuring giveaways, a BYOV (bring-your-own-vinyl) DJ, and a special lager brewed exclusively for this party called Two Tettnangers and a Microphone. From there, expect to see it at Abbey Road on the River. Crosley also has signed a three-year agreement that will bring the rolling record store to Forecastle.
The more vinyl’s popularity grows, the more we’ll likely see the Crosley Cruiser around town. There’s even a sound system that will play the jukebox audio outside for passersby to hear. We’ll probably start seeing this thing anywhere from the Flea Off Market to NuLuFest.
And it’s all because of a turnaround no one thought was possible: the return of the record.
“We started making turntables in the early ’90s, and people thought we were crazy,” Menard says. “The vinyl resurgence is a super fortunate thing for us. People are jumping on the bandwagon. We’re definitely not taking it for granted.”