Vegas Voices is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.
If the sky is falling on the music industry, the roof above 11th Street Records provides ample shelter.
The popular narrative during the past decade is that the music business is struggling to stay in business, thanks to the steady decline in physical album sales. But there has been a bright spot poking through all the cloud coverage provided by illegal downloading and streaming services: a significant increase in the sale of vinyl records, which has grown well over 200 percent since 2009.
At 11th Street Records, 1023 Fremont Street, the front door doubles as a rabbit hole: to cross its threshold is to plunge down a seemingly endless well of vinyl, from rare Black Sabbath LPs that go for 100 bucks a pop to classic records by The Replacements to newly issued pressings of some of Elliott Smith’s most seminal releases.
Since opening last April, 11th Street Records has quickly become a destination spot for vinyl-loving locals and tourists from around the world, who flock here from as far as away as Germany and Brazil to score some tasty Municipal Waste wax.
It’s all a labor of love for owner Ronald Corso. The longtime Vegas music scene fixture, who played with indie rockers A Crowd of Small Adventures, among others, also oversees National Southwestern Recording, which is housed in the back of the record shop.
Corso even seeded the store thousands of his own LPs.
Just don’t ask him to part with his Husker Du records.
Review-Journal: What made you want to open a record store at a time when record stores are becoming endangered species?
Corso: I think I started it five or so years after the worst time. It almost seems like I kind of arrived at the right time when everybody was writing about the return of vinyl. I started the whole process of doing this three years before anybody in the major media started noticing it, and our opening coincided with the word being completely out. Unfortunately, there’s stuff that you could get for a dime a copy for the last 10 years that all of a sudden you couldn’t get for that anymore, and it was largely because of the glut of the “vinyl’s back” media coverage.
R-J: What was the process of amassing that initial collection before you opened your doors? If you’re opening up a chain store, like a Sam Goody, you can call up various distributors and fill your store up in a matter of days. You couldn’t do that here.
Corso: I brought in my own collection of about 3,500 records in the beginning, and then I basically did what a lot of guys are out there doing: I went to garage sales, answered ads, checked Craigslist. I did that for a couple of years. It was actually my wife’s suggestion. I had gotten over the music scene, recording thing, and I was like, “What am I going to do next with my life?” And she said, “Do what you love and the money will come.” And that’s kind of the story.
R-J: Was it tough to sell stuff from your personal collection? Did you have to sell some records that you really loved and didn’t want to part with?
Corso: Yeah, I don’t have any records in my house any more. The whole collection went in here and most of it’s gone by now. I have a few things that were gifts that I’ve kept, some autographed things, like when Bob Mould was at The Bunkhouse a couple of years ago, I had all my old Husker Du records and I had him sign those. It was a sacrifice, but if I wanted to take home an original, U.K. “White Album” and listen to it tonight, I could — I’d just have to bring it back tomorrow (Laughs).
R-J: Has anyone brought in any records to resell that you didn’t think were as valuable as they turned out being?
Corso: You get surprised every day. I bought a load of R&B records from a guy the other day that I thought was dollar bin stuff, and I found out that one of them is actually kind of sought after, like a $35 or $40 record. I had no idea. As you do this long enough, you start to learn things that you might not have known before. But not knowing sometimes benefits the buyer. There might be something in there that we priced at two bucks that might be worth $600-$700. Someone who knows might see it and go “Ahh!” You get stuff that as soon as it walks in the door you know you’ll be able to flip. We had a 1958 white label promo of “Kind of Blue,” it’s the most famous jazz record in history, and that came in a load of garbage records.
R-J: Why do you think record stores have remained relevant? Their numbers have gone down, but people still have a real attachment to them. It feels like record stores will never totally go away.
Corso: They may go away sometime. I think the renewed interest benefiting us is probably due to the fact that things go in cycles. We’ve had a 10-year experiment with a pretty magical idea of having the world’s music on a device in your pocket. That’s pretty cool if you think about it, but it didn’t scratch the itch. People walk in here all the time and say “Wow!” Nobody ever does that when they boot up Spotify. I think people who grew up with record stores recognize that the internet harmed the wrong industry in the early 2000s. It probably should have killed radio, because your cellphone is the greatest transistor radio ever devised. But it killed record stores, it killed Tower Records and all that stuff, when it probably shouldn’t have.
R-J: I’m not sure it killed the ones that maybe had a sense of community about them, those that are more of a gathering spot, a place to be around like-minded people. I’m sure there’s people who come here just to hang out.
Corso: Yeah, there’s worse places to spend a couple hours. Maybe it’s a throwback. People who grew up with record stores mourn their demise over the last 10 years, but then there’s people who completely missed out on that entirely. Maybe it’s the same reason why there are 15-year-olds wearing pompadours and penny loafers. It’s a nostalgia thing.
R-J: How selective are you in what you put on your shelves? Will you stock something that’s kind of populist and lame if you know it’s going to sell?
Corso: “If we can sell a lot of anything, sure. We sell some Taylor Swift records, because people will buy them. Like I always tell these guys (gesticulates to his employees), “You can’t spread cool on a cracker.” Being cool and five bucks will get you a latte.
Read more from Jason Bracelin at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.
Getting to know: Ronald Corso
The first movie that really scared me as a kid
Something called “The Beast in the Cellar.” It was on late-night TV one night.
I kind of like that Joseph James Hop Box right now.
Favorite place to drink that beer, or any other, in Vegas
I like a pint at McMullan’s.
Place I always take visitors
Red Rock loop
“Why Kerouac Matters.”
Where I would live if not in Vegas
I’m a good cook.