NPR listeners across the country (including on WFPL, 89.3 FM) heard about ear X-tacy this morning—many for the first time. “Morning Edition” spent a few minutes with owner John Timmons as part of its “Hard Times” series in a segment titled “Economy Mutes a Longtime Louisville Record Shop .” The report called ear X-tacy “another independent music store that just couldn't make it.”
A November 21 Salon.com article, “In an iTunes Age, Do We Need the Record Store? ” argues that the extinction of shops like ear X-tacy is due to a lack of adaptation, and that more flexible operations survive and even thrive. Ben Blackwell of Jack White’s Third Man Records label is quoted as saying that in order to make it, “record stores need to put on events. They need to host live shows. They need to do listening parties. You have to have an active way with which to communicate to your buyers. You need a mailing list, you need a Twitter account, you need Facebook pages.”
But ear X-tacy did just that…and it wasn’t enough.
A blog post published by Matador Records  the day after ear X-tacy’s October 31 closure announcement starts by saying, “We couldn’t be more upset at the announcements of the closures of ear X-tacy and [Salt Lake City indie store] Slowtrain…however, what a lot of people don’t seem to realize (or at least recognize) is that there is a growing community of independent record stores out there, many of whom are not only doing great business but in fact growing.”
Since 2003, nearly a quarter of all existing record stores have gone under. Notably, the iTunes Music Store (now simply known as the iTunes Store) opened in 2003.
So was it the digital nature of the business, or something else?
Ben Jones, owner of Better Days Records, doesn’t know exactly why the particular store failed from a business standpoint, but he believes it is partially due to the community. “It doesn’t matter what business you’re in,” he says, “but the entertainment value comes with what you can afford. If you have space and general knowledge, then yes, that’s for you. But in a place like an average Joe town without a marketplace for it… Kentucky is striving, but this is not necessarily a good music town. It isn’t THE music place. There are very few venues for it. It’s not like Nashville or New York or California, where every coffeehouse has a place for a singer to sit down and play all the time. If every coffeehouse [catered to] artists, then you would have a music and artist town. It’s a lifestyle that has to be created for the city.
“We can create it, but we can only create it if we have the help from other parties.”
Jones recently reopened Better Days’ Highlands location after a six-year hiatus while he reorganized his business model, focusing on cash-only inventory purchases of used and overstock music.
Meanwhile, Timmons told NPR that “it’s been a great ride… I don’t know what I’m going to do for a real job now, since I’ve been doing this for 30-something years.”
Fans can check out ear X-tacy one more time this weekend, when it is open Saturday and Sunday from noon until 5:00 p.m. at 2226 Bardstown Road, just south of the Douglass Loop. Artists with music on consignment are invited to reclaim their wares today and tomorrow from 2:00 to 8:00 p.m.
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Photo of ear X-tacy’s penultimate location: Flickr/TimothyJ