It seems miraculous that any music retailer has survived the demolition-like forces that piracy, downloading and streaming have unleashed during the past 15 years. CD sales have plummeted from $9.4 billion in 2006 to just $1.5 billion in 2015, according to the RIAA — an 84 percent drop — and the much-ballyhooed vinyl resurgence has done little to staunch the bleeding, making up only 6 percent of physical sales in 2015. “I don’t know if record retailing — specifically selling new LPs and CDs — is really a viable business in most parts of the world anymore,” says Josh Madell, whose beloved downtown New York store Other Music closed in June after sales fell from more than $3 million annually to roughly half.
But there is hope on the hazy horizon, and it’s coming in the five-leafed form of marijuana, which is legal in a majority of states — 28 of them have sanctioned cannabis for medical or recreational use — following the 2016 elections. What does reefer have to do with records? With music retailers getting into the dispensary business or aligning their physical location with pot shops, the long-standing symbiotic relationship between music and weed may finally be (legally) monetized.
“There’s a history of marijuana and music that goes back to the jazz era,” says Michael Kurtz, co-founder of Record Store Day, who also notes retail’s role in selling paraphernalia — record stores birthed head shops. “Anytime human behavior is decriminalized, it’s good for business.”
And the pot business is booming. Projected to generate more than $1 billion in revenue in 2016 in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is sanctioned, legal weed will soon stretch all the way down the West Coast — from the border with Canada to the North to Mexico in the South — once California’s Proposition 64 goes into effect in 2018. No wonder record stores are, for the first time in more than a decade, feeling optimistic.
“With marijuana, everything has gotten better,” says Paul Epstein, owner of Denver’s Twist & Shout Records, which has been in business for 28 years. “You would be hard pressed to find any business in Denver for which the legalization of recreational marijuana hasn’t had a positive effect.”