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Superior record store announces closing, huge inventory for sale

Vinyl Cave owners Tom Johnson, left, and Tom Unterberger will close the Superior record store Dec. 31. They hope to sell the store inventory to a single buyer.

Vinyl Cave owners Tom Johnson, left, and Tom Unterberger will close the Superior record store Dec. 31. They hope to sell the store inventory to a single buyer.

The largest used record store in the region will go out of business this month after owners struggled to meet the demands of younger music lovers buying and selling collectible vinyl on the Internet.

The Vinyl Cave, 1717 Belknap Street in Superior, will close its doors Dec. 31. Owners Tom Unterberger and Tom Johnson hope to find a single buyer for an inventory that includes more than 10,000 albums, 300,000 singles, rock memorabilia and vintage stereo equipment.

Johnson, who retired from Burlington Northern Railroad three years ago, said the store complicates his tax returns and has become a financial burden. He said he can no longer afford to keep it open.

“It costs me money to be part of this now,” he said. “Let’s face it, we’re selling old records to people in Duluth and Superior. It’s not like we’re in New York or L.A. or Chicago or even Minneapolis where there’s a lot of people and a lot of money. There’s just not enough people here to keep it going anymore.”

Unterberger will move a small portion of the records to Globe News, a separate business he owns in the same building. The records will replace a greeting card section in the back of the store.

“I can’t get out of it,” he said. “In fact, I’m still buying vinyl.”

Unterberger said the Vinyl Cave has dedicated regulars but the store is not generating enough new, younger customers.

“The store’s still doing OK,” said Unterberger. “We had a great day on Saturday. But it’s just not all there. The 45 market has disappeared and we can’t find the kind of albums people are looking for anymore.”

Johnson agreed: “It’s not Ricky Nelson, Elvis and Connie Francis anymore,” he said. “It’s Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac and CCR. It’s the heavy metal and hair bands from the ’80s. That’s what people are looking for now and it’s harder to find. We’re not able to restock like we used to.”

Internet sales, a big part of the vinyl market today, has not been a Vinyl Cave strong point.

“That’s part of the problem,” said Unterberger. “Neither one of us are that tech savvy.”

Unterberger and Johnson have sold used records in Superior for 18 years. In 1999, the pair purchased and moved Duluth’s Young at Heart record store inventory after owner Richard Wozniak retired. They also bought records from jukebox operators and private collections to stock a record room at Unterberger’s Viking Bar. The Vinyl Cave storefront opened on Belknap Street in 2008.

Customers on Monday were disappointed to hear about the closing.

“That’s a shame that they’re going to be closing,” said Duane Edblad, of Duluth. “I’ve spent a dollar or two here over the years.”

“Places like this are real gems. It’s sad to see they can’t make it,” said Jason Scorich, of Duluth. “I appreciate what they’ve done all these years keeping the records available here.”

Scorich was shopping for comedy, spoken word and show tune records from the 1950s and ’60s. He said without the Vinyl Cave he will be forced to shop online.

“It’s not the same as going through the stacks,” he said. “It’s not as fun.”

5 Comments

Endion

about 8 months ago

Horrible news! I've spent a lot of money here over the years. Hopefully Globe can absorb most of the collection to sell!

Helmut Flaag

about 8 months ago

Change is the only constant Endion. I'll bet they do hope to sell the entire store inventory to a single buyer. Having to store a half million records nobody is looking for won't be easy. This could also be the only time I've ever seen Railroad Tom smiling, probably because he doesn't have to run a record store and deal with people any more.

Seth Langreck

about 8 months ago

I'll miss this store.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 months ago

I can understand how having the right inventory can be the difference between making significant sales and having a room full of stuff no one wants. A quick scan of eBay sales show Fleetwood Mac records generally going for between $6 and $30, with 85 percent of the listings sold. Perry Como records appear to range from about $1 to 15, with less than 14 percent of the listings sold. I have a box of old square dance 78s on Craigslist for $20. In five days there have been zero responses.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 months ago

On the ninth day, however, my square dance records did sell. The buyer saw my comment here. So, finding roundabout ways of connecting with customers is also important ... at least in my case.

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