Despite the continued resurgence in vinyl sales, 2016 has continued to witness the closing of high-profile, independently-owned record stores all across the country. Other Music in New York City announced in May they will be permanently closing their doors. The same goes for Rebel Rebel Records on Bleeker Street in New York, which was open for 28 years. Origami Vinyl in L.A.’s hip Echo Park district announced in March that the business was unsustainable and has since shuttered. And Warner Music’s recent decision to cease distributing records to stores with less than $10,000 in orders from the distributor could also squeeze small-time retailers.
But none of these developments may be as devastating for the distribution of physical music, and specifically affect rural-dwelling country music fans more, as the closing of the 123 Hastings stores dotted all across the United States in smaller, secondary markets generally ignored by big box music sellers, and too small to sustain independent musical storefronts.
Hastings was never cool enough in the hip crowd to be considered in the same conversation as the legacy independent record stores closing left and right, or even some of the bigger chains like Tower Records. But its importance to the predominantly rural communities that it catered to made its stores a window into the greater musical culture in small towns that will be difficult to replace. Hastings also sold DVDs, books, and comics. “Its a sad day for the music industry,” Newbury Comics CEO Mike Dreese told Billboard.
From the beginning, the Hastings model was set up to focus on rural communities. The first Hastings opened in 1968 in Amarillo, TX, and along with Tower Records, Hastings became one of the very first chains to sell books right beside music.
“By the end of the 1970s, there were 22 Hastings stores in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas, all situated in small towns–a trademark of Hastings that the company employed as its expansion strategy in the years to come,” explains Funding Universe. “The prevailing characteristic of the chain was the location of its stores, nearly all of which were situated in small towns with populations ranging between 10,000 and 50,000. The company’s niche was in towns where residents often were delighted to have the opportunity to purchase a broad selection of books, music, and videos close to home. ‘When we go to open a new store in a small town,’ John Marmaduke (owner) explained, ‘and the people learn we are from headquarters, they don’t just want to meet us–they want to hug us!’ For these small rural towns, isolated from the wealth of merchandise showered upon their urban counterparts, Hastings offered what one company official described as ‘discovery opportunities.'”
After filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in June, Hastings sought a buyer to help keep its 123 stores in 19 separate states afloat. Though the company generated $401.1 million in 2015, it couldn’t compete with the continued deterioration of physical media sales, and the move by consumers to online retailers. The closing of Hastings also means the loss of 3,500 jobs, many of which also exist in smaller, rural communities already suffering greater job losses compared to urban areas.
Physical album sales may be on the rebound through vinyl, but where fans are purchasing those records continues to squeeze independent retailers and regional chains like Hastings. Though consumers have many more options of where to purchase music, the loss of brick and mortar stores takes away many of the discovery mechanisms music lovers use to find their next favorite album or artist.