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Indie record shop owners oppose large Itaewon music store

An association of indie record shop owners and their supporters protested in Hannam-dong on Sunday, accusing a new large music store of price dumping, monopolizing music tastes and hurting the livelihood of small businesses.

The target of the protest was Vinyl & Plastic, a massive two-story establishment which opened on June 10. The store has over 4,000 vinyl records and 8,000 CDs on sale, and turntables on which customers can listen to music. It is run by Hyundai Card, a credit card company that has previously launched various cultural ventures, including Music Library, which features over 10,000 rare vinyl records for visitors to listen to and Understage, a concert venue.

According to some 30 record shop owners and music enthusiasts who stood with signposts and banners in front of the store in Hannam-dong, the emergence of this music multiplex will “close down all record shops.”

“If this ... retailer continues to exist ... the few (indie) records shops that have maintained their unique identities will have no choice but to close their doors in a matter of months,” said a statement released by the association, which was formed last month after Vinyl & Plastic opened.

“This is an industry of long-time experts who are passionate about music,” said the association’s president Kim Ji-yoon, who has been running record store LP Love in Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center, a hub of small record shops, for 21 years. “We barely make a living. We’re not selling vinyl records to make money. But the goal of conglomerate-backed stores is to make a profit.”

The association also accuses Vinyl & Plastic of offering 20 to 30 percent discounts off regular album prices to kill off competition. 

Advocates for small album retailers protest in front of Vinyl & Plastic, a music store run by Hyundai Card. (Sete Records Instagram)
Advocates for small album retailers protest in front of Vinyl & Plastic, a music store run by Hyundai Card. (Sete Records Instagram)

“We do not want any kind of compensation for our losses,” said Kim. “Our only demand is that (Vinyl & Plastic) shut down.”

Owners of the small shops say their sales have drastically declined since the opening of Vinyl & Plastic.

“On most months, I make a couple of million won ($1,000),” said Yoo Ji-han, who owns Sete Records in Hongdae. “Last month, after (Vinyl & Plastic) opened, I made 200,000 won ($174).”

The new shop attracted some 2,000 visitors per day on the weekend of its opening, according to a Facebook post by Hyundai Card CEO Ted Chung.

Hyundai Card argues that its goal is not to push out small shop owners but to “expand the vinyl record industry for everyone,” according to an official at the company.

“The idea behind the store’s conception was to allow the public -- especially younger consumers in their 20s and 30s -- more access to LP records, which are harder to come by today in large stores,” said the official.

As part of plans to “peacefully coexist” with existing retailers, Hyundai Card announced it would stop selling second-hand LP records as of July, leaving them to be traded solely at indie record shops. It has also been providing a map of historical record shops throughout Seoul, encouraging visitors to branch out in their exploration of vinyl music.

“We’re also planning to finance musicians who want to release LP records,” said the official.

While indie record shop owners are aware of the card company’s aims, they say their livelihood is in immediate danger.

“We acknowledge the attention this shop has brought to the vinyl record industry,” said Kim of LP Love. “But this is a small, limited industry. At this pace, we’ll be out of business before (the industry) grows.”

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)
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