If you haven’t shopped recently at your locally-owned music store, you may want to hurry up before it’s gone. Roy Lowdermilk probably thought that locating his music store next to the new Wal-Mart in Morganton, North Carolina was a great idea. The Wal-Mart on Burkemont Avenue is probably the largest retail store in this community of just over 17,000 people, but Lowdermilk’s store, Tape Town, never benefited from its location near the giant. According to the Morganton News Herald, Tape Town has turned off the sound for good on December 27th. Lowdermilk and his wife opened up the music store in 1972. But now their store is dark. “It was a combination of things,” Lowdermilk told the newspaper. He blamed the sinking economy, and the internet as the two main reasons for his loss of sales. One customer in Tape Town told the News Herald that if he can’t find music at Tape Town, he doesn’t bother going next door to Wal-Mart. Another shopper said he liked shopping at Tape Town over big box stores because it catered to his musical tastes, had reasonable prices and great service. “They’re willing to help,” the customer said. “If I can’t find it here, they’ll help us find it somewhere.” But great customer service could not save Tape Town, just as it has not saved hundreds of small music stores across the nation. Lowdermilk said in his 36 year run that “The loyal customers have kept us there, and I would really like to say thank you to all my loyal customers.” Over the years, the store moved several times in Morganton, but in 1988, Tape Town moved right next to Wal-Mart. “Me and Wal-Mart opened on the same day,” Lowdermilk says. The fact is, the Wal-Mart next door helped to kill Tape Town. It doesn’t happen overnight, but Wal-Mart turned out to be one of Tape Town’s biggest threats.
As of January 2008, the Apple iTunes Store was the largest retailer of music, with 19% of sales. Number 2 was Wal-Mart at 15% of the market — counting sales at both its stores as well as its website. Best Buy cornered 13%, Amazon 6%, followed by companies like Borders, Circuit City, and Barnes & Noble. ITunes being a digital-only retailer indicates how much the music industry has shifted over the past 10 years. Digital downloads are up, while sales at stores like Tape Town are down — way down. According to the NPD Group, 48% of US teens didn’t buy a single CD in 2007, compared to 38% in 2006. People using digital downloads will select one or two songs from an album that they want — but not the whole CD. By contrast, the music stores rely on sales of entire CDs. In 2007, there was a 10% drop in overall music spending, according to the NPD Group. According to Enders Analysis, physical sales of CDs, as compared to digital sales, will fall from $35 billion in 2001, to $15 billion in 2012. That loss of sales is going to come from a lot of Tape Town independent stores across small town America. Last August, Wal-Mart announced an exclusive release contract with the band AC/DC, whose album was produced by the same person who has produced Bruce Springsteen in the past. Just before Christmas, it was announced that following its success with the “Black Ice” album, Wal-Mart had signed an exclusive deal to sell Bruce Springsteen’s “Greatest Hits,” starting Jan. 13, 2009. If Roy Lowdermilk wants to understand where many of his loyal customers have gone, he can walk next door to Wal-Mart and pick up an AC/DC or Springsteen album that were never for sale at places like Tape Town. Especially now.