World's Largest Collection of Vinyl Records: Bananas Musica at St. Petersburg, FL
By Emily Nipps
Florida has at least four destinations for vinyl collectors, who are driving a remarkable resurgence in sales.
The original Bananas Music store in St. Petersburg isn't just for the casual music browser.
Earlier this year, a Taiwanese dealer came into the quaint old shop and bought five pallets of vinyl records. That's about 5,300 records.
Buyers from Rio de Janiero, England, Israel, Estonia and places shop owners Doug and Michelle Allen barely knew existed have all drooled over Bananas' vinyl selection.
"We've talked about hanging up a map and putting push-pins everywhere we've had customers," said Michelle Allen, who has owned Bananas with her husband for almost 35 years.
With more than 3 million records, Bananas Music is thought to be the largest vinyl retailer in the world, though even people who live in the Tampa Bay area are often surprised to hear this. Bananas has two locations within a mile of each other – a modest-looking, 7,000-square-foot store that houses only vinyl (and has the main warehouse across the street) and a 11,000-square-foot store that carries more modern CDs, movies, records and antique instruments, radios and other audiophile gear.
Business is good – very good, in fact, thanks to a five-year resurgence, particularly among younger music fans in the local market.
In 2006, vinyl record sales totaled 858,000, according to Billboard.com, but jumped to 2.8 million in 2010. This year's numbers are expected to soar higher, as Nielsen SoundScan data show 1.9 million units had been sold in the first six months of 2011. Digital music sales, while posting much higher numbers, have been flat and CD sales have been on a steady decline.
So who is buying all this vinyl in an age of iPods and satellite radio?
Everyone from the serious collector to college kids, Allen said. Their youngest collector is only 6 years old, and he’s quite a Beatles expert.
"It's actually the college-age buyers driving the vinyl market," she said. "We're seeing a lot of newer albums being reissued in vinyl, and a lot of younger kids now are coming in and asking for rare, older stuff. Some of their requests astound me. I'm like, 'How do you even know about that?'"
Browsing through Bananas' selection recently, 26-year-old Mike Fratelli said he discovered a love for vinyl when he heard a DJ at a local dance club mixing on a real turntable.
"The sound is a lot richer and layered, and it brings you back to when your parents would play their Lionel Richie or Moody Blues records in the house," said Fratelli, from Sarasota. "I wouldn't call myself a collector, but I definitely appreciate the difference and look for vinyl when it's available in some of the newer albums."
The new stuff is much cheaper than, say, the rarer 1950s doo-wop and R&B, said Allen. Buyers can expect to pay up to $1,500 for the more hard-to-find albums, but most rare items tend to fall in the $100 - $500 range.
"Some of this stuff is really, really rare," Allen said. "I mean, you can find it beat up. But who wants a beat-up record?"
The original Bananas Music warehouse (2226 16th Avenue, St. Petersburg) isn't fancy. Step inside, noting the "Hippies use the backdoor" sign at the entrance, and you'll feel like you're in a library, with ceiling-high shelves of albums sorted in rows with their labels out. The newer location (2887 22nd Avenue) is roomier and decorated with old saxophones and oddly-shaped string instruments hanging from the ceiling. There are also more than 70 vintage radios, as well as victrolas.
Although none have anywhere near the inventory that Bananas has, several other independent record stores in Florida are also known for their vinyl selections.
In South Florida, Uncle Sam's Music (1141 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach; unclesamsmusic.net) sells a little of everything – CDs, T-shirts, posters, incense – but prides itself on a sizable vinyl collection, rare and new stuff alike.
Hear Again Music and Movies (201 Southeast First Street, Suite 105, downtown Gainesville) has been a favorite of Gainesville's college students since 1994, and has a very large display of new vinyl albums.
And in Orlando, Rock and Roll Heaven (1814 North Orange Avenue; rock-n-rollheaven.com) boasts hundreds of thousands of vinyl LPs and singles, including some budget records for $1 or less. They carry all genres of music – not just rock ‘n' roll as the name suggests.