An older model, maroon minivan pulled into the Vinyl Fever parking lot in South Tampa on a hot, Thursday afternoon. The driver exited the van and retrieved her young son —and a huge box. Sodonia Bernard struggled to balance the heavy brown package and open the glass door to get inside.
Vinyl Fever owner Lee Wolfson has seen people like Bernard before. They come to see if they can turn their prized record collections into some cash.
Bernard hoisted the hulking container on the counter and showed him her wares. Colorful cardboard record jackets cover slabs of old vinyl. Wolfson thumbed through slowly at first, then faster.
"I bought the records while I lived in Japan," the Brandon woman said, son Sam by her side. "I don't want to see them go. But we need the money, more. Right, Sam?"
Bernard bought the records while living with her husband overseas from 1992 to 2000. She recently became single. Sam turns 5 next week. Mom could use extra money for his birthday party. Unfortunately, the records were not valuable enough for resale and she had to haul them back to her minivan with the faint hope of peddling them on eBay.
Vinyl Fever has been a Tampa institution since 1981. Wolfson says lately he seems to be seeing more stories similar to Bernard's. Last year, a man who lost his job in the music industry sold a CD collection that numbered more than 3,000. A few months ago, the same individual parted ways with an even larger, more personally meaningful vinyl cache. The store had to rent a truck and pick up the records at the man's home.
New and used music and movies outlet Sound Exchange, with stores in Tampa, Brandon and Pinellas Park, has been in business more than two decades. It also reports a surge in used CD sales.
"We've always been an outlet for those kind of circumstances but I know our volume of purchasing has increased lately and that's a good barometer of how things are going in the economy," said Tampa Sound Exchange manager/buyer Steve Crace. "[The sellers] offer up their reasons themselves, it's almost like therapy — a validation as to why they're having to sell their collection."
On a positive note, at least for those gainfully employed music lovers, the surplus of used CDs and vinyl means lower prices. Sound Exchange and Vinyl Fever offer discs by major artists for as little as $5 and under.