Manny Matalon saw the peak of the record industry in the summer of 2000 when customers flocked the aisles to buy records like Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP and Limp Bizkit's Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.
Sales were brisk and reliable back then at the Daddy Kool music store that he manages on Central Avenue. But today times are hard for the independent music store, an endangered species in an iTunes world.
There are a variety of gigantic competitors waiting to devour the mom-and-pop shops. And the 30 and under crowd now primarily gets its music online. Nielsen Soundscan estimates that more than 1 billion digital tracks were purchased in 2008, up 28 percent from the year before.
The 50 and older crowd can pick up the latest Celine Dion or Andrea Bocelli from Wal-Mart while making a grocery run. Mix these factors with an overall decline in consumer spending as the economy sours and some small retailers see impending doom.
Matalon, 40, said it will take creativity to stay afloat. Ten years ago he would stock about 30 discs for a new popular album. Now he might put only five in inventory.
In some scenarios, the situation requires resorting to older tactics. For almost every new CD that Matalon orders, he also gets a copy of it on a classic vinyl album.
"A lot of the younger kids like the retro feel," he said. Some of them have dug up their parents' old record players and put them to use.
He also stocks a record player that allows users to convert the record to a digital file, so when the vinyl isn't spinning it can also be played on an iPod. Some of the albums also try to blend the new media by offering a digital download with the purchase.
Daddy Kool also sells concert tickets.
"It kind of keeps a steady flow of traffic coming in. We're a news hub," Matalon said of the store at 538 Central Ave.
Most new release discs sell for about $16.98. Jason Wiggs, 24, of Tampa came in to buy an album by the ska group Streetlight Manifesto.
"I usually buy CDs from artists that aren't considered mainstream," he said. "You can't find a lot of albums in Wal-Mart or Kmart, and it's fun to support a local shop," he said.
Wiggs said most of his friends still use their computers to acquire music.
Nick Sorace has owned Disc Exchange, at 6712 Central Ave., for more than 25 years. He said that in recent years older customers have come in more frequently for CDs.
"The heavier buyers are a little more mature in age. There's less kid traffic," said Sorace, 49. Young adult customers rely more heavily on digital downloads, yet they are more likely to buy posters, stickers and other artist merchandise, including T-shirts, he said.
Music sales have risen for the youngest generation, young millennials whose parents buy them the latest Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers CD. But this group hasn't quite matured enough to surf the Internet by themselves and are less likely than their older siblings to buy music online, he said. They rely on a less technology-savvy parent to take them to a music store.
To supplement his music sales, Sorace also sells DVDs and video games and accepts disc buybacks toward a future purchase. He said he averages 100 customers a day, which is a steady amount from times past, he said. Sorace also said that despite the notion that only niche stores will survive, he thinks it's important to keep a variety of music on hand.
"We keep everything from punk rock to gospel," he said.
Reach Austin Bogues at email@example.com or (727) 893-8872.