TAMPA — It was the place you went to look for that old Fats Domino album, or maybe something from early jazz great Bix Beiderbecke. Lovers of music, old and new, gathered there to chat, learn and discover.
But Vinyl Fever, an institution in the Tampa Bay area since 1981, is about to go the way of the eight-track. Blame iTunes and other changes that affected music sales. Blame the long-flagging economy.
Vinyl Fever will be no more come the end of February, owner-manager Lee Wolfson announced Monday.
"I feel sad. I feel terrible,'' he said.
The business has been struggling for the past few years, and Wolfson decided it would be better to close than look for another location when the lease expires on the property at 4110 Henderson Blvd.
Wolfson said he planned to offer discounts to move remaining merchandise and, for the first time, will put up for sale the white Fender guitar signed as a promotion by the Rolling Stones in the early 1990s. On Monday, the "Not For Sale, Sorry'' sign was still posted under the guitar, hanging on the wall.
"We're considering offers,'' Wolfson said, adding that he had not received any by midday Monday.
Customer James Dammers, who only discovered Vinyl Fever a year and a half ago, hates to see a favorite spot close. Unlike many of his friends, Dammers, 19, of Carrollwood prefers the sound of vinyl to CDs or iPods.
"You just can't beat vinyl sound. It's warm, it's full,'' he said, adding that vinyl "forces people to listen to the entire album.''
Browsing Monday, Dammers was torn between a Dr. Dre and a Muse album. His best find ever was actually found by his father, who gave him the album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.
"They're very sort of low-profile,'' Dammers said.
John A. Ferlita Jr., a customer since the early 1980s, frequented Vinyl Fever in search of hard-to-find heavy metal and alternative music. "I'd find it here,'' he said. "Now that they're closing I don't know what I'm going to do.''
Shuffling through the bins at Vinyl Fever, a shopper spots such oldies albums as Frank Sinatra's Swingin' Sessions!!!, with the Nelson Riddle orchestra, and Mel Torme's My Kind of Music. Used CDs include Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream, Elvis Presley's soundtrack to Blue Hawaii and John Coltrane's My Favorite Things.
Changes in technology, particularly the popularity of iTunes, cut into the business, Wolfson said.
"One could say that iTunes has helped to foster a culture of songs as opposed to albums, and that's been one thing,'' he said.
And the recession has leveled a double whammy; people just don't have as much money to spend on music these days.
Other area album retailers are still open for business, among them Sound Exchange Inc. and Mojo Books & Music in Tampa, and Bananas Music in St. Petersburg.
Bananas Music just expanded, opening a new store at 2887 22nd Ave. Doug Allen, co-owner with his wife, Michelle, said their company has thrived largely through its mail-order operation.
"We tend to draw from areas outside of St. Petersburg,'' he said.
Allen expressed surprise at the news about Vinyl Fever, but he said he had recently talked to an acquaintance who was closing his record store in Chapel Hill, N.C., home of the University of North Carolina, after more than three decades.
"He said the new, 18-year-old college student has never bought an album or even a CD,'' preferring instead to download songs onto an iPod.
Vinyl Fever was more than just a place to buy old records and CDs, Wolfson said. It was "the kind of place where you're going to have an experience with what you're shopping for.''
His employees are passionate about music and know their stuff, he said.
"And we know how to stock that way as well — we know which John Coltrane albums are essential.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3435.