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Lunchbox Records’ new, much larger space is now open. Long live the local record store

In an era of digital music and streaming, of iTunes and Spotify, one Charlotte record store just more than doubled the size of its space.

“After 10 years, we far outgrew our space,” said Lunchbox Records owner Scott Wishart.

The Plaza Midwood record store opened its new location at 825 Central Ave. April 9. The space is more than two-and-a-half times bigger than the old location a half-mile down the road (about 2,700 square feet vs. about 1,000 square feet).

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In a lot of ways, it still feels the same. There’s still a stage in the corner. Rock music still blasts over the store speakers. Customers still take their time flipping through the teeming crates of records. A couple of guys with slightly-unkempt hair, glasses and T-shirts work behind the counter (one of them is Wishart).

But it’s not as dark, and not as cramped as the old location. There’s space to move around and explore.

“I look at it as moving out of the crappy punk house that you lived in in college or finally accepting that your bad relationship went sour and being done with that shit,” Wishart said. “It’s just like moving into a new house. … if you do it right you can plan everything and have everything be nicer.”

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Lunchbox Records opened its original little storefront on Central Avenue in 2005 (the record label by the same name has been around since 1999). Since then, it’s become easier and easier to get music online. Wishart watched as other area record stores closed: Record Exchange, Media Play, CD Warehouse.

But some — the strongest? — held on, places like Lunchbox, Manifest Disc, Repo Records and the Wax Museum.

“I’m very frugal and stubborn,” Wishart said, though he admits there were some tough years during the recession. “The only thing I spend money on is food, rent and records so I don’t really require much to live on. Most of my money goes back into this place.”

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Vinyl has become the lifeblood of many independent record shops. Take these numbers from the 2015 Nielsen Music U.S. Report:

– The number of vinyl LPs sold grew for the 10th straight year.

– 11.9 million were sold in 2015 compared to 9.2 million in 2014, an increase of 29.8 percent.

– Independent record stores are the biggest driver with more than 45 percent of vinyl LP sales coming from there.

Wishart estimates vinyl records make up 80 percent of his sales at Lunchbox. Not too long ago, that number was 20 percent.

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“It just kind of flip flopped. That was kind of always my hope, anyway,” Wishart said. “I’ve just always bought records. I think it’s kind of a reaction to digital media. … (Digital music is) just kind of there, in a void, empty, you kind of forget about it. It’s convenient, but it doesn’t always sound that great. And people like tangible things.”

Early on, Lunchbox specialized in punk and metal recordings, but now there’s a little bit of everything. A display toward the front held records from The Lumineers, Beach House and Adele. Country singer/songwriter Kacey Musgraves was in the store April 16 — Record Store Day — to sign autographs and play a few songs.

Lunchbox has its share of regulars, but new people discover the store every week. Wishart hopes he doesn’t lose business because of the move. That’s why he painted the building bright blue.

“What’s the brightest, most obnoxious color that I can paint that building that I can stand to look at every day, and people will drive by and go, ‘What’s that?’ It works,” Wishart said.

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And he hopes that the record store will live on.

“I had low expectations at first,” Wishart said. “We’ve just grown and gotten better every year.”

Photos: Corey Inscoe

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