Devoted Customers & Diverse Inventory Keep Record Store Thriving
Photographer / Belinda Russell
In the age of digital downloading and streaming services, Karma Records stores in Indianapolis are standing the test of time as purveyors of actual, hold-it-in-your-hand music and movie products. Its selection ranges from new and used CDs, records, cassettes, and DVDs.
“Having a great selection is important, and what we’ve always tried to do is make it a fun environment when people come in,” Jim Ector says, who runs Karma’s east, west and northwest Indy stores with fellow owner, Jeff Wicks. “As a music fan, you should always want to go hang out at a record store.”
Ector joined Karma as a clerk back in 1996, 10 years after Wicks did the same. In February 2000, they purchased the four Indy stores in operation at the time from Marc Freije. He co-founded the first Karma location on April 2, 1970, in the current Union Jack Pub space on Broad Ripple Avenue.
“There were 25 or 30 Karma stores in the state in the 1990s, and then we bought our stores right when the digital downloading thing came along and changed everything,” Ector says. “You saw a lot of chain stores going away. It was a real struggle for a lot of places in the early 2000s.”
Ector and Wicks have been able to weather that storm because of their devoted following of customers and diverse inventory. After all, their east, west, and northern Indy stores – founded in 1972, ’74 and ’84, respectively – are still doing a darn good trade.
“You see guys that have grown up and now their kids are coming in, just in the time that I’ve been around with Karma,” he says. “The loyalty of our customers has been a big part in how we’ve stuck around. There are people that have been shopping in here for 40-plus years. There’s guys that come in every week to flip through the used stuff we’ve put out that week.”
First-timers might not realize Karma is a chain by visiting Ector’s three Indy stores individually – each has its own personality, and he says that’s a big reason why the company has stayed in business for so long. There’s much more than music and movies to browse, and each store has a selection of T-shirts, posters, incense and tobacco supplies.
“All those things have really helped get through those times when you saw the chain stores going down due to Napster and all the downloading stuff,” Ector says.
Karma hosts live performances by artists promoting album releases a few times a year, and in recent years the east store – which has now been operating for 44 years – has hosted Bush, The Struts, The Head and the Heart, Grouplove and Judah & the Lion.
Once a year, on the third Saturday in April, Karma and other records stores nationwide brace for a barrage of vinyl lovers, who come out to celebrate Record Store Day. Ector says it’s one of his most enjoyable days of the year at the store. He typically rolls out rare limited editions, special sales, giveaways and contests. Karma gave away tickets this year to 30 different shows around the Midwest.
“It’s an amazing day,” Ector says. “People get here the night before to stand in line, and people that don’t even do vinyl come out just to be a part of it.”
What’s Old is New Again
Ector says the increase of vinyl in recent years has been a boost to all three Karma locations.
“They say stuff like vinyl tends to go away and come back around again, and it’s been a huge boost for us like all record stores,” he says. “It’s amazing to see new record stores opening all over the country again.”
In Ector’s experience, such resurgence of the vinyl format gives new meaning to the phrase “repeat customer.”
“We have guys that have gone from buying their records here, selling off all their records because they switched over to CDs, and now they’re mad because they’re having to buy their records all over again,” he says with a laugh.
If you still have your old cassette tapes moldering in your garage or basement, Ector says not to chuck them in the trash just yet – they’re currently enjoying a slight comeback as well.
“Believe it or not, we’re actually seeing new cassettes being put out here and there, and people going back to collecting them again,” he says.
Whatever the format, the Karma staff strives to keep a diverse array of genres on its shelves and racks year-round.
“With our vinyl and CDs, we really try to have a well-rounded selection of stuff,” Ector says. “We always have our new and used rock, R&B, hip-hop and country. We try to have something for everybody when they come in.”
Go to facebook.com/karmarecords.indianapolis for more information or visit Karma Records at the following Indianapolis locations:
3802 N. High School Road; 317-291-9243
21 N. Post Road; 317-898-4344
3532 W. 86th St.; 317-876-9603