Queer, Highlands-based record company prepares for annual Record Store Day after months of growth

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by Sophia Harris
she/her
sophia@queerkentucky.com

Whether it be jelly sandals, Animal Crossing, or mushrooms, everything you once loved comes back around. Gen Z has been no stranger to the resurgence of trends of the past. Though we’ve seen it the most up close and personal in the form of fashion, one of the greatest resurgences taking place is vinyl records. Everybody loves a good record store nowadays, and they definitely used to back in the 70s as well. Through cassette tapes, CDs, MP3 players, iPods, and today’s streaming platforms, vinyl records have stood through the test of time and somehow come out almost even more popular than they ever have been. The shiny aesthetic, the disco glam, and the smell of a brand new vinyl, sliding out of its paper sleeve is almost *orgasmic* for some. 

Cardinal Record Co. on Grand Opening Day,  1436 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40204

Or at least it is for me. And definitely is for local record store owner, Shawn Bond. Bond is a 24-year-old, queer, business owner in Louisville. His store, Cardinal Record Co., is located exactly where it should be — in the Highlands — specifically 1436 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY 40204 Growing up in a house constantly flowing with music, he has developed a diverse taste and bold respect for genres in various formats. He listened to several r&b artists when he was younger, including Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and Aaliyah. Many of those being among his top faves. Although he moved away for college, Bond returned home in 2020 with a marketing degree from American University in Washington D.C. What does one do when they’ve graduated from college in the middle of a pandemic? Oh yeah, turn their dreams into realities, starting by vamping up their record collection.

As Bond sought to grow his collection, the ability to shop for records in person had slowly begun to diminish. With the unfortunate closure of ear X-tacy and not many record shops left in America in general, the pandemic pretty much put in-store record shopping to a complete halt.

Most people began ordering their records from places like Walmart, Amazon, and Target. But we all know the problem with doing this is that you never know what you’re going to get. Will I in fact get the record I ordered or will it be some other random record that I definitely did not order? Will it be damaged? Scratched? Broken completely? Will it even make it here at all? All thoughts Bond stayed aware of while having to order from various suppliers throughout the pandemic. However, on one faithful day in April, he decided to place an order on Amazon for Shawn Mendes’s Illuminate album but what he received was not as expected.

One of the reasons Bond is so adamant about buying physical copies of music is due to the actual support that it directly provides to the artist. By purchasing a CD/vinyl from an artist, you are making a full sale to the artist versus streaming, which takes several plays (about 1,500) to equal the full sale of an album. Physical copies of music have been and will continue to be the best way to support an artist, that’s for sure.

In January 2022, it was reported that vinyl records had outsold CDs for the first time since 1991. Of course the biggest contributor to this being the pandemic as 2021 saw the highest increase. Although the purchase of CDs has started to die down in recent years, Bond says that they have had some CDs in stock before and will get them if the demand is there again. The biggest issue with physical copies, of course, is always going to be their fragility and ability to withstand harsh shipping and distribution. But this is exactly why small record stores exist.

On April 12th, 2021, he posted a Tiktok about the condition of the Shawn Mendes record and gained immediate traction. On May 1st, Cardinal Record Co’s website was launched. He was able to get access to records from several different distributors, including some big ones right here in Kentucky, in order to satisfy customer requests.

As a part of an effort to decrease the risk of damaged records and increase the support for local businesses, their web store gathered tremendous popularity, bringing in more than 200 orders on their very first day. Who knew buying and selling records could turn from a hobby to a career so quickly! They were also able to get over 4,000 signed up to their email list before the site even launched. With a very eclectic collection of choices, great reviews, and hundreds of records for Bond to ship on his own, it was evident that people were loving everything they had to offer. As his house overflowed with record orders needing to be fulfilled, he began to ponder the idea of a brick and mortar establishment.

The first obstacle he had to overcome was researching how to do this. Once he got started, the ball really got rolling. Deciding to solve one problem at a time was the approach he decided to take. The primary problem was how to ship records in a better way to ensure the safety and protection of the record during distribution. Done. The second problem would normally be funding for most but starting as an in-home record shipping company, Bond and his colleagues were able to make enough to get started. He stated that everything he did has been trial and error. The final problem was that he simply needed more space. He had been selling records out of his apartment but, eventually, was able to find the current building on Craigslist. He walked in and could immediately imagine exactly what the shop would look like. In August 2021, the storefront opened up on Bardstown Road. 

Although it was a difficult process to get off the ground, Bond was able to overcome almost every obstacle and, thankfully, had lots of moral support along the way. His advice to young, queer people, and anyone, trying to start a business on their own is that you don’t have to do it alone. It’s all about being able to ask for help when you need it and if you really have something great in store, even if you don’t think it’s the best idea, never be afraid to ask about it to get yourself ahead. It all starts with an idea, but it doesn’t have to end there. He also says to not ever give up equity, because you can outsource almost anything, including payroll and human resource issues. There are also several resources out there to help and if you have something creative that you’re working on ~ just do it, just post it. He did, and look at him now! 

Shawn Bond, Founder and Owner of Cardinal Record Co.

Since the store has opened, the dynamic of business interactions have changed so much for Bond and his team. One of his favorite things about in-store shopping is that he is able to interact directly with his customers. He says it makes him happy to see young, queer people come in with their families and seeing them really embracing their tastes and supporting them through the great gift of vinyl. He also loved being able to give cool jobs to queer people and create a healthy and safe environment for them to work within. Although it initially began with Bond and his partner’s passion for music, there are currently four people working for the store and they are always open to take resumes from anyone interested in working for the shop.

Tyler Hinkle (left) Shawn Bond (right)

Social media has played a huge role in the development and advancement of this small business owner’s dreams. Showcasing every single drop and incoming stock on Tiktok, Instagram, and more, Bond soon realized how much people appreciate the transparency that social media has allowed businesses to have with their customers. It has also played a role in how he establishes his merchandising. He makes sure to read every comment and suggestion that they get in order to stay up-to-date on what he should keep in stock and what he could potentially bring in the future.

He also always takes suggestions from his staff as well as paying attention to his own music taste, and research online, to develop a database of what to sell/bring in. At the moment, the store’s collection is primarily R&B and Pop focused, but they do have a very wide variety of genres available online, and sometimes in store. Bond says their single best seller overall has been Lorde’s Pure Heroine album. He also says they have sold more Taylor Swift in general than anything else. Harry Styles, Miley Cyrus, and Ariana Grande are others that are huge hits anytime they’re available in the store. 

The store has completely taken off in terms of becoming a hotspot and gaining some big sales ever since then. The store has developed a regular but widely diverse customer base, ranging anywhere from ages 12 to 70. Although the original launching of the website was their biggest day for sales so far, they have come incredibly close to beating that on two different occasions, including Black Friday, of course. The primary focus of the store is just to continue growing its merchandise in the manner that it already has been. Currently, the store is putting out about 100-200 boxes a week and are only continuing to grow in popularity and success. With every sale that is made, the store donates 1% of all their profits to Queer Kentucky, the Trevor project, Equality Florida, and Equality Texas. They also ask every customer if they want to donate some of their total to any of these organizations.

Now that things have calmed just a little, Bond, and many others, have returned to all their favorite musical activities, including record shopping, concert-going, and dancing in the street. Wait… we actually never stopped doing that one. As far as record shopping goes, BUY LOCAL. We have no lack of options here in Louisville to buy records currently so why not support small, queer owners. And small businesses have already suffered enough through the pandemic, so let’s give back when and where ever we can. As far as concerts go, we have no lack of those here as well. Bond absolutely adores going to shows with his partner. Some recent ones they have seen include JoJo and Billie Eilish. And they will be seeing Janet Jackson on Derby weekend, May 7th, at Lynn Family Stadium. Yeah, I’ll be there too.

However, in terms of pre-Derby things, this Saturday will help bring even more growth to the stores already booming sales. April 23rd will be the annual celebration of Record Store Day. A holiday enacted to honor the culture of the independently owned record store. Bond is expecting it to be quite a big day for the store, despite falling on the same day as Thunder Over Louisville. He stated that there are currently 1500 independent brick and mortar record stores that participate in this day. The store will be opening two hours early for this event, meaning they will be open from 9am to 7pm for the day. There will be hundreds of exclusives coming out that day as well as some exciting things taking place in the store, including all regular items in stock being sold at 10% off. Get there early to check out some rare tunes and to snag some goodies in support of your local record shop this weekend! Check out their Record Store Days rules here!

Here’s a short list of musicians Bond encourages everyone to listen to:

  1. Beyoncé
  2. Whitney Houston
  3. Taylor Swift
  4. Nicki Minaj
  5. Doja Cat
  6. Maisie Peters
  7. Tinashe
  8. Victoria Monet
  9. Chloe
  10. Normani

*Janet Jackson is not listed on here because she’s a given, duh.

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