After 25 years, CD Central continues to keep up with the times

By Matt Wickstrom, Business Lexington

CD Central
Lexington’s CD Central, founded by Steve Baron in 1995, is one of roughly 1,000 independent record stores remaining in the United States.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Despite an ever-changing marketplace that has seen its competition dwindle, the independently owned CD Central continues to innovate and serve its eclectic clientele of music aficionados after 25 years in business.

The store, one of roughly 1,000 independent record stores remaining in the U.S., was launched by Steve Baron in 1995. Baron had worked in the media relations department at the University of Kentucky for the decade prior and was looking to start an entrepreneurial endeavor. As a longtime music fan and with no stores in Lexington specializing in used CDs at the time, Baron decided to open up a shop selling just that. After considering the option of franchising, Baron opted to go into business on his own and launched CD Central in March of that year on Bolivar Street in what was then South Hill Station.

Wanting to move the shop to a new location as the initial lease at South Hill Station set to expire, Baron was approached in 1999 by a broker with a deal that at first seemed almost too good to be true. The man approached him about buying the Cut Corner Records building, which at the time was CD Central’s biggest competition with retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Target yet to move into town.

“It was a turning point for [CD Central] in terms of visibility,” said Baron. “We’ve got a much bigger space for inventory here on Limestone, in addition to being at a much more easily accessible location than before.”

The change of scenery brought with it a change in the market for physical music sales due to the rise of the internet, first with music downloading and now streaming through subscription-based services such as Spotify and Apple Music, which has impacted consumers desire to amass physical libraries of music. As a result, CD sales have steadily declined every year since hitting their peak in 2000. Sales were down to $46.5 million units in 2019, a staggering 95 percent lower than its all-time high.

To offset the slipping sales numbers, Baron began introducing more vinyl into the store, which, unlike CD sales, has seen an increase over the past decade. New and used vinyl now make up two-thirds of CD Central’s sales, according to Baron, which he credits as being a saving grace not just for his shop but also for countless other independently owned record stores nationwide.

“I think that every record store still in business today can owe it to the fact that vinyl has made a comeback,” said Baron. “If we were just relying on CD sales I think that very few, if any, of us would still be around.”

In total, music of all formats makes up 93 percent of the store’s receipts, including 3 percent from online sales, Baron said. CD Central also sells a variety of turntables, stereo equipment, posters and other trinkets that collectively total about 7 percent of the store’s total sales, helping the store to diversify in today’s complex economy.

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UPDATE: CD Central was scheduled to celebrate its 25 year anniversary on March 28 at Rock House Brewing with performance from The Wooks, Josh Nolan and Deep Nourished Roots, but the event has since been postponed amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, the store is continuing to serve customers with curb-side pick-up and mail to home ordering with free shipping on orders of $35 or more.

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