Nowadays, the moment a new song or album is released, the natural instinct is to log on to iTunes, download it and enjoy. But listeners still need something real to hold, something tangible, something timeless. They need a vinyl record.

Ann Arbor’s record store community nearly lost a member last summer when the owner of Encore Records on East Liberty retired, leaving music aficionados unsure of the shop’s future.

But then two employees stepped up and took over ownership in order to ensure the store’s continued existence.

Back in July, Bill McClelland and Jim Dwyer decided they couldn’t let Encore disappear after the original owner announced his retirement. This decision might seem like quite an undertaking, but surprisingly McClelland and Dwyer didn’t think it was a big deal at all. Records had become their life and they couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

What started as a learning experience quickly became a way of life for the employees, who are passionate about keeping vinyl alive within the music community.

“You can feel the grooves,” employee Michael Dykehouse said. “(Records are) a piece of history in some ways. It’s tangible, and I think there will always be a place in the market for them — they’re tiny art objects.”

Employee Dustin Krcatovich said it was unfortunate that more record stores don’t stick around for both the customers’ and employees’ benefit.

“You learn so much right away (working in a record store), and you learn that you’ll never know everything,” he said. “It knocks any know-it-all tendencies out of you. It may be trivial, but it can be enriching, too.”

Dwyer said having a store like Encore disappear would be detrimental to the community because the store establishes a powerful connection between the music and the customers, newcomers and regulars alike.

“Musical memories are one of people’s strongest memories,” Dwyer said. “Maybe music is about more than just the song itself, it’s the whole culture of the people who follow music.”

McClelland said there are customers who bring their children into their store to “start them young,” hoping they’ll catch the vinyl record bug. He said when he was a kid, he loved being able to stare at the covers.

“It’s more visual,” McClelland said. “It’s something you can hold. It’s like art you can hold in your hands.”

Encore is also home to regulars who stay loyal to the store to find certain records or just to spend hours talking with the staff about music.

Amy Stillman, a longtime customer, has been shopping at Encore since she moved to Ann Arbor in 1998 and became a self-described “hardcore vinyl collector” in 2004. Stillman comes into the store roughly four to five times a year, usually leaving with an irreplaceable sense of satisfaction and $100 worth of records.

“(Encore) is a record collector’s nirvana,” Stillman said. “It’s just a lot of fun to come in and look at all of this and the potential it represents.”

Regardless of modern technologies, the power of the Internet and easy access to digital media, employees at Encore feel these options can’t replace experiencing music firsthand. Krcatovich said music becomes a part of the Ann Arbor community.

“A record store is like a field you can run around in and go from place to place,” Krcatovich said. “I think that’s why a town like Ann Arbor, or any town at all, benefits from having stores like (Encore). You can look around, find what you like and in a way, that’s more organic and ultimately more satisfying.”

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