There is an entire generation of music fans who have never sat next to their stereo, headphones on, a leaflet of song lyrics sprawled across their lap.
Mp3s and streaming services have robbed them of a tangible relationship with music. Black Wax Café, a local record and antique store with a café run by William Black and Kado Downs, is helping Kokomo physically connect, or reconnect, to one of the joys of listening to music: immersing oneself in an album from beginning to end, eyes bopping along to a lyric sheet, an album cover with a garish work of pop art propped up by the turntable.
From Tori Amos to Phoebe Bridgers, Black Sabbath to Nine Inch Nails, Madonna to Lady Gaga, Johnny Cash to Nick Cave, Nina Simone to Lizzo, the store has a little something for everyone.
“We try to be the anti-record store,” said store owner Black, stating that one of the goals of Black Wax Café is to respect every customer’s taste. This isn’t a hipster music shop dedicated to only the most indie and avant-garde musicians no one else has ever heard of. Everyone is welcome to enjoy their favorite songs there.
Since opening in 2013 as Studio Black American Vintage, Black Wax Café has evolved as many times as David Bowie did in the 1970s.
The first phase of the business was focused on antiques and vintage items, but as Black and Downs bought estates, they began growing a used record collection that became part of the inventory. In 2017 the store added brand new albums into the mix as vinyl records started to go mainstream after years of being a music store oddity. The store name changed to Black Wax Museum as records became more of a focus.
The last transformation came during the 2020 pandemic when, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Black Wax Museum absorbed another business that belonged to Black and Downs, Junk and Java. With all the elements now combined, Black Wax Café was born.
The pair boasts over 24,000 square feet of retail space and 35,000 individual pieces of music media, calling themselves Indiana’s largest record store.
“In the little over a year we have been in business, our business has been increasing 30% every month that we have been open,” said Kado Downs, the store’s general manager.
A recent report from CNBC, based on MRC Data, showed that 19.2 million records were sold compared to 18.9 CDs in the first half of 2021. The top selling album to date this year is Taylor Swift’s “Evermore.”
When walking into the store customers find racks of brand new albums to their right and the café and a performance space to their left. Walk beyond that and they will be inundated with used records and antiques. A further expansion is developing that will allow for even more album space.
“Coffee and music hit home perfectly,” Downs said. “At first we were a record store that just happened to sell coffee. Now we can say the inverse, too, that we are a coffee shop that sells records. That’s when you know you are doing something right.”
Downs hopes live performances return to the store, using live music as a way for Kokomo community organizations to fundraise but also offering an open mic space. He encourages local organizations to reach out if they need help raising money or a venue to do it in.
When it comes to Kokomo’s music preferences, Black and Downs find younger people tend to follow musical trends on the social network TikTok, which often revolve around K-pop (Korean pop music), hip-hop and sometimes a strange outlier like Stevie Nicks. The 25 to 45 crowd likes 1970s’ classics such as Queen, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Country music, of course, accounts for a large amount of Kokomo’s taste.
If there is one downside to vinyl records it may be the price point. The average price of a new album at Black Wax Café tends to be $30, which aligns with other record store prices or ordering online directly from a record label. If a customer finds the price of vinyl records offputting, perhaps thinking of an artist’s lost revenue due to illegal downloads, Spotify streams (which pay on average 3 to 5 cents per listen) and the collapse of the tour industry during COVID-19 will help parting with their hard-earned money. Thirty dollars is a small pittance towards the musical sins many have committed since Napster arrived in 1999.
Along with the physical storefront, Black Wax Café sells online at www.blackwaxcafe.com. If customers aren’t finding what they are looking for, special orders are also an option. And the store is always interested in purchasing record collections or individual pieces for cash or store credit.
Vinyl records have been back for too long to be a mere fad. Music fans want to hold and see their albums again after two decades of songs being compressed into digital ones and zeros.
Now cassettes need to make a comeback. There can’t be records without the ability to make a mix tape.
Black Wax Café is located on 910 N. Washington St. and can be reached at 765-457-3373.