Ever since the advent of digital music in the late 1990s, followed by the rise of online streaming music in the 2000s and 2010s, the demise of local, independently owned record stores has been expected.
Bananas Music in St. Petersburg likes to defy expectations.
Hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 30 record stores in the United States, Bananas was founded 40 years ago by Doug and Michelle Allen, who have strong ties to Gulfport. Their son John, who is also involved with the business, graduated from Boca Ciega High School in 1997.
As well, the store’s manager, Genevieve Stout, and employee Bill Kiefel are BCHS alumni, graduating in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
Bananas began in 1977 as a bookstore, but then transitioned to music, becoming Allen’s Record Exchange (the name was changed to Bananas in the late 1980s), after Michelle Allen acquired a stack of vinyl records at a garage sale and was astounded at how quickly she and Doug were able to re-sell them. Today, Bananas has an inventory of some 3 million vinyl LPs and 45s; it also sells CDs, DVDs, new and vintage audio equipment, and even cassette tapes. And yes, it still sells a few books, mostly music related.
On Saturday, July 8 Bananas celebrated its 40-year milestone with a party at their main retail location on 22nd Ave. N. in St. Petersburg. The event included live bands, free food, beer and wine, as well as a raffle and giveaways. Michelle said the celebration drew approximately 1,000 people during the course of the day.
Over the years, there have been tough times for Bananas, said Michelle, such as in the mid-2000s when MP3s and iPods were all the rage, but her and Doug’s patience has been rewarded with the massive, worldwide resurgence in interest in vinyl records.
“In our business, formats change, they come and they go – like we’ve seen with vinyl,” she said. “When things change you have to be able to reinvent yourself to stay relevant.” Bananas adapted, she explained, by scaling back from four retail locations to just one, as well as improving its computerized inventory system so it could sell records online to anyone, anywhere.
Thanks to those changes, Bananas may be more relevant than ever. Vinyl collectors, record store owners and music distributors flock from all over the world to raid its massive collection. Actor and comedian Aziz Ansari dropped by to browse in 2014, and legendary rock bands Def Leppard and Sonic Youth have visited; so has Florida crooner Jimmy Buffett. Even Burt Reynolds is a fan.