The Local Record Store – if you are passionate about music, you’ve got a story about one; maybe you found that long-lost holy grail of an album in one of the dusty bins in the back, or perhaps there was a cool clerk that turned you onto something that blew your mind. T
hose days are mostly behind us. The town I live in (Dayton), once full of independent shops, now is completely devoid of such places. Music consumption is a very private affair now; we can buy any song known to man on our computer while sitting in our underwear, but it didn’t used to be that way. Author Gary Calamar co-wrote a new book called “Record Store Days,” and he talks with Icon Fetch about his great book, which champions the hometown music retailer.
My first recollection of a cool store came when I was really young. We were in the mall in Cleveland and my folks went into some place called JP Snodgrass (absolutely TERRIBLE name, by the way). They sold jeans and records. I remember it being all shiny in there and the music was way too loud, but I was intrigued.
Much later, I remember as a teen walking into this place called Schoolkids in Durham. I was kind of a music know it all, but didn’t recognize any of the albums on the wall. I remember this strange, shaggy clerk who I ended up later being friends with. I started talking about bands that I liked., which he quickly shot down as complete rubbish (I probably mentioned Todd Rundgren). He showed me this record by the Meat Puppets; I had heard them on the local college station and was interested. I bought the record and took it home. It was strange. The artwork was crude, the record label didn’t even look professional, and there was an advert for other bands I’d only heard of in passing: Husker Du, Black Flag, the Minutemen.
I would return to that store numerous times, and the clerk would always suggest something else cool to listen to. He was especially supportive of local music and would turn me onto the Bad Checks, Southern Culture on the Skids, the Connells, and many more. Even cooler, many of the members of the bands would also hang out there (some even worked there too).
Slowly, I built a collection of alternative music. The store had a “three used for one new” LP trade-in policy, which allowed me to buy, even when I was low on cash; I’d just trade in something I didn’t want anymore for some new ear candy.
After moving out on my own and getting a job in radio, I was now in control of my own finances; any money after the bills were paid went to CDs and LPs. Every Tuesday was a holiday, because that was when the new releases came out. Even well into the Nineties, there was always something good to look forward to.
There are still moments, frozen in time, for me: my parents buying my first album (a K-tel) from Gold Circle, buying ELO’s “Out of the Blue” and getting the cool, cutout spaceship with it. Years later, I remember going into Record Bar and grabbing REM’s “Murmur” the day it came out (WQDR had already played tracks from it) and just being blown away. I went into Gem City in Kettering and purchased “Superunknown” from Soundgarden after reading about it in Spin.
I used to spend hundreds of dollars a month on music. Plus, I subscribed to four music magazines and was constantly going to concerts. Things slowed down in the mid 90’s as the grunge thing cooled off and never regained momentum. The big box stores came in and put all the little mom n’ pops out of business. At first they boasted an insane selection (I remember saying “oh my God, they have EVERY Alice Cooper record!), but eventually they scaled back to only the biggest sellers. Now, I despise those places; there’s no flavor, no selection, and the staff is clueless. I remember one time in particular where an African American lady asks to an African American clerk: “what category would Sam Cooke be under”? To which the clerk looked dumbfounded. I replied, “follow me, I know where to find him.”
And, so I sit here in my underwear, buying music. But, there is so much lost in the technology: where is the cool clerk to turn me on to cool music? When I surf the web, there’s not crazy music blaring out of the record store speakers, or catchy posters on the wall. And, worst of all, I don’t browse anymore; if I want something, I type it in. Otherwise, it’s not there.
These days, my family and kids take up most of my money, but I do miss those days…