Friday, May 8, 2009

Rant #5: The Demise of the Local Record Store

Having been a record collector since the 1960s, among the most pleasurable experiences of my life has been to go to the local record shop, sift through the new releases, and purchase and bring home some new music.

Well, I haven't been able to do this in some time, because it seems that all the local record shops, or at least a number of them, have closed.

I know we live in a world where a digital file is valued by some as much as actually having a record in your hand, but I miss the days when you would go into your local record shop and be surprised at what you would find.

You don't get that experience today because so many of the local, mom and pop shops have closed. They simply can't compete with the chains like Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

Actually, I don't have a problem with those chains. If you are looking for pretty standard stuff, they are fine, and their prices are decent. However, you definitely won't find any obscure stuff there. And, even more importantly, their sales help doesn't know a thing about the records or the music.

I had an experience a few years ago that illustrates this point. I went to my local Best Buy and was looking for a particular Elvis Presley recording. I couldn't find what I was looking for, so I asked a salesperson, "Where are the Elvis CDs?" Well, I was taken to Elvis, but not Presley--Costello. I like Elvis Costello, but any music person worth his salt knows that when you ask for "Elvis," you are asking for Presley.

In a Virgin record store a few months back, I asked the sales person where the Judy Garland stuff was. He asked me again who I wanted--I don't know if he didn't hear me or didn't know who I was talking about--and then said, " I don't think we have anything from her--her recordings are too old." Left to my own devices, I did find Judy Garland CDs. He should have known that although she has been dead for 40 years, Garland has numerous releases out, and every year new ones come out.

You would not get this type of "service" in a local record store. People who run and work in these stores know the business, know the artists, and know what you and they are talking about.

In my community, we have one last local record store left. They sell mainly used vinyl, but they do have some new releases. When I have been there, people come in looking for everything from the Monkees to John Coltrane, and never do the salespeople flinch--they know just what you are looking for.

I also know that Record Store Day, highlighting local venues, just passed. I am glad these stores are getting some recognition.

And again, that is not to put down all the chains. The late, lamented Tower Records chain had staff who knew what they were talking about too. I really miss Tower Records ...

But I miss those local record stores too.


  1. I miss local record stores as well. Here in small town North Dakota there aren't even any stores that sell CD's, other then Walmart. I grew up in Baltimore, which still has a couple good record stores, and lived in Seattle a couple years back, which at least by current standards, was record store heaven.

  2. Back East, each town had at least one such shop. They are just about gone now, as is the art of browsing, where you could go from rack to rack, row to row, and see what was there. You really can't do this in the big chains, because there are really no surprises.

    The only chain I really miss is Tower Records. It was a chain with a mom and pop feel, which is probably what killed them. But at least when I went in there, I knew that I would be surprised.



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