Why I Still Love Going To A Record Store
Since this community opened it’s doors a little while ago, I’ve posted a couple of thoughts regarding my adoption of all things digital. So as I close out this work week and count the minutes until I can go home, I thought I’d ramble on a bit about my love affair with records stores.
I grew up in Philadelphia, which has always had a huge music scene with access to just a ton of opportunities to see and hear just about whatever it is that turned you on. In the suburbs we would shop at places like Sears or Woolworths for our 45’s, and the supermarkets would sell 33’s from budget labels with one or two known artists on them, or sound-alikes.
By the time I was around twelve and got caught up in the first wave of the British Invasion, a couple of days a week I’d hop a bus and a train to go downtown, where there were real record stores. Places like Jerry’s on Market (“All Lp’s $2.99” said the giant sign) and the Record Mart on Chestnut St., where the Nazz would practice on the second floor a few years later, before Todd moved away. There was a place on Thirteenth St. that sold promo 45’s in plastic envelopes of 5 for a dollar. (I still have ’em in the closet at home.)
It’s funny because my strongest memory of those stores are the smells. I don’t know exactly what it was, but the wooden floors, the cardboard sleeves, the food that the staff ordered, the people…it created a musty and mysterious environment against a soundtrack of music pulsating from the speakers. We’d stand shoulder to shoulder flipping the albums and marveling at the colors and images of the artwork. So often I’d come home with a bag of new records, many of which I’d never heard of, but the covers and liner notes were cool.
When I look back, these were the happiest times for a kid like me. You can imagine my sheer ecstasy when I literally stumbled into a job the very day I was finished with college where the job description was “go to record stores”. The boss gave me the company car, a 72 Superbeetle, a list of about 500 stores from DC to NY, a bunch of promos and off I went.
I started with King James and Bruce Webb’s in the city, Plastic Fantastic in Bryn Mawr, and Keller’s House of Music in Upper Darby. Al’s in Kensington, Mel’s near Ninth, Levin’s in Frankford. There was Speedy’s and Phantasmagoria in Allentown, The Renaissance in Bethlehem, Spruce Records in Scranton and Central Music in Williamsport. Waxie Maxie, Kemp Mill, Discount and Music Den. Armands, The Gallery of Sound (still standing!), Henry Moyers Classical Store. And just so many more that I’ve forgotten over time.
For the next thirty years or so I’ve made it a point to visit hundreds and hundreds of record stores all over this country, and these days they’re harder to find for sure. Even ran a store myself in Santa Monica for a bunch of years in the early eighties that specialized in rare vinyl and carried the very first CD’s from Japan and Germany. And although I do like spending a few hours on the internet browsing the virtual aisles, please…it’s not even close to the old days.
I live about 120 minutes from Hollywood where we’re blessed with Amoeba which is (now that Virgin Times Square is going or gone) the largest record store left in the world. If you like Waterloo in Austin or Music Millennium in Portland, you’d have a heart attack at Amoeba. They are like the old stores of my youth times a hundred, and then just a little better than that. Their locations in Berkeley and the Haight are cool too, but nothing beats the underbelly of Sunset Boulevard.
Every six to eight weeks my kids and I try to make the trip into LA and make a day of it. Now I could spend about seven or eight hours there, and I have…but the boys last about two before they’re just too worn out to stand. They’ll usually sit on the floor near the Ska section, and wait for the old man to signal he’s ready to go. On the way home we argue who gets to listen to what CD first, and while I drive they tear off the shrink wrap and read the notes. Just like I used to do.