Today is Record Store Day. It’s a heckuva concept — hundreds of independent record stores across the country celebrating, well, themselves and their customers. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, you’re likely part of the reason record stores are disappearing.
Once upon a time, you could find a record store in any town of middling size. These days independent record stores (or record stores at all, really — when was the last time anyone even saw a Sam Goody’s?) are mostly found near large-ish college campuses or hip neighborhoods. And even then only if the stores are lucky enough to have a devoted customer base. Sadly, for most Americans, music shopping is already done in a world where only Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Apple exist.
For a lot of record shop purists, this day is about vinyl. Yep, those big black platters actually do hold music. Don’t get me wrong, I love LPs — filled with art and lyrics sheets and needles dropping and sitting on the floor and romance and crackling tones through speakers — a ton. For me, though, the day is much bigger than any individual music format. It’s about the store.
I love the ease and affordability of iTunes as much as anyone, but I miss the experience…the thrill of the hunt. For all its conveniences, it’s hard to call buying music on iTunes an experience.
Now I was never one of those guys who sat with the store clerk talking shop about new releases, imports and bootlegs. I’m far too introverted for that. There is something about being in the record store, though. You’re sifting through bins and you’re up to your arms in music. You see music you’d likely never be exposed to otherwise. You’re hearing musical conversations around you. In a way, record stores are an education of sorts — full of experimentation, discovery, evaluation and even history.
I have a lot of memories wrapped up in record stores. Silly memories to some people but essential in my development, both musically and personally.
…back in junior high we had a tiny record store in Marietta called Street Beat. Horrible name aside, I got a lot of great releases there. It’s really where I started buying my own music for the first time. I started snapping up the stuff a 13-year-old boy was supposed to buy in ’91 or ’92. Pearl Jam. Nirvana. Guns N’ Roses. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Some classic rock like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. All great releases that fed my infant love of rock. I also bought some stuff that just looked cool. Sometimes that paid off, sometimes it didn’t.
…The Sound Exchange is still as close to a real-deal record store as you’re gonna get in Parkersburg, WV. I spent too much of my meager cash there during my high school years. Everything from The Smiths to Barenaked Ladies and The Flaming Lips to Ben Folds Five. I remember visiting the store for a number of CDs on the very first day they came out. Weezer’s “Pinkerton.” R.E.M.’s “Monster.” A few more. The store also had a nice vinyl selection. I starting buying some cheapies to add to the collection I had been given by my Dad.
…I still think School Kids in Athens was the greatest indie record store ever. Killer vinyl selection. Tons of import and bootleg CDs. Knowledgeable yet unpretentious staff. I found so much amazing music there that it hurts. Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Jimmy Eat World, Neutral Milk Hotel, Belle & Sebastian.
…Haffa’s was rad as well. Plus, it’s still open.
…In Bowling Green there is this amazing record shop called Finder’s. It’s open until midnight and I’ve bought two of my favorite CDs there — The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” and Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
…Now I’m pretty blessed to live in Columbus. It manages to support no less than seven great independent record stores. I really like Singing Dog and Used Kids near the OSU campus. Lost Weekend Records in Clintonville is rad, as is Sour Records in Westerville.
Long live the independent record store!