Record Stores

Fenster writes:

“What’s a record?”

–my nephew, aged 14, about 15 years ago.

“It’s called vinyl, dad.  You wouldn’t know what it is.”

–my son, aged 14, three years ago.

Recently, a wag who is known to frequent this blog sent out an article about record stores in the 1960s.  It got a predictable, sentimental, reaction from those able to remember what it was like to frequent such stores.  My favorite photo from the article is below.  It brings me back to the record store on Marshall Street near Syracuse University.


So what was the feeling, exactly, on walking in to a place like this?

Utne Reader ran an article about gardening some years back that included a quote by the author, Paul Gruchow, that seems to work here.  He wrote:

When you can’t resist planting a few peas in the backyard on the first warm day of spring, what is it that you crave?  Peas?

And when you walked into that record store back then, what was it you craved?  Music?

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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7 Responses to Record Stores

  1. Will S. says:

    Weird how vinyl has made a comeback, in terms of new artists releasing their stuff on it, and it being lapped up by the young’uns.


  2. Fenster says:

    One of my favorite local bands has a number of CDs out. They wanted to issue their new one on vinyl and made a fundraising appeal to their fan base, asking directly for the extra money needed for a vinyl release.


  3. chucho says:

    Record stores are very depressing places nowadays, even the used LP stores. I still occasionally shop at one particular retail store to buy discounted CDs, and the vibe is almost funereal there. The clerks that work there look dazed and tired, as if an invading army had passed through and looted the place.


  4. agnostic says:

    Culture industry workers should ditch the SWPL parts of the country already and come on over to the Mountain states. You should see Bookmans in Tucson on a Sunday afternoon — it turns into a community center, all centered around used media and entertainment (books, CDs, records, DVDs, video games, tapes, even 8-tracks, as well as musical instruments). They’ve got several other stores in Arizona, and Gray Whale with stores in Utah is similar.

    I’ve seen some decent used record stores when I’ve visited Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and I’m guessing the Pacific Northwest has some too. But not like out here, especially stores that offer a variety of media, not just music. Still, the west coast is in much better shape than the east coast, which is roasted and toasted. The cooler people have moved out, and the strivers have moved in. It’s so airheaded and frivolous now.

    The farther west you go, the more people respect the sacred — whatever it is for that person. Back east, there’s an almost constant churning in the psychological and even the physical aspects of culture. Out here people aren’t so worried about what the latest thing is, and they aren’t going to raze a record store just to make room for a Lucky Jeans boutique or a doggie day spa.


    • >>I’ve seen some decent used record stores when I’ve visited Las Vegas and Los Angeles

      There are three used record stores in walking distance of my office in Long Beach. One is a total hole-in-the-wall, exactly the kind of place you would expect to find some good scores.


      • Fenster says:

        We had a hole in the wall used record store in the studenty Allston area of Boston for decades. It was forced by high rents to pack up and move to the less studenty Brighton section a few miles away. Finally, the elderly Eastern European woman who ran it forever told me she would probably have to shutter the place for good. No one cared about her old albums any more, she sighed. I myself used to actually buy there 20 years ago. Now I just grazed every once in a while. I think it is gone now.


  5. agnostic says:

    The ’60s record store still looks architecturally very mid-century. The glass walls of the front and the bright inside / dark outside make it like entering a fish bowl. It doesn’t entice passersby to sneak off into a cozy, separate world. The ones from the ’70s and ’80s had some kind of inviting portal, like windows that you could partly see into but that were partly decorated with album covers or posters. And the rest of the front would be brickwork or something, not glass walls.

    Inside, you don’t see much album art, posters, or other imagery on the walls of the ’60s record store. It’s mostly functional signage — here’s where this genre is, “pay at any till,” etc. And the display of radios, stereos, etc., looks almost like a retail electronics store. At least by the ’60s retailers had moved away from the garish mid-century practice of aggressively hawking their wares, “Best value for the lowest price,” and other nakedly transactional appeals to the customer.

    But you really do need the extra layer of posters, album covers, etc., decorating the walls like you’d find later in the ’70s and ’80s, and even into the ’90s as they began declining but were still in existence. The message was no longer about guiding the customer efficiently through the purchasing process, but about providing a social space for members of the tribe. Now the ones left feel more like a sanctuary, not a triumphal congregational building for a thriving church.


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