Monday, June 17, 2013

For Those Who Still Actively Frequent Record Stores To Buy Or Sell Vinyl...

...though everyone is welcome to read and offer thoughts.

Vinyl this. Vinyl that. "I got it on vinyl." ON VINYL!!

While it seems like buying a record is the new Beatlemania, it really isn't. Yes, the record album has made a comeback, but not in the same way as say Aerosmith did in 1989, coming back from the skids where the Toxic Twins were living on smack and Slim Jims in cheap Herald Square hotels, only to conquer the MTV world with multi-platinum albums and million dollar tours. No. The comeback of the LP is more on a scale of say, Robert Forster in "Jackie Brown." Impressive, but what's next?

I can't speak for any other city than NYC, but every record store I visit is filled with a whole lot of nothing. Back before CDs took over the world, you would be able to go into any record store and find almost any record from the Tijuana Brass right on up to a Beatles' Butcher cover, with anything from average to rare jazz, death metal and good old fashioned rock and roll in between. Now, any record that has the potential to fetch $20 or more is saved for eBay. Every record store has become one huge budget bin with a roof and staff, less the budget price tags. Bin after bin in all of the record stores I patronize is filled with absolutely nothing. A LOT of nothing.

Go to the Beatles section...Ringo The 4th and McCartney's "Back To The Egg." Go to the Led Zeppelin section...Robert Plant's "Shaken And Stirred." Ornette Coleman section...nothing. Sparks? Nothing. Want a Clash record other than "Cut The Crap?" Forget it. Bowie? "David Live," if you're lucky. Beatles records are not rare. Ornette records are not rare. Bowie records are not rare. Certain ones, yes. But your standard original pressing of "Beatles VI?" No short supply...on eBay.

There is no short supply of anything, save the hundred or so holy grails of record collecting. Even big selling gems like Pink Floyd's "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" or the one time bane of my existence, Simon & Garfunkel's "Bookends" in mono are there if you want them. You just have to pay. I'd love to have that opportunity in say...a record store.

There is one store in Chicago that does indeed stock everything. All of it is offensively overpriced, but at least the option exists. If you did want to buy Dr. John's "Gris Gris" you could. They are asking $65 when it usually sells for $25. T-Rex "Unicorn" or "Beard Of Stars" are right up on the wall, for $50 instead of $15, but all are there if you want them badly enough. I haven't been to Amoeba in ages, so I don't know what is available. Oddly, I have never been to Princeton Record Exchange. But, all of the obvious and not so obvious places in Manhattan and Brooklyn, amidst all the fanfare and publicity, stock nothing classic, rare or worthwhile, saving all of the desirable goodies for the internet.

You could argue that I couldn't possibly be in every record store at every minute of every day, so how do I know that these desirable items haven't come through and weren't immediately snatched up, and you will make a solid a search for Led Zeppelin "2" or Iggy Pop's "The Idiot" on eBay, and you will find all of your fave shops selling them on their eBay marketplace page.

On a recent trip to a Brooklyn store to sell some records, I was put off a bit by the staff member who was appraising what I had brought in. Each record was propped up against his MacBook while he did research online, making what used to be a 5-10 minute job an eternity. (He was 24 years old, so obscure artists like Jackson Browne and the Lovin' Spoonful made his brain shift.) He'd look up Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," see that there were 200 copies available on eBay for three to five bucks, and turn it down, even though my copy was the original black rainbow MCA pressing in mint condition and he had not one copy in the Elton John section. (If I was that guy, I would have given me $2, priced it at $10, with a little sale sign that read, "Elton's classic/MINT ORIG" and it would have sold. I wouldn't have to look it up, either. Anyway...) This went on for 30 minutes or more. I didn't want to be "one of those guys," so I just took it like a man, all the time thinking, "What's the point of having a record store if you're putting all the solid stuff online?"

I am all caught up in vinylmania and its resurgence, and when NYCD was riding high, I all but laughed most of my collection right into the street. I regret it daily, but who knew? Now that it's all the rage again and I no longer have the brick and mortar venue to sell my wares, I do a lot of back seat driving. Most record stores are not as much fun as they used to be, at least for someone looking for something other than blue vinyl RSD 45s or 180gram reissues of the MC5 catalogue for $25 a pop. At least not in my hood.


buzzbabyjesus said...

I sometimes wonder where my copy of Big Star's "#1 Record" is, or "Exile On Main Street" with all the postcards went, or who ended up with the mono copy of The Kinks "Face To Face".
I've spent a lot of time in record stores, then cd shops. It used to be fun thumbing through the stacks looking for surprises, not "Ringo The 4th". When NYCD closed, I stopped. Haven't bought any music since, but have acquired a terabyte of music by other means. The game now is to see how fast I can find something. It took me about 15 minutes to get Parquet Courts after reading about them here.
Too bad selling records has come to that. Seems we use the internet instead of our brains. Devo was right.

Les said...

It's been awhile since I've been in the record store, a year or so, but I'm commenting anyhow. In my experience, our record store people know their stuff. When I was shopping your list (If you have a new list, forward it to me!), I handed it to the owner at my fav local shop and he knew exactly what he had and didn't and what he probably never would. You two could probably have a great conversation. His staff, I'm not sure, the owner has been there every time I've visited and has been the one to help me. They do have pricer albums on display, up, out of reach, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to know if they are overpriced or not. I wish I had a smartphone so you could shop my local store with me!

ASH On The Beat said...

Can't agree more with your general thoughts Sal.

The local record shop here has an opposite effect. He's a music snob, if he knows you know your stuff he'll leave you alone and behave civilly.

If not, he treats the people who risk going in as though they are complete idiots. These are the people who would buy the stuff we could sell in to him.

The result for him is the stock doesn't changeover or rotate, because he won't buy because he can't sell.

It's the not the death of record shops and the economy that does for him, it's him.

He treats me well, I have told him what I think but he just can't help himself. I suspect many of us know these music snobs, there's less of them in full view in these www days, but they are still around.

The internet has made being cool inessential.

On your point of store employees searching on ebay, it irritates me the lack of knowledge.

For those specialising in second hand music, why not employee an older hand, perhaps in or nearing retirement, who knows their stuff, can work a few days a week for pin money and leave the ebay and net business to the younger employee.

You can't sell if you don't buy.

I've recently been thinning my stuff down, due to our plans to move to somewhere smaller in the next few years.

I've gained so much stuff I don't need that I don't want to hawk it around. I know the rough value of stuff and with a job that is high maintenance, couldn't be bothered with ebay.

I have to say that I've found the dealers I've dealt with fair, realistic and honest and for taking some harder to move stuff, I've let them have some gems at reasonable prices.

Courteous, no fuss and one guy lined up buyers from a list I'd sold him and actually told me what he'd pay and what he was selling it for and he got most of it.

drizzz said...

Sorry to say The Princeton Record Exchange is the same- its mostly gone to CDs. I used to make an annual pilgrimage there while visiting NJ and it was crammed with records, there would be Japanese tourists in there buying piles of them. The last time I was there was several years ago- the thrill (and the records) were gone. Portland, OR still has a couple of decent record stores but nothing like 20 years ago. Mississippi Records is tiny but when I was there about a year ago I had a flashback to the old Sam Goodey days thumbing through the pre-war blues, jazz, world music Lps.

william said...

There are at least 4 recommendable record stores in New Orleans. I begin with Domino Sounds in Mid City, curated like an exhibit with affordable records. They do not Ebay stuff and therefor have a sense of what a record is worth. Euclid Records is also a great store with so much in stock it would be difficult to spend a lunch break in there. And in the French Quarter Both Skully's a small boutique with great stuff and Louisiana Music Factory with in-store performances and a nice selection.
But I have also recently been to Crooked Records in DC and loved their store. Affordable and in good taste. And of course two record shops in New Paltz, NY Rhino Records and Jack's Records. Owners of these two stores make record buying a fun process as they engage record people in conversation while shopping. Sometimes the conversation is about The Mets and sometimes it's about Orson Welles.

Sal Nunziato said...


I have nothing but love for Louisiana Music Factory. Euclid, not so much. Each time I've been in...5 or 6 times and only once during Jazz Fest...the kid with laptop was hard at work, like I described in the post. Never a comfort for a customer. You're right, there is a lot to choose from, but again, I found it to be more quantity than quality. But I'm sure I'd feel differently if it was my local place.


Two issues --

one, the love of / fetish for vinyl

two, the loss of the much loved record store curated by knowledgable opinionated characters

The loss of the record store is only very marginally mitigated by the Internet -- opinion leaders like you Sal now fill the place that staff at Sam the Record Man used to.

As to the first I can't figure it out. When my marriage ceased I took a hard drive with digital copies of all my CDs (I might have ten CDs in my place now) but I also had to take a few thousand LPs -- yikes!

As Barrence Whitfield and the Savages said:

Sal Nunziato said...

One more thing about Euclid in New Orleans--I had over $200 worth of records in my arms and still hadn't finished, and I asked who I assumed was the owner in from St.Louis, if he could work something out...a bit of a break on the total price. I barely finished asking and he snapped "No discounts" and just walked away. Really threw me. I thought the whole Mom & Pop thing was about working with the little people. Left a real sour taste for that store.

Anonymous said...

Riveting post for me, Sal. I used to work in one of the best vintage record stores (honestly) in North America in the '80s. Granted, we specialized in 45s, but I long for the days when I could walk into the shop, savour the scent of dusty vinyl In the morning and know for a fact that I'd walk out at the end of the day with some essential gems for my collection - all likely for under $10! Oh yeah - and help some of our customers do the same. I still remember my first purchases as a novice collector in that very store before I landed the job - a mint James Carr 'Love Attack' in the original Bell sleeve for two bucks, Tammi (Montgomery) Terrell's 'I Cried', also for less than the price of a latte today. (Now these might not excite you, but for a soul collector - thrilling!!) I won't bore you enumerating the rest of my finds.

Anyway, in my excitement, I digress . . . Now those days are gone, never to be recovered and I still walk out pretty depressed when I find a 'vintage' vinyl shop and take the time to wade through everything (all beat to hell, by the way and not priced at their true value of 25 cents either) just in the wistful hope of recapturing that magic!

Thanks for letting me share your grief!

misospecial said...

Asheville has a few record stores, but I haven't been by and can't report on them. If they are true to the spirit of,the town, where a music store like Sherwood's displays vintage gear alongside very cool new locally made stuff, there's a chance they will provide a little of the old pleasures mostly lost to us in the new age. Your Elton story reminds me how in the age of data, what gets lost is context--how could we expect AirBook boy to know about the original label? And how can he competently appraise stuff if he doesn't know? It's the whole delight of collecting as opposed to amassing.

Anonymous said...

personally, I love dollar and two dollar bins because of the possiblity of finding something offbeat for not much money. Recently found Hoyt Axton's Southbound, Phil Woods' Live at the Showboat and Don Everly's Sunset Towers for myself, and McCoy Tyner's Fly with the Wind for a buck each at Heights Vinyl in Houston. The Everly has crap songs and arrangements, but what a voice. I've gotten rid of a lot of Axton albums, but Southbound's a keeper.

But you're right, the store personnel make all the difference. I decided to give up on Heights and stick to other stores in Houston - Vinal Edge, Sound Exchange and Cactus Music - all because the manager decided to be cheap about a trade one day (managers on other days had been great). The people manning the other stores are all personable old-timers who know their shit or are happy to find out for you. The people at Sound Exchange even fixed my turntable for free one time.

Sal Nunziato said...

I love $1 bins, too Anonymous. Problem is, thanks to the internet and staff like "AirBook Boy," entire stores are now $1 bins. The odds of coming across a James Carr gem or anything worth more than $1.50 in a $1 bin are slim to none.

Sal Nunziato said...


I guess when proprietors took more pride in their establishments, as opposed to their online shops, the hiring of someone who didn't know the basics and then leaving him in charge was unheard of.

B. Goode said...

Horizon Records in Greenville SC isn't all that big, but it has a great selection and a nice knowledgeable owner who is almost always present and his prices are always fair.

And on a side note, when in New Orleans I always try to buy something at Louisiana Music Factory because the guys who run it or nice and I appreciate all the in-stores.

At the polar opposite is Jim Russell on Magazine Street in New Orleans. I was treated rudely (like I was a tourist, which I was but c'mon do that many tourists go to record stores). Anyway nothing was priced, they wanted me to bring the records to the counter and then they would price them out of a Price Guide. I will never set foot in that place again.

buzzbabyjesus said...

When I buy vinyl, it's usually at yard sales, thrift stores, and flea markets.

Anonymous said...

I stopped trying to sell vinyl ten years ago. First I gave what records I needed to get rid of to my students, if they had turntables and I knew they would appreciate the music.

I turn a lot of teens onto some very good music. One of my students just gave me a Los Lobos album as a thank you.

A few years ago I discovered a local internet radio station that needed music and had turntables. I donated a lot of classic albums (Kinks, Stones, Otis, Sam Cooke, etc.) rather then get ripped off selling to local record stores. I've ended up becoming a DJ myself on the station. My good vibes and good vinyl worked out just fine for me. I now play those albums frequently.

I no longer go into record stores as like you I found shopping in them a waste of time and frequently unpleasant.

However about twice a year I do attend record collector conventions which is more fun, a better chance of finding goodies and I feel I'm supporting the better class of human beings (in general, not all) who set up at these shows.

But I buy mostly CD's, only buying the rare vinyl 45 single for my collection.

Great discussion Sal.

Allan Rosenberg

A walk in the woods said...

I agree with your point about eBay being "the new record store"... some could even say it hurt the record store almost as much as downloading, in its own way.

But I so agree with other posters here who list many great record stores still thriving in 2013. Sal, from what I read and can tell NYC has just become too much of a sellers market -- Guiliani and then Bloomberg just tidied up the place too damn much, and now it's a center of money instead of a more pure playground of ideas.

William, I'm glad you mention one of my fave stores on the planet, the awesome, the mighty Domino Record Shack in N'Awlins. I was in there for Jazz Fest and bought $100 worth of stuff and that was with putting stuff back. He has it all there, and it's not about money - it's about the love of music.

I know of plenty other stores like that, including several in my town here, Atlanta. There are about 10 stores around town, and although you are right that you get way too many copies of The Honey Drippers at each, there are finds to be had.

In fact, one guy who runs a store called Ella Guru - you have to LOVE a cat who not only names his store after an obscure Beefheart tune, and doesn't even include "Records" in the name in some ads I see. He closed his original store a few years ago and, yes, went to sell on eBay. Well, he discovered that's not a bit of fun and actually reopened his store in a physical space, and is going ALL. USED. VINYL. No CD's, and none of those $25 180-gram new pressings. Last time in there I got an original copy of Eno's "Discreet Music" and 2 Stanley Brothers albums that knocked my socks off.

There's fun to be had out there in record store land, Sal. Just maybe not in the big city.

p.s. B Goode - Horizon in Greenville is amazing. Love that store.

William Repsher said...

I think the schmoe behind the counter with the computer is indicative of the audience most of these stores appeal to now: younger folks, hipsters if you please, who have no seasoned taste in older rock music and will buy practically anything, just to say they have it.

With nowhere near the history most of us have with record stores, be they small shops, mega stores or mall chains. Where all of us got used to seeing the same things, over and over. Albums that are considered classic now sitting in dollars bins because they were panned critically at the time, or got foisted off on shit labels like Pickwick or Pair. Think about it -- most of us have passed through every possible facet in terms of purchasing music, up to and including the digital age. Most of these younger people who get off on buying vinyl now ... forget about a morsel of our experience. They have virtually no experience with records stores by dint of when they were raised and the concurrent fall of brick-and-mortar retail in terms of purchasing music. Would they even understand what shopping at a place like Tower felt like? Multiple floors of physical product?

I can't fault them for that. But I'm the wrong guy to talk to on this issue. Ditched my turntable in the early 90s and never looked back. Embraced CDs just as warmly as I've embraced digital. Don't even miss that sensual experience of handling albums that most of us are deeply familiar with.

I have to think now with vinyl we're in a niche phase that most likely won't last another decade. Sounds like most stores have devolved into that one vinyl store I recall in the East Village back in the 90s that was swarming with every shit record you could imagine with a few hidden gems if you were willing to spend hours hunting through their unsorted bins. That's what I miss the most, or at least get a sense of a practice that is now long gone: spending an hour or more in a store searching. Easily took up an hour or two per week in various stores doing just that. Used to be a way of life.

Bombshelter Slim said...

What can I say, I haven't SEEN a music recording store for at least 4 years. My town (pop. 90.000) hasn't had one for almost a decade.

Anonymous said...

Well, I`d like to invite you to a little record shop in Kiel, Northern Germany:
He has exactly the same prices for records since 30 years !
It was 3 D- Mark for an LP and one for a 45. Since we got the €uro, it`s 1,50€ for an LP and 50 cents for a 45, because the offical changing course was one €uro = two D- Mark...
And because he can`t handle a computer he never sells on the internet.
And because he doesn`t know anything about records specifically, it will go on and on...

But apart from that I tend to agree with you, Sal -