Many people will look at this post and laugh as they download another song on their Apple Music or Spotify app. They either look back on the days of Tower Records and San Goody with either fond memories and just shrug it off as something from the past that they will no longer regret the passing of, or they are not even old enough to remember how these store dominated the landscape and the culture of every young person from the 90s. But it was also the height of what I would consider the best era for music ever that these stores slowly started to disappear. At first, it wasn’t something that discouraged me because if one went out of business, there was usually another one across the street that was better and probably not a part of some huge franchise that overcharged for the music they were selling.
The stores themselves were an explosion of expression. My favorite ones were the ones that would plaster posters of the bands that loved and who had a new album to sell over ones that had passed on to obscurity. The latest record that the employee behind the counter felt like playing that day would be blaring over the speakers, and sometimes it would become you favorite new album. Random strangers would talk to each other about the albums that they were looking over. It was a community, and there were many of these places where I felt at home. I never thought that they would eventually disappear.
But like Blockbuster, they slowly disappeared until only a few remained. For me it felt like the passing of something important with music and there would be a whole generation of people who did not understand the importance of these stores or why finding the deep tracks on an album showed a true love of the genre. Music, a thing that was always meant for disposable income, had become even more disposable because the music now came at you as something easily downloadable from some service you paid a monthly fee to online. No longer did somebody have to search long and hard to hold that album in their hand. No longer did they have to collect the music, and listen to it constantly as the jewel case cracked and the artwork faded to prove to those who saw it that this was that person’s favorite album. Music no longer became something to treasure. It was now just something to quickly consume and dismiss on the tablet as it shuffled off to other songs that you might appreciate.
Even though it looks like the cd will go the same way as the cassette tape, there is hope on the horizon. Steadily, over the years, vinyl has made a comeback in this arena. It is still not at the same level that it was at during the 1960s, but more and more of the younger generation is finding out about the joy of this medium. First of all, it sounds better than any other medium, giving the music a richer, warmer sound. But more importantly, it makes the playing an album an event again. People need to gather around a turn-table and listen as the needle pops into the groove if they want to listen to the album. It will give people the opportunity to once again share music instead of hiding away behind the earphones with it. And the surviving record stores recognize this.
There aren’t many left in America, but when I find one of them, there is a joy that runs through me because I know that I am going to get an experience from my youth that I thought had died. There is Ranch Records in Downtown Bend, Oregon, Rasputin’s in San Fransisco, and Boogie’s West in Castle Rock, Colorado. The owners have added space to sell records, and it is fun flipping through them to once again see the beautiful artwork, and hold in my hands that amazing moment that I know will happen when I open it up and listen to it. My two favorite record stores are something that I look forward to every time I am in those cities. The first is East Street Records in West Seattle who has some deal with Pearl Jam and they sell a bunch of their bootlegs there. They also have a breakfast place that is always packed and helps to supplement their true love, music. And the store that still has the crowds and the love that I remember from the 90s is in downtown Denver, Twist and Shout Records. At this store, people come in to dump their old record collections, not knowing what they have, and they resell them to the public in packs of ten where you don’t know what you are going to get. It is a lot of fun, and sometimes allows you to find something new.
So even though the record store is harder to find anymore, I do not think that the last ones left will go away. I am glad that they have survived, and I hope more and more people will realize that this is a better way to enjoy music, and continue to visit them when they come across them.