on the record.

When we visited the library last week, Mrs. Crappy found a book she thought would be right in my wheelhouse. And she was correct.

Record Store Days is an ode to the romance of the dingy stores that occupied much of my time — and my money — from about age 10 until fairly recently. When I was younger, I had places close by where I got my comic books, but somewhere around 1976 or 1977, a couple things happened: I was given greater leeway by my parents to ride my red Schwinn 10-speed beyond the boundaries of the immediate neighborhood, and I started to really pay attention to music.

And when I found I could get to the Buzzard’s Nest record store on Henderson Road in about 20 minutes on my bike? I got a backpack big enough to hold LPs, and off I went.

Transportation was a key, here. My parents are exceedingly patient people — and my father, especially, understood the obsession — but I realized quickly that the legitimate number of requests I could make for a ride or a stop at a record store was limited. So the bike — and later the moped and the Pinto, my first car — got me to the nearby Buzzard’s Nest, the chain store (I think) on Lane Avenue and — the Holy Grail — the used-record stores on High Street on Ohio State’s campus.

Especially when I was still pedaling up to Buzzard’s Nest, I know I was in awe of the people who worked there. They were, in my pre-adolescent mind, my people. They knew the disco records, but they were rock ‘n roll guys, long hair, cheesy 70s facial hair, black t-shirts — they were what 10-year-old me wanted to be.

I grew out of the black t-shirt phase at some point in junior high school — that had something to do with discovering the Grateful Dead, which sent me off down a less-metallic path — but my love for the record store never wavered. I enjoy the ease of buying music now — and I will admit that I’m not a vinyl purist by any stretch, because the music itself is still more important to me than the medium — but I miss spending an hour in a store, flipping through bin after bin of treasure and coming across something I’ve never seen.

I’ve mentioned Buzzard’s Nest already. It was the local chain in Columbus, and I think it managed to stick around sometime into the late 1980s. I loved my local Buzzard’s Nest, but the real treasure was to be found elsewhere. Here’s a taste of what I remember about my record stores:

Magnolia Thunderpussy. Easily the best name for a record store I’ve ever heard. This campus staple is still around, although it seems like it’s moved at least a couple times since I’ve lived in Columbus. I remember it being the biggest, but not necessarily the best of the campus stores. Thorough selection, but almost as pricy as Buzzard’s Nest.

The one at the bottom of the stairs. This was up High Street a bit, almost to Lane, in a basement spot customers reached via a double stairway on the east side of the street. I don’t recall if this was the Columbus version of Schoolkids Records, but I know it was my primary stop. A good selection of new stuff, and always a reliable flow of used records to pick over, at prices that accommodated my paperboy’s income.

The one above Bernie’s. Was this Schoolkids? The name wasn’t really the important part; the 25-cent and 50-cent bins were. This little place was hit-or-miss, but when you hit, you hit big. Used records were sorted by price per disc — a quarter, 50 cents or maybe a buck if the vinyl was really clean. On a good day, a five-dollar bill was enough to fill my backpack and make my ride back home a little uncomfortable — because of the weight of the LPs and the fact I was in a hurry to get home.

Schoolkids Records, Athens. Last time I visited OU, this was no longer a record store, and that’s a shame — it was a great one when I was a student. They mostly had switched to CDs by the time I returned from the Army, but I had as well, so no biggie. Excellent selection, including some difficult-to-find stuff. They did the midnight sales on Tuesdays for big-deal releases, and I attended a couple of those; once they got to know me, though, they would also hold copies of stuff on the promise I’d be in before lunch to pick it up.

The one downstairs, Athens. This was on Union Street, below a Chinese restaurant and next to the old carryout where I used to buy 12-packs of Weidemann beer for $5. It was small and dark, with used vinyl only. I scored some good stuff there, and was sorry to see it was gone when I returned to Athens after getting out of the Army.

A couple big ones:

Tower Records, NYC. From the moment that Juan moved to Brooklyn after he finished school, I made it clear that the first weekend I visited we would be heading to the village so I could bask in the glory that was Tower Records. I wasn’t disappointed, either. The place was huge, and it had everything. I was smart enough that I showed up looking for a few specific things — records to fill out a catalog of a couple bands, if I remember — and I think I left with nearly everything I was looking for.

ear X Tacy, Louisville. Upon completion of basic training, I was informed that I would be staying at Fort Knox in Kentucky for the remainder of my time in the Army. That was good, mostly; I was a fairly short distance from home, so I could get back to Columbus pretty much whenever I felt the need. But I still needed to explore Louisville a little bit, to find out what my home for the next couple years had to offer. Most of the guys in my platoon recommended the gigantic mall just south of town, but there was one guy who lived down the hall on my floor in the billets who knew better. His nickname was, appropriately, Pig; I met him when I heard astonishingly good banjo coming from down the hall and found him playing in the bathroom. Pig’s advice? “Go find ear X Tacy.” It was maybe the best independent record store I ever came across; killer selection, knowledgeable-and-friendly staff, the perfect vibe. It also served as a community hub in Louisville, or at least it did for me; at the end of those weeks where I was struggling with Army life, I’d drive up to the store on Saturday morning, spend a couple hours and a few bucks and come back happy. The closing of record stores isn’t news these days, but I was crushed last fall when I heard that ear X Tacy was shutting down.

Border’s Books and Music. Yeah, I know. Chain, box store, blah, blah, blah. I don’t care. Border’s — especially the one in Northway Mall — always felt comfortable to me, and when they were able, they were a kickass record store. But I’m including them here for symbolic reasons more than anything else, because the demise of music sales at that particular store was really the final thing that drove me to the world of downloads. The shift, at first, was subtle; if you went a couple months between visits, the music section would shrink by a row or two. The more obscure genres vanished first, and I didn’t really miss the Russian folk music CDs. But when the reggae section vanished? Jazz got reduced by half? The quirkier rock and pop musicians disappeared? At some point I walked downstairs and found that nearly the entire thing was gone; what had taken up nearly the entire floor had been consolidated down to two lonely, pathetic racks in the middle of the sprawling room. And I felt like crying.

We have good record stores here still. I stop in when I think to, but I generally can count on one hand the number of physical CDs I buy each year these days. For me, the hunt these days is in iTunes, at eMusic, on etree or the archive. I get what I need there, and most days, that’s enough. But I miss old version of the hunt: digging through bins, pulling the LPs from the sleeves and grinning when I found a clean one in the fifty-cent stack, pedaling home as fast as I could to give it a listen. That feeling I will never have again.

I don’t often do this, but I have questions: What was your favorite record store? What made it so?

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16 thoughts on “on the record.”

  1. What a great story sir. You really know how to capture your audience and you have made me want to go record shopping more than ever. I am not quite from the record era, so I never got to shop at any of the classic Pittsburgh shops in their prime, but I have frequented Dave’s Music Mine many times and had great luck. The place is like a flea market that always has the best new stuff and classics as well. I think I have plans now in the very near future.

    Thank you for this excellent post.

    Cheers

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    1. I do have them somewhere. I used some to let and make hippie crafts, too. I don’t recall the first 45 I bought, but I know that the first album I bought was some Tammy Wynette collection in the mid-70’s.

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  2. Oh boy. I should probably do my own post on this subject. I haunted record stores as a boy, much like you did. Then I got to live The Dream by working in them for years. (It’s over-rated… at least the years working for a large “corporate” record store.)

    I miss the physicality of the record album. No CD can duplicate the feeling of cracking the cellophane on a new LP and finding a treasure trove of art, pictures, lyrics, production notes and special thank you’s.

    While I probably spent more time in Mall record stores, once we moved to Toledo, I found the Peaches Records there… a monsterous 64,000 sq foot store that could have housed a bowling alley.

    That was the first record store I worked for, and it was great for the first year or two, until the owners went belly-up and sold out to the dreaded corporation.

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    1. I would LOVE to hear your version of this post. And I had forgotten about Peaches … I used to have a Peaches crate that was home to my oldest LPs.

      A thing I didn’t mention in the post but could have: buying concert tickets at record shops. I could have mentioned a store somewhere in downtown Toledo, where I drove in the middle of the night to buy tickets for a GD run in Detroit (the Columbus Ticketmaster system didn’t handle tix for shows in Michigan, hence the middle of the night drive.) When I got there, I panicked, because a monster U2 tour was going on sale at the same time and I thought my show would be sold out by the time I got anywhere near the door. The folks in this shop did the smartest thing I’d ever seen in those days, though — about a half hour before TM opened up for the day, they went through the line and took everyone’s order; when the system was up, they pulled blocks of tickets, enough to fill everyone’s orders. And, as a nice bonus, I got to see the shows with all of my new friends I had been standing in line with for three hours.

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    2. I’ll have my Records post up tonight.

      My Peaches stopped selling tickets before I ever worked there, unfortunately. But I remember getting there at 6am one morning, to score some Elton John tickets, circa 1979. The onset of companies like Ticketmaster pushed the independent ticket sellers right out of the game, which is too bad. Sometimes, the lack of convenience is made up for by the bonding forged and friendships made through the shared suffering of standing in ungodly long lines.

      I should also mention that in the early 80s, I got to hit the Columbus used record stores (like Magnolia Thunderpussy) and it was like heaven. Used records were kind of a novelty to me so I could really jack up my collection without breaking the bank. It was great for those 1-hit wonder albums where you wanted the song but didn’t want to pay the full price of a new album.

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  3. As you might imagine, this is not my strongest subject. But I think the downstairs one on High Street was called Used Kids, and the owner of Schoolkids in Athens and Schoolkids/Used Kids in Columbus were one and the same for awhile. I just learned this recently from a friend who was in a band in the 80s and 90s. She also worked at Bernie’s. So she knows the Columbus scene. Also, downstairs on Union Street – started with an H. Can’t remember the name beyond that, though. I did order my first CD at Schoolkids in Athens: Fifth Dimension’s greatest hits.

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  4. Mike- I remember Buzzard’s Nest (two-fer Tuesday’s!), Magnolia Thunderpussy (truly great name and store), school kids, and the one downstairs on high street as well. As I read, I was remembering a few of the guys who worked at those stores and the great tunes they always played that seemed so obscure and different and always helped expand my taste. I miss that part of record stores too! Oh- and I remember you Schwinn and moped. Man I wanted a moped. For the sole purposes of having the bringing campus into striking range without the ten mile pedal.

    Thanks fr writing this! I miss those places too!

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  5. Magnolia Thunderpussy and “the one downstairs” on High Street were my favorite. It was always a big deal to get to go. I usually had to wait until an older brother was willing to let little sister and her friend HP along for the ride.
    Also, I filled the front of my jeans jacket with “edgy” buttons from the very same stores.

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  6. In Erie: Record Den, in the mall. The best thing about it was that it was right inside the mall, next to the Cinema, so I didn’t have to traverse the whole mall. Even as a teen, I was mall averse.

    In Pittsburgh: Jerry’s Records, formerly of Oakland. South Side had a good one for awhile, too, but I can’t remember what it was called. Dave’s? They were a late comer, and mostly CDs, but worth it for the alternative stuff I was usually searching for.

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  7. There were three. There was a small record store in Tampa called Vinyl Fever and they had a ton of used tapes and records. They also had really cool posters I loved that place.

    There was a store that used to only be at the Oldsmar Flea Market (it later became a brick and mortar place) called Aces where you could find every metal sub genre known to man. In the days before the internet you could get out of print stuff, crazy imports, cool bootlegs, and magazines from all over the globe. Plus all of the guys that worked in there were from signed bands and they would work there when they weren’t touring.

    The other was Peaches. Peaches was a chain, but I worked there and I adored it. It was the coolest job I ever had until people started to pay me to write about sports and music.

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  8. Schoolkids and Haffa’s are certainly two of my favorite record stores. My music tastes changed dramatically and rapidly during my college years at OU and those two stores regularly filled my needs.

    My all-time favorite is of course, Waterloo Records in Austin, TX. That store has the best in-store performances, great pizza for listening parties on Tuesdays, an amazing staff, and the best selection of vinyl and CD’s [and DVD’s].

    Locally, I really like Mind Cure Records in Polish Hill. Tiny place, but good selection.

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