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?