Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why I Still Love Record Stores


Here's a little something different...instead of writing about music, I'm going to write about where I like to peruse and PURCHASE my music, as well as highlight a local business that I think is worthy of support. You see, for you kids under 30, in the days before the Internet and Amazon and big box stores, there used to be these places called *record stores* where one would go to browse, listen, and buy music, whether on vinyl, cassette, or CD. If they didn't have it, you went to another store, or asked them to order it for you and waited for the phone call letting you know when you could come and pick it up. Growing up, I loved going to record stores with my parents and just listening to the tunes playing over the speakers (some of which were familiar to me from the radio or whatever my parents would play at home), looking at all of the posters, browsing through the bands I'd heard of and looking at the different album covers, and the generally comfortable and welcoming feel of (most) of them. Once I was old enough to have my own tastes (and money) to start building my own collection, around the age of 12 or 13, I started to frequent the local shop, In Your Ear Music (long since out of business), in Plymouth, that was downtown where I grew up. There were also several others I used to go to on a regular basis, especially once I could drive, including Pitchfork Music in Concord (still there), and The Lost Chord (long gone) in Dover (where I've been for many years).  I started college at UNH in Durham in 1997 and a year later, heard a record store in Portsmouth mentioned, called Bull Moose Music. I decided to check it out one time and thought it was great. It was similar in ethos to the shops I liked to visit, but didn't have as much of a "hipster" (before that term was ever conceived, let alone coined) or burnt-out hippie vibe that some of the other shops I'd been to over my (then) short number of years buying and collecting music.

Upfront, let me know state that I in no way intend this to be an advertisement for Bull Moose, and while I do interact with them regularly on social media, the impetus for this is solely mine.

That being said, what I love about visiting this store, from that first visit in ~1998, (where I can even remember that amongst the stack of CDs I bought that day was a used copy of Blur's "Modern Life is Rubbish." I think I paid $3 for it, and I still have it!) is that

#1) it's big, but not too big. They have enough space for the numerous racks of CDs, vinyl, movies, video games, books, memorabilia, etc, but it still feels slightly cramped (in a good way) and cozy, the way a record store should;

#2) the selection is great. In a day and age when a visit to the local big box store yields one or (if you're lucky), two small racks that only have 1 or 2 albums from either the hot artists of the day or legends, I can go into Bull Moose and pretty much find whatever I am looking for. While my taste in music tends to focus mainly on "rock" (and that's such a loose concept, especially in 2013), within that confine, I'm all over the place, from classic bands like The Beatles, Who, Stones, etc to bands I grew up with in the 80s and 90s (R.E.M., Blur, Smashing Pumpkins, etc), from prog like Genesis, Rush, Dream Theater, and Spock's Beard to obscure (in America) British bands like Suede, Pulp, Mansun, and The Bluetones. With rare exception, I've been able to find pretty much whatever I'm looking for when I make a visit to the store, and if it's not there, I know I can ask them to order it for me;

#3) the prices are great. While you might pay $15-20 for a *SINGLE* CD at a big box store or one of those mall-only record retailers (think: FYE), Bull Moose is usually much less, and in some cases shockingly so, and I say this in a very good way! For instance, I bought the new Paul McCartney album on release day last week, and paid $11 for the deluxe version, and got a nifty free light cube with it. Other single or double albums, brand new, I've routinely paid anywhere from $9 (single) to $15 (double) for, which is great because saving money on a few CDs here and there adds up to being able to buy another one;

#4) the used CD selection is where you can really find some hidden treasures. I've bought LOADS of used CDs here (and elsewhere), which is great because they still play fine, almost always have all of the liner notes/artwork/inserts, and you can save quit a bit of money which can then be used to go toward additional CDs. Bull Moose used to have the used CDs separate from the new CD racks, but several years back they began just putting all of an artists' albums into the same section, used and new. This makes the browsing much easier because often I'll find a CD I want to buy, and right behind it in the bin, a used copy that's half the price (or less). Even cooler, if you take a new CD to the counter to pay, and a used copy is available, they'll see it on the computer and let you know in case you want to swap it out and save some money;

#5) they have a really nice loyalty program. You get a "Freakin' Buyer's Card" (see my beat-up, God-knows-how-old card below) that they scan every time you make a purchase. 



You accumulate points based on how many dollars you spend, and eventually you earn enough so that you can get CDs for half-price. Once your points are used up, you start accumulating them again. It's also used for...

#6) trading stuff in. Over the years, I've amassed a bunch of CDs that, years later, either fall into the "Impulse Buy," "I Don't Like This Anymore," or "What the Hell Was I Thinking?" categories, sometimes all three! Additionally, with the advent of digital music storage and streaming, I simply don't have the room to keep every CD (which used to number over 1000+). If it's something I really like, but can live without owning, I'll listen to it on Spotify and keep it loaded on my iPod, but get rid of the CD. I've written about this previously, HERE. I still keep (and keep purchasing) all the CDs from my essential, must-have bands, however. What's nice is that I can prune my collection and trade things in at Bull Moose for store credit, which I can then use toward purchasing stuff I *need* to have in my collection. Plus, someone else may want to buy it. Given all of the used stuff I've bought over the years, it's a nice cycle for everyone;

#7) they support local artists, playing their music over the speakers, having in-store performances/promotions, and also selling their albums. The NH seacoast has a vibrant music scene and any businesses that support it are tops in my book. Which leads me (sort of) into...

#8) they sell my books! Well, ok, it's a  bit of a shameless self-promotion, sure, but the fact of the matter is, not only do they support local musicians (of which I am one, albeit my production of new music has been sadly nonexistent lately), but local authors, too, of which I also am one. A few years ago on their Facebook page, they had mentioned Blur's upcoming Record Store Day release as being available soon. (As an aside, I purchased that very release there). I mentioned I'd written a book about Blur in the comments, and promptly got an email from someone at Bull Moose who was interested in stocking my book at their stores. A few years later and another book under my belt and you can still buy them from Bull Moose! I don't know how many they've ended up selling, but it's great how supportive they've been of me and I'm truly humbled and thankful that they did this for me.

#9) last but certainly not least, the customer service and staff, as well as the general atmosphere when I walk in. It's just a fun place to go hang out, listen to whatever is playing over the speakers, browse, pick up whatever music I need, and find some hidden gems along the way. The people behind the counter are always helpful and will often chat with you for a bit when you're buying something they're also into...this happened when I bought the remastered "Wings Over America" and "McCartney II" back in May and ended up chatting about how great those albums are with the fellow behind the counter. Little interactions like that add to the fun and welcoming atmosphere and are one of the many reasons I've kept on going back for so many years.

Really, everything I've described above is what I've loved about record stores in general over the course of my life. While I'm using Bull Moose Music as a worthy example in order to write this ode to the rare indie record shop that is in increasingly short supply here in the USA, some or all of these points have been exhibited by the numerous places I've visited over the years, all over the country as well in some other countries I've been to multiple times (notably, Canada and England). Yes, Amazon is convenient and (usually) cheap, and it's easy to order stuff and have it delivered to your door days later. But for me, with something like music, the act and experience of going to the shop, browsing, listening, discussing, and discovering is as magical as the actual music itself. I find myself wondering quite often if my own children, who already show big interest in music (including a lot of the same stuff I listen to) will ever even have the chance or desire to experience this. I bring them with me when I can, and I intend to do that more often now that they're older. Nothing compares to a great record store, so when there's still one around you that's worth the time and effort of visiting regularly, you've got to take advantage of it...I know I do!

(the store I go to is in Portsmouth, but they have another NH store in Salem, as well as several in Maine. I've also been to the Scarborough and Portland stores. If there's one near you, check it out!)

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