April 18, 2010

The End of an Era

Yesterday was the 4th annual Record Store Day, the music and retail industry's attempt at revitalizing interest in independent record stores and, therefore, in buying physical music product.

I was on my way to Sounds, the only used record store left on St. Mark's Place in the East Village, when I heard some young hipster boy describing it to his even younger female friend, who didn't really get why bands would play inside a store, or why anyone would want to buy a "seven inch" that only had two songs on it.

When I first moved to New York, I spent a lot of time on St. Mark's Place. I didn't quite fit in with the squatters, or the tattoo and piercing guys, or the rasta guys chanting "smoke, bud, bud, smoke," but I loved thumbing through the 88-cent CDs in their dusty bins, and being able to get a brand new CD release in its shrinkwrap for a fraction of the price of, say, Coconuts, even if it turned out that it was a promo copy I was buying.

I loved hanging out in record stores so much that it not only led me to choosing the music business as my career path (having spent every Monday new release day in London at the listening stations in Virgin Megastore, Tower Records and HMV), but also getting my first job. In my interview at Atlantic Records, my first boss quizzed me on what I like to do in my spare time, and we commiserated about hanging out in Tower Records when we had time to kill, or, in my case, when I needed some free entertainment (provided back then in 1997 by instores from Ben Harper, Cowboy Junkies, Erasure...). I was hired pretty much immediately after that.

So hauling a load of used CDs from my gradually emptying apartment down St. Mark's Place yesterday, on Record Store Day, I reminisced about that block between Second and Third Avenue that's now seen its own revitalization, mostly in the form of chain restaurants and retailers like Chipotle and Supercuts. The crowds that I wove through with my cart in tow were mostly tourists. For a moment, I wondered whether Sounds would even still be there.

I managed to get my three bags of CDs and cart up the brownstone-style staircase to Sounds' front door, and barreled in. "I've got a lot today..." I announced.

"Here's the thing," the clerk said. We've known each other for a long time. He knows how many promos I've received from my job over the years, but also how many CDs I've bought myself. "We're not really buying used CDs anymore."

"Oh really?" I asked, looking around at the healthy stock they had, still very much open for business, with a few middle aged shoppers flipping through the yellowing plastic security bases in the bins.

"Yeah, so I can give you like $10 for these but..."

Hmph. I was thinking I'd get more like $50, but I agreed to the deal immediately anyway. I could use any bit of spare cash these days, but more importantly, I needed to get these things out of my apartment, and off the list of items I'd have to either move or store.

As I rolled my empty cart out of the store, I knew that this would be my last trip ever to Sounds. Sadly, I couldn't remember the last time I was actually in another record store, a real record store, since Tower Records closed. I've had no reason to visit the various indie shops in downtown's west side (Rebel Rebel, Generation Records, etc.), despite having worked for over six years close by. I've stopped buying 7" singles, and pretty much all vinyl altogether. I still buy CDs, but pretty much anything I want I can get at either Best Buy - which is a quick get-in-get-out process instead of the leisurely stroll I used to take through Virgin or Tower, singing and dancing to the music overhead - or Amazon or, I suppose if I must, iTunes. I didn't even go to Amoeba the last time I was in LA.

Before I started working at "record" labels, I spent two of the best years of my life working in the music department of books/video/software/music retailer Media Play, still my favorite job ever. And now, 15 years later, that era of my life is officially...closed for business.

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1 comment:

  1. nice story. facing the reality hurts, doesn't it? i really miss the virgin in union sq.

    st. mark's had such a mystique when i was in high school. cars never went down the street. it was its own entity. and Sounds was at the core. i loved the 88 cent bin and the clattering sound of people flicking through cds encased in dirty white plastic. i miss the joy of finding a cd i was interested in for $3.99. discounted at way below retail just because it had a little hole in the spine or a "for promo use only" stamp across the cover.