Saturday April 16 is Record Store Day, “a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally.” If you live in a major metropolitan area or a college town, there’s likely at least one good record store to shop—and by “good,” I mean a place that carries the music you can’t find anywhere else, a place whose stacks and racks are stocked with surprises, a place where you can kill an hour browsing and feel fulfilled even if you don’t buy anything. That there are only 700 such places left in the United States is sad, because those of us of a certain age can remember when you could buy records everywhere. Here are five places from my past.
1. S&O TV: My first record store, in my hometown. The owners sold TVs, stereo equipment, and records up front while they fixed TVs in the back. (I went to school with their kids.) It was there that I bought my first 45s, laying down 95 cents for “Domino” and “One Toke Over the Line” and the rest, until I stopped buying singles long about 1973.
2. Gibson’s Discount Store: Singles were cheaper at Gibson’s—only 88 cents—but the selection wasn’t quite as good. It was at Gibson’s that I was introduced to the phenomenon of the cutout. I became a denizen of the cutout bins, not just at Gibson’s but everywhere I could find them. As much as I loved music, I loved getting it at a discount even more. (Tomorrow’s Rock Flashback post at WNEW.com will talk a little more about cutouts.)
3. Schultz Pharmacy: Gibson’s had records because some rack jobber provided the rack and stocked the merchandise. This is why you could often buy records in drug stores, department stores, and even at service stations back in the day. I bought several albums over the years at Schultz Pharmacy in my hometown, where they kept the record rack right between the greeting cards and the jewelry counter.
4. Victor Music: On Sunday afternoons, the family would pile into the car and drive an hour to the mall in Madison. Victor Music was the store of all stores at the mall. It’s the place I see in my head when I imagine the quintessential record store of the 1970s: dim lighting, dark carpeting, big speakers cranking loud, and rack after rack after rack of albums, singles, cassettes, and 8-tracks. Victor Music also sold the stuff to play your music on. If I’m recalling correctly, I bought my big honkin’ Channel Master 8-track deck there.
5. Victrola: In the mid 80s, I lived in a small college town in Illinois, which was home to Victrola, which might be the greatest record store I have ever known. It was owned by a grumpy ex-hippie who offered a vast and impressive selection of music, in print, cutout, and used, and I spent a staggering amount of my limited take-home pay there. If you couldn’t find something you wanted, you could ask him to get it, but then you’d have to talk to him.
I am not the record fanatic I used to be. I’ve embraced other ways of acquiring music now, the very methods that are driving record stores to extinction. But I still visit Madison’s Exclusive Company a couple of times a year, and I occasionally dip into some of the used shops around town, because some old flames never burn out.
Here’s a single I bought at S&O TV 40 years ago this spring. It’s not the actual record—I purged a few singles from my collection over a decade ago (which I’ve regretted ever since) and my copy of this was one of ’em—but it’s a song I handed over my 95 cents to get, a decision I didn’t make lightly back then.
“Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You”/Wilson Pickett (buy Wilson Pickett here)