Back in the day we listened to music on 12-inch disks of black vinyl, and we liked it!

Today is “Record Store Day”. I won’t be going to any record stores today, simply because I’ve got other stuff to do today. But like many folks of my age group, I miss the music stores of yore.

Record stores for me always ran a close-second to bookstores for sheer amazement potential. Depending on the size of the store, I could spend quite a bit of time in a record store. If it was your typical small record store in a mall, I could be in there for twenty minutes or so — long enough for me to dig through the soundtrack section, and later, the classical and rock sections. But at bigger stores — Buffalo’s old Record Theatre locations, for example, or my personal recorded music Mecca, Toronto’s Sam the Record Man — I could get lost in those places for hours. (Ahhhh, Sam the Record Man — what a great place that was! I’d get so excited, seeing those giant spinning neon records on the storefront.)

As I grew up in a small town in Western New York that only had one record store — which was a mall store — I never had the experience of “being a regular at the local record store”. I’d catch glimpses of that culture when I’d come with my parents to Buffalo and sometimes beg for a stop at Record Theatre or some such place (joints which were usually a bit off the beaten path of wherever else we wanted to go that day). I’d see customers casually gathered around the registers, talking about the finer points of albums by various artists. I’d walk right by on my way to the classical section, where I’d invariably be the youngest person there.

There was a small classical-only store in Rochester years ago that I liked; this place had the same kind of record-store vibe to it that any rock-centric record store has, except the regulars at the register would be vigorously debating things like which was better, Herbert von Karajan’s first Beethoven cycle or his second one, or whether the Fritz Reiner era of the Chicago Symphony was better than the Sir Georg Solti era, and so on. I once bought a Berlioz record there, and seeing that the conductor was Charles Dutoit, the guy at the register nodded and said, “Oh yeah, this guy does some good Berlioz. But you really need to hear Colin Davis do Berlioz.” And luckily, I was able to say, “I’ve already got it. Davis is awesome!”

Of course, record stores transitioned to “music stores” once the compact disc pushed the vinyl out the door. I always liked the vinyl, personally — the sound of a brand-new record was great, but the drawbacks were obvious, primarily in the way the LP sound deteriorated a tiny bit with every scraping of the grooves by the needle. I spent two or three years primarily listening to music on cassettes, mainly from 1988 to 1991 or so. I’d buy blank tapes a lot of times and record my LPs onto them, so as to avoid the wear-and-tear on the records, a task which was supplanted once the CD took over for good. I still loved going to music stores, though — I was never so much in it for the format as I was for the music, and for a time there, the music store selections got better and better, as the small CDs took up far less rack space than the old LPs (especially once CDs stopped getting packaged in those ridiculous tall cardboard boxes, and when stores stopped using those idiotic plastic guard-things for theft deterrence).

Of course, we all know where this ended up; the rise of digital music and downloading and a general degree to which music lovers were sick of being asked to pay $17 for a CD pretty much drove the mainstream record/music store into oblivion, leaving select few outlets open as niche stores. I do sometimes miss browsing at music stores, but I’ve adapted quite a lot to the “new” way music gets around, by following recommendations from people I trust, by sampling, by listening to clips on Amazon and YouTube and the like. Record stores were a big part of my adolescence; I’m kind of surprised to reflect on it and realize that I don’t miss them more than I do.

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