Tomorrow, April 16, is National Record Store Day. Across the nation, shops will offer special promotions and activities. As fellow music lovers, we encourage you to visit these stores to commemorate the day. Digital downloads are convenient and here at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame we’ve embraced them while still loving physical records. In fact, yesterday we launched our first App (available at the iTunes store) and we will soon have a mix and burn station in our museum store.
However, we need to pause and honor those who are keeping retail stores alive, in particular those that sell used vinyl and used CDs. I’ve had a soft spot for these stores since first clerking in a used-record shop in the early 1980s. In fact, the fondness grew so strong that another clerk and I jumped ship and opened up the Philadelphia Record Exchange. The store specialized in used out-of-print records and in indie labels and imports. We focused on LPs while our pal across town, Val Shively, focused on 45s. It was a classic retail start-up. We built bins from plywood and stocked the shelves with our own collections. As we sold records, we bought or traded customers for more discs and after a few months had a full inventory. Sounds easy. But in reality our initial finances were pretty tenuous and we slept in the back of the store for longer then we care to admit—plus, much to my parents chagrin, I dropped out of college to focus on the store.
The store quickly became a community center for a wide cross-section of people, all united by a passion for music. The distributors sent us the most recent releases and we blasted them through our indoor and outdoor speakers. Our customers turned us on to their new and old favorites and collectively we all increased our knowledge of music. If a band was in town, odds were that they dropped in; if we could swing it, we would host an in-store appearance. In those pre-email days there were some transient musicians who had their mail forwarded to the store for pickup. It was a great cast of characters —Jacy, TJ, Simpy, Artie, Mikey, Crabby Appleton—and we all learned a great deal. Taste spanned from Johnny Burnette to Johnny Thunders and from Professor Longhair to Public Image and all points in between. Instant wall hangers like Pipers At The Gates of Dawn and Freak Out vied with popular titles like Led Zeppelin II and Beggars Banquet.
Today, we can learn a lot online. We can tweet and blog about our favorites and share our “Likes.” Tomorrow, turn back the clock: walk into a store, check out what they are spinning, flip through the bins, and hold the music in your hands. If you want to do it in Cleveland, consider Record Revolution, Music Saves, Beachland Ballroom, or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum store—we have an incredible collection of CDs and even LPs. If you are in Philly, stop into the Record Exchange or Val’s place. Remarkably, almost 30 years later, they are both going strong.