It’s around 12 pm on a random Thursday. I’ve just spent the last fifteen or so minutes browsing the new arrivals section of Infinity Records, one of the local stores here on Long Island that I occasionally like to sneak over to on my lunch break. There’s a very boisterous man at the counter. He’s about 65 years of age, and he’s been barking his opinions at the owner behind the counter since before I even walked in the door. As I walk up to the counter to pay for my records, he’s going on about how, “Music ended around 1987” and that, “Nothing of substance came after.” Some would say this is a bit short-sighted, but I say to each his own. He asked me, “Don’t all the people your age only ever talk about Jimi Hendrix when it comes to guitar players?” I snarkily replied, “Just how old am I?” We went back and forth a bit more, and in the end, agreed to disagree, but this sort of banter is just the sort of thing that you can only find in a record store.
So why do we love record stores so much? It takes a person of a certain disposition to feel “at home” in a record store. It’s not an entirely alien idea altogether, but record stores are dusty places. They are sometimes, probably oftentimes, cramped and even dark. With that being said, if you’re like me, then you’ve not only said to yourself that you feel “at home” in a record store, but you may have even found yourself drifting into aimless thought and suddenly coming to the conclusion that you might just want to live in said record store altogether. I admittedly have had that thought, at least in a passing sense.
Over the course of my life, I’ve spent a lot of time in record shops. From a young age, I recall digging through dumpsters with my friend Joe for cans to recycle for a few dollars, all so we could run down to the now-defunct Rock & Sports Collectibles and buy a few albums. I remember the rush I would feel as I approached the store and the feeling of triumph that would wash over me as I left with my treasures held tightly under my arm as I walked out. These are emotions that I still feel to this day, each and every time I approach a shop, regardless of if I’ve been there one hundred times or if it’s my first visit. You see, that’s the thing about record shops, the so-called “it” factor. You can go online and search for whatever you want, but there is something truly special about going into a store with no real notion of what you might find and walking out with a gem you’ve been wanting for some time.
If you’ve been collecting records long enough, there is a certain ritual to going to your local shop. You probably have a certain route you’ve mapped out around the store, and you flip through the bins with a certain manic ease that’s been earned through hours upon hours of repetition. For me, there is something soothing to it. It’s a familiar act. Familiar artists. Familiar covers. The feel of worn cardboard jackets under your fingers as you flip through the bins, and even if I have no particular purpose to it at that moment, it’s a way to shed the stress of the day.
Now, you might think I’ve completely romanticized the brick-and-mortar store, and maybe I have, but can you blame me? It’s wasn’t so long ago that many of these shops were closing. There is something incredibly endearing about the shops that weathered the storm and are still standing today. Furthermore, we are seeing courageous, if not crazy, men and women opening new shops each year! There is something very special about a place where you can walk in with nothing and then walk out with something you love that is all the while completely new to you.
Record stores serve as a sort of cultural bridge from generation to generation. Records, music, and people passing through each day, each week, and each year, all sharing their stories, and more importantly, a common love for music. Record stores are something of a tribal meeting ground for collectors, and I take a great amount of comfort in knowing that the shops that remain today are the ones that truly want to be there. These are the ones that had the fortitude to withstand the near demise of the record industry. These are the ones that were just crazy enough to try and do something in the name of being happy, with a desire to create a safe space in which we all may share music through its greatest medium. That is something that we, as vinyl lovers, can all get behind. Record shops are safe spaces, and if there is something that we all have learned, it’s that safe spaces matter.
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