I certainly understand your comments here. While I understand your reliance on the web, I'm happier that certain regional independents seem to be finding a real niche on a number of fronts (to name a few: Luna in Indianapolis, Other Music in New York, Waterloo and End of an Ear in Austin, Ear X-tacy in Louisville). These shops help to propagate and sell various kinds of niche music -- and in some cases these shops run their own labels. They also bring musicians to town for in-store performances (sometimes a given musician's only stop in town).
It may be self-evident to a lot of folks on the list, but record stores (like bookshops and other retail locations) have the potential of fulfilling a certain "tastemaking" function for a given city. I can't estimate how much I've learned from good record stores. In fact, just as restaurants can make statements with its food, so can a record store with its selections and method of organization -- even the store's institutional culture.
While the web has certainly taken over much of the retail and tastemaking function previously handled by retail shops, I think there remains a future for "boutique" record shops that provide a niche not easily replicated by bigger chains or online.
Let me end with a question: Can anyone point me to historical work on the emergence of record stores as social spaces? Phonograph records were sold in so many different ways early on (mail order, furniture shops, music instrument/sheet music shops, five & dime and chain stores, etc. I think the story of how record stores emerged in the first place remains a story untold.
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List on behalf of Tom Fine
Sent: Tue 6/16/2009 5:19 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Virgin Sacrifice
Maybe it's an age thing, but I can't see any reason for physical stores for music since Amazon took
off. I haven't bought a book or CD from a physical store in probably a decade now. And downloads
trump even that because not only are they convenient, they are near-instant gratification. Now if
only full 44.1/16-bit downloads would go down to 99 cents or less per song and be commonplace, we'd
finally be at a reasonable "new paradigm." As it is now, the only places not selling
lossy-compressed audio downloads are places like HDTracks (Chesky) and Linn, and they charge a big
premium for them compared to lossy album prices.
The last really good music retail store I was in was J&R Music World back in the 1980's, when they
had a huge rock/pop store that had tons of imports, DIY punk albums and other interesting stuff and
separate classical and jazz stores, all staffed by people who knew music. If I had been 10 years
older back then, I'd have had more serious cash to drop there and now have a few thousand more LPs
in the house. Tower in the village never held a candle, in my opinion, although at least their
prices were competitive and they had at least one copy of most mainstream stuff. Virgin and HMV were
jokes, overpriced poser stores in midtown.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Dave Lewis" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 3:47 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Virgin Sacrifice
I was employed at the Virgin Megastore on Sunset Blvd. as their
classical buyer from 1995 to 1997, and I can wholly concur with what
Mike says below. People would duck into my classical room just to find
relief from the incessant throbbing, thumping, bumping of the main sales
floor; I once commented that it was like a war to the death between
squads of cybernetic robots.
Thanks for the link, Mike. This is a sad day for me, and for music
retail. I, at least, was older than 23 and I often trained staff to be
more respectful and knowledgeable on the floor, but there was such a
high turnover me and my older colleagues at Virgin could only do so
David N. "Uncle Dave" Lewis
Assistant Editor, Classical
Macrovision Solutions Corporation
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Michael Biel
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 10:27 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [ARSCLIST] Virgin Sacrifice
Here is the link to the New York Times story with photos about the
closing of the last Virgin Megastores in the U.S. -- the last large
record store in NYC.
(stitch these two lines together if necessary)
Leah and I were in the Union Square neighborhood a couple of weeks ago
and stopped in to see the ruins. Even then there was nothing much
worthwhile left to buy. The article mentions the shocking statistic
that album sales dropped 45% between 2000 and 2008, but that the Times
Square store's sales were still over $50 million annually, but that when
the Virgin chain was sold in 2007 to two real estate companies, the
stores were more valuable to their buyers for their real estate value.
The article doesn't mention it, but that the Tower chain had also been
bought for its liquidation value, and they would not consider allowing a
few of the stores to be bought by a group intending to keep them
The article states about Virgin: "Its first American store was opened in
1992 in Los Angeles, and it set itself apart from rivals by developing a
clublike atmosphere with booming sound systems and by offering steep
discounts." I have often said that the too-loud playing of really
offensive "music" was literally scaring away more paying customers than
it was attracting, especially in tourist heavy Times Square Broadway.
By 2005 even the industry gurus were noting that while the kids had
stopped buying physical media, old fogies like me were still buying the
actual artifacts. But by blasting obscenity-laden crap, er, rap, it
would repel those who might have come in and bought a ton of classical,
easy listening, jazz, classic rock, DVDs, and especial Broadway Show
Music. I watched tourists move away from the open front of the store as
they walked by. Occasionally even I decided not to venture in to run
the gauntlet to get downstairs to the lower floors where the Broadway,
classic rock, nostalgia, jazz, and classical sections were. The
Broadway Show section should have been in the upper front level, and
they should have been blaring out the South Pacific revival, or whatever
show was playing in the Marquee theatre across the street. Certainly a
high percentage of the heavy foot traffic past that store were tourists,
and a large percentage of them were there to attend a show. These
people still buy CDs. Kids don't.
As for discounts, I noticed that the prices there at Tower and Virgin
were no longer bargains in recent years, but as the article said, they
originally had been. For example, a few years ago I just happened to be
in the Colony store a few blocks Northwest on Broadway when the new CD
of the just-opened "The Producers" was hand-delivered by the distributor
salesman. They immediately put it up on the front counter at a high
price like $21.95. (The Colony is famous for its high prices.) A
little while later I stuffed some tissues in my ears and ventured into
Virgin and saw a display near the down escalator selling "The Producers"
at something like $14.95. But going into that store for a bargain was
like the challenges in that worthless TV show "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me
Out Of Here!"
But cost-cutting and mistaken emphasis in the youth culture resulted in
a staff that was never older than 23 with a resultant misunderstanding
of potential paying customers and under-stocking of the departments
these customers would be interested in.
Mike (I've bought 18 CDs in the past 3 weeks--none at retail) Biel
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