The recent vinyl renaissance has done great things for the format, least of which is the newly wide availability of records. Good! But now that you can conveniently get your hands on records at the nearest Urban Outfitters and yes, Tesco, the true-blue record stores (you know, the places that specialise solely in records, without the canned goods and fashions) are being threatened with fierce competition and even extinction. It's not so much that there are no more record stores, but that everything's now a record store.
Small, independent specialist record stores are a dying breed indeed, and while we could bemoan those that have passed or are passing, let's instead remember the good times. That means an era when record shops abounded, when their aisles were crammed with customers, their listening booths packed with avid fans and their racks were browsed by eager fingers, when a record release was an event, and when everyday was Record Store Day. Below are just a few of such long-lost scenes of record stores back in a heyday when music was less an adjunct of a lifestyle, and more life itself. But first: Elvis in a record store in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, 1957 He knows what's good.
Wallichs Music City, California, USA, 1950s Opening its doors on Sunset & Vine in 1940, Wallichs was once the world's largest specialist music store. Vinyl and tapes aside, the store also retailed sheet music, musical instruments and tickets, and organised autograph sessions with the likes of Judy Garland, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. In the '60s, it formed the hub of the vibrant LA music scene and Frank Zappa was once a part-time employee. Below's a view of its listening booths (all 21 of 'em), and Eddie Cochran and Sharon Sheeley on a shopping trip in 1959.
The Holiday Shop at the Roeland Park Shopping Center, Kansas, USA, early '50s Where one might have gotten a camera to go with a record.
Commodore Music Shop, New York City, 1947 Founded by Milt Gabler in 1926, Commodore Music Shop was a mecca for jazz fans who gathered there for reissues of old jazz recordings. Commodore was also influential as a label, recording and releasing Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit", as well as Blue Note Records' first pressings. Gabler is pictured below on the far left.
Photo from the Hagley Library HMV on Oxford Street, London, England, 1960s No small or independent business, HMV's Oxford Street store, opened in 1921, was a mega enterprise that covered a number of floors with a lavish array of records and radiograms. This flagship store moved to Oxford Circus in 1986 and has since shut down.
Photos from the Voices of East Anglia Virgin Records at Notting Hill Gate, London, England, 1971 Besides stocking Krautrock imports, Virgin Records and Tapes was also where one could find free vegetarian food, beanie bags and apparently, the smell of dope.
Sound Town at Valley View Center, Dallas, Texas, USA, 1975 With a special guest appearance by Roger Daltrey
Photo by Art Hoffman Taste Records, Auckland, New Zealand, 1979 With a special guest appearance by Iggy Pop
Esoteric Records, Sacramento, California, USA, 1978 The longest-living record store in Sacramento's north area, Esoteric Records was founded in 1974 and despite having changed quite a few hands (Rick Da Prato, below, ran the store from '78 to '82), still stands strong for its stock that sees old formats (vinyl, 8-tracks) meeting the new (DVDs).
Concerto, Amsterdam, '80s Another long-standing record store, Concerto has been in business since '55 and can still claim to service a huge clientele of music lovers and vinyl heads.
Andy's Records, Cambridge, England, 1982 Established by one Andy Grey, Andy's Records grew from a Felixstowe market stall in 1969 to a standalone store in Cambridge in 1975 to a nation-wide chain of 40 stores by 1999 that was nonetheless still guided by an independent spirit. It is sadly no more.
Rough Trade at Neal's Yard, London, England, 2003 Long before Rough Trade become the East London (and Brooklyn) hipster mecca that it now is, it left footprints in Kensington Park Road, Talbot Road and Neal's Yard. In the latter case, it occupied the basement of Slam City Skates, and despite its minute real estate, managed to move records, stage gigs and sell T-shirts all under one messily autographed ceiling. Rough Trade moved out of the basement in 2007 and Slam City Skates has recently vacated the premises too. Times, they be a-changin'.
Photo by Tim Fowler