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The first record store I worked in (and eventually co-owned for a time) was located on a dead-end side street in a nondescript beige building with no signage. It was down a poorly lit hallway and inside a converted 90-square-foot bathroom. A CD hung from the still-protruding showerhead. Random promo materials — whatever a sub-tiny store could glean from tight-fisted distributors — adorned the ceiling and the few wall openings not holding makeshift racks. Boxes filled the floors. The lighting, a single bulb, cast strange shadows. It was hard to turn around.
Despite the oddity of it all, the place was always busy. Customers didn't mind literally rubbing elbows with each other while perusing the always-packed racks. Why shop here when the jumbo chain store was an easy five-block walk away? The answer is simple: atmosphere, knowledge, and a diverse, rotating inventory — some of the key components of a good record store.See also: Top 10 Record Stores in Metro Phoenix
Atmosphere-wise, the shop was full of it. (How many stores ever boasted a showerhead?) Knowledge-wise, just sing a few words, explain a song concept or describe an album cover and we could probably discern what the customer wanted. (And this was pre-Internet, so no Google to the rescue.)
4211 N. Scottsdale Rd
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Region: Central Scottsdale
1850 W. Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85015
Region: Central Phoenix
1940 W. Chandler Blvd.
Chandler, AZ 85224
Category: Music Venues
2510 W. Thunderbird Road
Phoenix, AZ 85023
Category: Music Venues
Region: North Phoenix
People came to us because we were music geeks, knew our shit, enjoyed what we did, played interesting albums, and most importantly, put customers first. The strategy paid off. The store gradually became one of the largest in the town, still going long after the chain store failed.
Phoenix is well stocked with record stores — more than a dozen when factoring in the multiple locations of a few — but not all stores are created equal. As the seventh annual Record Store Day approaches Saturday, April 19, it got me thinking: What makes a good record store?
Based on personal experience and conversations with vinyl junkies and newbies alike, there doesn't seem to be a single consenting viewpoint — everyone has different likes and dislikes, same as with any business. There is, however, one thing everyone agrees upon: There must be records — lots of records.
"The best records are in places that have lots of records," John Dixon, record collector and Arizona music historian, says simply.
New and used. Bins of 12-inch, 10-inch, and 7-inch LPs, EPs, and singles. Picture discs and picture sleeves. Commons and collectibles. It all needs to be there. As Robrt L. Pela accurately explained in "Back in Black" (March 27), the vinyl resurgence is under way.
Going shopping? Here are some record store attributes worth considering:
Atmosphere: Cold and sterile, or musty and dusty? Every shop has its own vibe. Some customers want the elbow room and bright lights of Zia Records (and all the non-vinyl accessories), while others prefer the confined space of Scottsdale's Record Room. Some shoppers want clean, organized record bins with typed divider cards and sleeved LPs. Others like to get down and dirty, watching fingers turn black from the endless scrolling through dusty album jackets.
"It's like Stinkweeds vs. Revolver. I went into Revolver a couple weeks ago and it looked like a dump," Dixon says. "I don't mind, but it just depends on the buyer. Stinkweeds has done well with everything nice and clean and records in [plastic] sleeves. The style of the store pulls in a different style of customer."
There should also be plenty of "more" to generate a welcoming vibe as well. Walls should be filled with posters, album covers, autographs, instruments, freebies — anything music-related to create a comfort zone.
Good pricing: An incomplete first edition of the Beatles' Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band is not worth $25. Yet, my exploratory journey of Phoenix record stores produced several such copies. Beatles doesn't equal expensive. Reasonable pricing is key to every record store's success.
"Used records in a store should typically be priced below what they sell for online," says Justin Keefer, a software engineer and avid vinyl collector. With phone apps, it's easy to compare while shopping, too.
True rarities, on the other hand, should be priced accordingly (and displayed on wall racks for added allure). Collectors expect and understand this.
Selection: Good shops constantly rotate inventory. Well-priced albums move fast, have customers purchasing more, and returning to buy — and sell.
"As long as prices are fair, the frequency at which a shop puts out records determines how frequently I visit," Keefer says. "Some shops put out records all day long, and some have the same tired records month after month."
A "new arrivals" bin should be the first thing a customer sees entering the store. Regulars always go here first.
Bargain bin: The bargain bin is essential. This is where those "tired records," and more common titles, reside. It offers customers a powerful lure to try something new, too. Dixon takes delight in digging through the cheapo section. "I might only keep a few, but they were only a buck," he says.
Adds Keefer: "Many records are worthless, but customers should get a crack at them before they get thrown away."
Knowledgeable and friendly: This seems like a given, but just because someone works at a record store doesn't mean they know anything about music. A good record shop requires passionate employees who live for music.