By Dave Thompson
Newark, Del., probably isn’t one of the most renowned hubs of the rock ’n’ roll universe — despite what it says on the back cover of a few of my books. But you might’ve believed it to be so had you strolled up Main Street around 10:30 a.m. on April 20, 2013.
It was Record Store Day, of course, and the line that snaked for a few hundred yards out of an alley and onto the city’s main drag could only have its head in one place: Rainbow Music and Books. Owner Chris Avino has spent the past month or so tormenting the store’s close-to-2,000 Facebook subscribers with hints and photos of the oncoming storm.
My own requirements were modest — a couple of Bowie 45s, the Garbage 10-inch, two reggae box sets and what promised to be a note-perfect recreation of the eponymous Nick Drake compilation released by Island U.S. back in ye olden days of wax, complete with poster, press release, and, for those of us who really cannot get enough of the man, a digital download of a copy of the original LP pressing, played on the Drake family’s home gramophone. Yes, that struck me as just a shade obsessive, as well. But with a single slice of vinyl weighing more than most conventional triples, and a sleeve the thickness of your average kitchen table, this was clearly a labor of love.
And that’s the point of Record Store Day — and the of record stores, as well. Newly released on these shores, the documentary “Last Shop Standing” tells the story of the rise, fall and rebirth of the independent record shop. Filmed (and therefore set) in the U.K., where record stores have been falling faster than drunken partygoers at a frat kegger, it is a sobering study of an industry crushed not by corporate greed and disdain, which is how it often appears from the outside, but by absolute ignorance.
Independent record stores are more, after all, than mere retailers. They are among the centerpieces of our communities, a place where even looking in after work was all but guaranteed to introduce you to a few new albums, a couple of new people, and probably a few more you’ve not seen since the last time you were in there. Like community centers for the terminally hip, independent record stores are scout halls, coffee bars, pickup joints and information centers all rolled into one. When the record companies ganged together to start selling all their music through supermarkets and internet sites, they forgot one key component of the equation. People might buy a CD from those places. But record stores sold them a lifestyle.
Avino knows this, and has since Rainbow opened back in the murky mists of long ago. If there was ever any danger of the rest of us forgetting that, Record Store Day sets us back on the right track.
The line at Rainbow started forming at 2:30 a.m., a full seven-and-a-half hours before the store opened. It was still the size of several very large serpents when I got there 30 minutes after the doors were unlocked. But it was a good-natured line, and a fast moving one, too — until you got into the store and discovered everybody crammed in here, arms already stuffed with goodies, and their eyes reflecting just one regret: They didn’t get here soon enough to pick up everything else they wanted. A good three-quarters of my purchases were the proverbial last chickens in the shop, and while there was still a pile of Bowie picture discs on show when I finally joined the checkout line (which itself made Christmas at Target look like the last dance at the no-chance saloon), all had gone by the time I handed over my money. Which, at $16 a pop, struck me as pretty good business, until I got home and found the same records selling for twice that and more on a certain Internet auction site.
That takes some of the shine off of the day. How sad it is that there are people out there who will join the line earlier to grab something hot, that they don’t even want, simply so they can resell at a profit to someone who does. Like ticket touting and similar sins, it may not be illegal, but it is certainly immoral. And, it’s another reason why many record stores are still having problems, despite the optimism blasted forth at the end of “Last Shop Standing,” and despite the indisputable success that Record Store Day has become.
Once Avino had closed Rainbow’s doors for the weekend, his Facebook posting said much for the magic of the event: “A truly heartfelt thanks for everyone’s support, patience, and kind words yesterday. It was an amazing day, I was happy to provide the venue, but the credit goes to everyone that walked through the door yesterday. Nothing like a little chaos to put a smile on your face! Viva La Vinyl!”
But likewise, there is nothing like an amazing record store, a bolthole of sanity in a world that otherwise seems to be dominated by franchised juice bars, chain-stored pizza joints, and places selling stupid things that you can’t imagine a soul on earth wanting. It’s a place where you not only get your fix of hot wax, but you can also spend time with fellow vinyl junkies.
Stores like Rainbow — and I hope and pray you have a Rainbow of your own — within walk or-short-drive distance of your home are the lifeblood of our hobby, and owners like Avino are the hearts that keep them pumping. They are the people who not only know their customers’ tastes, but they are still willing to try to predict them, too.
How many times have you dropped by your local record store just to see if there’s anything cool in, and been greeted with a couple of just-in discs, and the words “I put these aside; I thought you’d be interested.” Even if it’s only happened once in the past year, that’s probably still more often than it’s happened at the megastore. And I’m still waiting for a certain online retailer to actually get even one of their “recommended for you” selections right.
If you’re ever in Newark (and I know you want to be), drop by Rainbow Records and take home a fat bag of goodies. If you’re ever in any record store, do the same thing. If you’re looking for a movie to buy, pick up “Last Shop Standing.” And if you can’t sleep on the eve of next Record Store Day, go out and start the line. You will not regret it.
A prodigious writer, fierce music lover and longtime record collector, Dave Thompson is the author of Goldmine’s brand-new “Record Album Price Guide, 7th Edition,” (which also is available on CD) as well as “Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1990, 8th Edition,” which was released in 2012. Both are available online at www.krausebooks.com, or by calling 1-855-278-0403.