Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A 'Record Riot'

I know a guy who has a million records. That’s not hyperbole. In fact, when I say he has a million records, it is probably an understatement.

He lives in a 3-story house in the suburbs, and he barely has room for his kitchen table, TV and bed. Everywhere else, there’s records. You will see some on turntables (which are on the kitchen table and on the TV), but most are in boxes, stacked three or four high. And the boxes are everywhere, from the outer walls to the middle of the room. You walk from the kitchen, through the living room to the stairs and through the upstairs rooms following paths through the boxes.

Don’t even think about going into the basement.

And those are just the records he needs for everyday use. For the others, he has an off-site warehouse (again three stories, but with an elevator) and two additional storage facilities.

I know another guy who collects vintage recordings. Edison cylinders. Old Victrola platters (they only had recordings on one side). Early 78s of vaudeville routines and minstrel tunes. On the rare occasions when we’ve managed to get something in the shop that he doesn’t already have but needs to add to his collection, I am not allowed to tell his wife (1) how many pieces he’s bought (this time) or (2) how much he has paid. On at least one occasion, we’ve had to hold onto one of his purchases until he knew she wasn’t going to be around for a day, so he could bring it into the house without a lot of excess conversation.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that he is hiding his acquisitions. But he is a wise man and he has learned that, in the interests of domestic tranquility, there are times when it is best not to flaunt his, er, independence in this regard.

These two gentlemen are well known, liked and even respected in their individual spheres of acquaintance. If you were to pass either on the street, you wouldn’t give either a second glance if you were unaware of their passion for their collections.

They aren’t alone.

Last September we re-set the store and were able to devote a room to music. We have cassettes and CDs, and even a few 8-tracks. We have books, of course. And we have some sheet music on the wall, and even a few posters and autographs (Bing Crosby, for example). But what we have more than anything else is vinyl.

Rock-and-Roll, Jazz, Classical, Spoken Word, Country, Comedy. And from the day we put that together, I have been amazed at how much we sell.

At first I thought that only the Rock-and-Roll would sell, so that’s where we put our focus. We had a few Classical albums stuck off in a corner, but then they started to sell (autographs, too…Pavarotti lasted less than a week). So we expanded our selection and sales expanded likewise.

Then we got a large selection of Jazz albums from an estate and those started to sell before I could even put them away. The same thing happened with Country.

On at least two Sundays last fall, the sales out of the record room exceeded the sales of the rest of the shop, combined. That, to me, was amazing. We have almost 19,000 sq. ft. of books and stuff, and only about 300 sq. ft. of records. Yet, there are times when more people are in the record room than there are in the rest of the shop.

So yes, I noticed. There is something going on here.

And that’s why, when another avid collector approached me in January with the idea of a vinyl swap meet, I agreed.

Publicly, we’re calling it a ‘Record Riot’. Privately, I am calling it an experiment. I am really very curious to see who is going to show up. Supposedly there are dealers coming from Baltimore, Lancaster and Harrisburg, in addition to York. I’m not charging anybody to set up or to get in. In fact, I will be spending money on coffee and goodies to be given away. (And it is likely that I may wind up holding onto purchases for a week or two, until wives will be out of town.)

It will be a worthwhile investment. I want to know what it is about vinyl that fosters this passion. This is old technology, several generations old. Cassette tapes and 8-tracks have come and gone. Audio CDs are almost a thing of the past at this point. Yet vinyl lives.

Purists will tell you the sound is better, and this may be true if you’re using a high-end system (most collectors don’t). Is it the “pops” and “crackling”? The whole routine of taking the disc out of the jacket, dusting it off, placing it on the turntable, hoping there are no scratches, and then sitting back for 20 minutes or so before you have to do it again? The graphics and liner notes on an album? Some connection with a lost and, perhaps, more innocent time in one’s life?

I hope to find out next Wednesday evening.

Besides, my P,LSB* mentioned that she may be going out of town for a weekend here in the next month or so.

*Poor, Long-Suffering Bride™