Naturally, some of us grow misty at what record store shopping used to be like:
No. 1: Separate sections for vinyl, CDs and pre-recorded cassettes
People forgot that pre-recorded cassettes were briefly better sellers than vinyl or CDs. Back in the middle ’80s, if you couldn’t find that album on one format, chances are you’d find it in one of the other sections.
No. 2: The 45 section
I used to spend hours flipping through the singles section at Sam the Record Man. I couldn’t afford full albums but I could afford a 99-cent 45. This store had rows and rows and rows of them. Funny how the price hasn’t changed.
No. 3: The longbox
Retailers initially resisted stocking CDs because they had spent millions on shelving displays for both vinyl and cassettes. Now the labels wanted more investment in new shelving? A compromise was reached in the form of the “longbox,” wasteful paper and/or plastic packaging that was about as wide as a CD but 12 inches long. This meant two rows of CDs could occupy the same bin space as one row of albums. The worst ones were all-plastic heat-sealed ones that required industrial tinsnips to open.
No. 4: Midnight Record Sales
In the days before the Internet, the only way to be the first of your friends to own the new album from your favourite group was to line up outside the record store on the day it came out. If the album was big enough, stores would stay open past midnight and at 12:01am on the release day, they’d let everyone in to buy the record.
No. 5: The big record catalogue
Somewhere in these old record stores was a giant catalogue of available albums and singles across all genres. Generally it was clamped to a heavy stand somewhere that the clerks could make sure that no one was ripping out pages. This is where one would look to see if a record that wasn’t in stock was even available. If it was, you’d order it by its catalogue number. If you were lucky, you’d have the record in a couple of weeks.
Quaint, I know, but I still miss this stuff.
Alan is the host of the radio show The Secret History of Rock. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org