After 13 glorious years in Boston, New York, and Chicago, I knew that moving back to central Ohio to settle down would be a challenge. There are no professional baseball or football teams, though the Buckeyes are worshiped with a cult-like fervor that borders on disturbing. There is nowhere near the caliber of restaurants. There is nothing like Lincoln Park, with year-round sports leagues and, in the summer, the best looking women God has ever made. But, most horrifying, there isn’t a single decent record store for miles.
I now look twice as fondly on my time in Boston, which is blessed with Newbury Comics, the best record store chain in the world. (Telltale sign that I spent lots of time and money there: in 2001, the clerk at the counter of their Government Center store recognized me, even though I moved away nine years before and hadn’t been back since.) During my six-month sentence in New York, with little to no money, I whiled my time scouring the plethora of used shops in the East Village. Chicago is positively crawling with good shops; before Dr. Wax moved up north, Clark Street between Diversey and Belden was my own personal Magnificent Mile.
Now, I’m in Dublin, a northwest suburb of Columbus. And you’d be amazed at the number of stores nearby that sell music. You may have even heard of a few of them. Take a look at the myriad of stores I have to choose from:
Wal-Mart. Target. Best Buy. Borders. Circuit City. Ye gods. Those aren’t CD stores. They’re stores that sell CDs. The only stores for miles that sell CDs, it appears.
It’s the five points of the music business pentagram, the deepest pit in music hell. (Best Buy wasn’t so bad in the ’90s, when they actually tried stocking a wide variety of music.) To use them as my main source for music would be to sell my soul. But never mind that: most of these stores don’t even have the CDs that I want, so I couldn’t buy from them even if I wanted to. I’m starting to think I now know why Chrissie Hynde left Akron for England. It wasn’t to start a band. It was to find a decent bloody record store.
To be fair, the city isn’t completely bereft of good music shops; the campus area, like all campuses, has a slew of them, most notably the great Magnolia Thunderpussy. However, this is the holiday season, and while money is money, time is even more money. Driving to campus to go CD shopping simply isn’t an option. Even the people who work downtown would have to drive up High Street to get to the good stores. Such is life in Ohio; everything is 10 to 15 minutes away, but nothing is within walking distance.
Which is why I’m doing my CD shopping without leaving the house, and thank heaven for Half.com, which eBay wisely chose not to shut down. (eBay flirted with converting all Half.com product to the eBay format, but backed down when the users revolted.) It’s a buyer’s market, so the prices stay nice and low, and the selection is 10 times what you’ll find at Megalo-Mart. While you may feel a twinge of guilt for buying a CD here instead of at the local used CD shop, don’t. A lot of those same brick and mortar stores are sellers on Half as well, implementing a strategy not unlike the one food manufacturers use when they sell their product to local grocery stores to advertise as their own. It may not be as much as what they’d make in the shop, but it’s one more sale than they would have made otherwise. The one drawback: there is usually no discount when buying in bulk, since odds are each piece you order will arrive from a different seller. Sample purchase: Supergrass Is 10, the band’s recent best-of, sealed in shrink wrap (clearly a promo copy; the description cites a hole punch in the UPC code), for $8.99. Duran Duran’s Astronaut, released in mid-October, is already marked down to $6.99. Nice.
If you’re into imports but want to be cost-conscious about it, take off to the Great White North, eh. Amazon.ca is a good source for British pop bands that do not have a US deal. Sample purchase: erstwhile Lightning Seed frontman Ian Broudie’s solo album, Tales Told, for $16.99 Canadian, which about 14 bones American. Amazon’s UK site, by comparison, is selling it for £10.99, which converts to $21 USD. Amazon.ca may not have everything that the UK site has, but the stuff they do have is invariably cheaper.
It saddens me that it’s come to this, that I shop online not for convenience but as a last resort. No website can truly replace that feeling of a record store, of getting lost in a world of music and walking out a different person than you were when you walked in. We may make fun of the snarky know-it-all clerk, like the Onion did in their classic story, “37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead in Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster”. But the fact is, those clerks, Comic Book Guy righteousness or not, are legitimate tastemakers, and even dedicated music geeks like me need guidance now and then, lest I lose my way to the Promised Land. Rob Gordon, we hardly knew ye.