Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Memories: My Local Record Store

So, it finally happened. My favorite local record store closed up shop.

It's funny and kind of coincidental, because just recently while walking to the bank a few weeks ago, I was thinking about how lucky I am to live where I live - I have, within a short two-to-three block walking distance from my house, the following: a pub (beer and wine only, but they have like 58 beers on tap), an independent new and used record store, a branch of my bank, a few different local mom-and-pop (non-chain) restaurants, a comic book store, and most importantly to me, an awesome local game shop called Game Empire. (Okay, I'll admit that it's tough to choose whether the pub or the game shop rank as #1, but as they're nearly across the street from each other, a trip to one nearly always includes a trip to the other).

Slightly further afield, for about a 15-20 minute walk, is one of the largest independent bookstores in California - Vroman's.

So, I was feeling good about where I live, and I still don't have any complaints.  But, last week I was dismayed when, while walking home from the mailbox I rent for my home-based business, I planned to pop into my local record store, Penny Lane, and found that it was permanently closed.

There had been some rumblings for awhile - they mentioned that they might be moving, and the stock of used CDs, vinyl, and DVDs was not being replenished as quickly as before, resulting in lots of empty racks that just looked kind of sad and almost forgotten.

A sign on the door proclaimed that we could follow their continuing adventures on their website, which I checked out after walking home and discovered that they had moved about 20 miles East to Upland, "20 non-rush hour minutes east of Pasadena."  Well, I'm not sure when they think we'd be visiting, but this is Southern California, so "non-rush hour" is a mythical state of existence akin to achieving the status of a demi-god in a fantasy role-playing game: it's a rare occurrence if it happens at all, and if it does happen, chances are you're probably tired of the whole thing anyway and ready to move on.

I don't see myself driving to Upland any time soon to visit Penny Lane's new location. The fact that they are now only open on Saturdays just adds salt to the wound, although in retrospect it doesn't really affect me since, as I mentioned, I don't see myself driving out there.  There are two other used record stores here in Pasadena, and one isn't all that far (it's not a four minute walk like Penny Lane was, but I can walk there in about 20 minutes or so).

Obviously there are parallels to other types of niche retail outlets, in particular game shops. Penny Lane has moved almost all of their old inventory online, and they're attempting to set up some functionality where you can sign up to be notified when "new" music (people selling their old stuff) comes into the store, and you can of course "browse" their online catalog.

But, it's not the same as being in the store, hearing a bunch of different kinds of music being played overhead, and seeing someone pick up a record and asking him, "Hey, is that any good?" or saying, "Hey, if you like that, then you'll love this!"  My wife, ever the constant marketer, refers to this as "discovery" in marketing speak.

Yes, the Penny Lane website could probably set up an online playlist so while "browsing" through their list of titles (which, no doubt, I'd probably end up viewing just by text links versus seeing cover art) and I could stumble across a song that sounds good and click through to buy it. But, the social aspect is of course missing.

I know a lot of people bemoan this, but for all of the convenience that online shopping provides, and believe me, I use it a lot and appreciate it for what it is, for certain things (music and games among them), there is a sense of shared social experiences that is lost when one simply sits at their desktop or uses an iPad or smartphone to browse through a list of inventory without the opportunity to ask people, in real time, "What's that like?" or sharing, "Did you ever see these guys in concert?" or even, "I played that game once and the GM was a total bastard..."

I'm obviously not alone with these feelings, but more and more I'm finding that people are becoming more accepting of the fact that niche retail outlets, that provide a "safe" environment for people with shared interests to gather and talk about their favorite things, are giving way to more cost-efficient online stores with less overhead.

In the process, I think we lose part of ourselves and what makes us human, but maybe it's just me.

What are your thoughts?

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water. Planning on a Sancerre for dinner.
Listening: "Break My Heart" by La Sera


  1. Must be nice to be able to walk to everything. The 'burbs where I live are so pedestrian UNfriendly that only desperate people and crazies walk to the nearby stores. (It's like the city planners in this area have some bizarre aversion to sidewalks...)

    Speaking of which, BTW, said local stores are almost all big-brand stores nowadays. All of the friendly local stores have gone belly up in the past two decades. I don't frequent the (F?)LGS at all anymore, since they've long since given up on stocking things for the hardcore hobbyist in favor of the Magic/4E/40K/WarmaHordes crowd; there's nothing left there for old gamers like me. Heck, their RPG "section" is nothing more than a double-sided four-foot rack, and one full side of that is 4E product; all Other RPGs are relegated to a single side. I shop for everything (except groceries) online these days, but even if I wanted to indulge in my consumerist browse/impulse-buy urges, I don't have the option to do so.

    In short: oh, how I envy you. :P

    1. Ha! Yeah - I know I'm super lucky. It's the second place we've lived where we had a bunch of walkable stuff. The last place had a better selection of walkable restaurants, along with a cool (but expensive) grocery store and our dry cleaners. But, I'm gonna take a comic book store, game store, and pub over that any day! The record store will be missed, but I did spend more time in the comics and game store.

      Our game store is HUGE (they recently moved to be even closer to my house) but sadly the RPG section is woefully under-developed. There's a huge rack of 4E/Pathfinder stuff, another of Warhammer and 40K RPG stuff, and another of "Misc" which includes Savage Worlds, Burning Cycle (or whatever that's called) and a bunch of other stuff. They actually have a bunch of different systems, but only a couple copies of each and almost no supplements. There's also a rack of "still new" but a bit older games, including WotC Star Wars and a bunch of 3rd party d20 and OGL stuff.

      What they're missing, and I've asked them to carry many times, is print copies of OSR stuff. I know they carry it at other stores, but this guy doesn't. he's also oddly one of the few stores around where 4E outsells Pathfinder and the owner told me that he "doesn't get" Pathfinder. Pretty much every open-game table (and there are maybe like 12 of them) are full of 4E games or else some kind of miniatures games, although last time I was there I saw a group of 20-ish and 30-ish gamers played old school TSR Marvel Super-Heroes. If I hadn't had my daughter with me, I would've hung out to meet them and maybe watch for awhile, but I needed to get her home.


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