In thinking about things that I want to right about it’s the small things in life usually cross my mind. I like writing about the small things. The things that are so everyday that they get forgotten. This week as I was contemplating subjects for writing what stuck my mind was going to a record store. That’s something I haven’t done in a decade yet I used to do all the time for maybe twenty years. I haven’t even thought of the experience of going to a record store in I don’t know how long. It’s like I forgot the experience ever existed.

When I say “Record store” I don’t mean one of those big city shops that specialize in vinyl or obscure records. The experience of going in to one of those is pretty much the same as going into any store that specializes in selling stuff to collectors. No, I’m talking about your typical suburban or urban mall record store that sold lots of copies of whatever was the latest hit to teenagers and beyond. I’m mainly talking about the chains like “Sam Goodies” but big city stores like Manhattan’s “Tower Records” are about the same thing except more overwhelming due to their sheer size.

I was never a huge music collector or anything but I used to go to a record store almost every week because it was located in a mall near my local comic shop. My friend an I would hit the comic shop weekly to buy our new comics so why not also check out the record store, book store, and video game store that were all at the mall? All those stores and the mall are gone now by the way. At a guess I’d say I would buy about twenty five new albums a year. Not a ton but over the years they add up. By the time I was in my late twenties I must have had a few hundred albums.

Going into a mall chain record store was a noisy experience. They were usually blasting pop music of some kind that I was never interested in. The rest of the mall was always quiet compared to the record store. The lighting was usually weird too. The record store seem to go for some kind of “Party” lighting so there were lots of colored gels and weird spotlights on things. I never found it the most comfortable store to be in. I never got into the sense of fun they were aiming for.

The non-chain record stores were different than that. They generally had the same music but without the weird lighting and loud pop music playing all the time. They were often run by someone who was a music fan and was in the business because they loved records. They were knowledgeable and they would special order things for you but special ordering was usually expensive. I generally found it best to stick with what was already in the store.

In both stores browsing was essentially the same. They had shallow rows of CDs and cassette tapes in tall plastic packages to make it harder on shoplifters. The music was arranged by genre but there would alway be peculiarities. Especially in the chain stores where the teenage employees didn’t care all that much about cataloguing stuff. I can remember the clank-clank sound of the tall hard plastic cases hitting together as I thumbed through the racks. There was also always a section for singles and a section for new releases. This was after the age of vinyl so there were no big twelve by twelve albums to thumb through except for maybe an occasional bin in the back. The non-chain record stores often had more vinyl in them but not much.

Before the age of CDs I bought mostly cassette tapes. I bought my first cassettes with my own money when I was about 14 (1980) and probably bought my last cassette in about 1995. I never had a high end stereo to listen to music on so the sound quality of cassettes was always fine with me. Though I had certainly bought a lot of CDs by 1995 the reason I was still buying cassette tapes was price. The price of CDs never came down. It was widely know that it cost less to make a CD than to make a cassette but full retail on a new cassette album was about $13 and the same new album on CD was about $16. That was annoying. I could often get cassettes on sale or in the clearance bin too.

It was the price of CDs that finally made me stop going to the record store. In the late 1990s it got to the point where a new CD at the local mall chain store was $19. That was crazy. And none of the new CDs were ever on sale. At that time there were about three music chain stores in my area and they all had the same high price for new CDs. I couldn’t believe it. I thought something was weird about that and it turned out to be true. A few of the music chain stores were accused and eventually convicted some kind of price fixing scheme. I don’t remember the details all these years later but I knew something was up and it left a bad taste in my mouth. The chain bookstores had different sales and prices on new books so how could the prices on new CDs be the same in all the chain stores?

In the late 1990s CDs were starting to be sold through internet stores and I was glad never to buy one in a record store again. I passed by a lot of music because it was too expensive and I thought I was being ripped off. After my friend and I both started buying our music from online retailers we slowly stopped bothering to walk to the end of the mall where the record store was. For a while we’d pop down and browse but the selection seemed to get narrower all the time as they catered more and more to teenagers. When the mall chain record store closed we hardly even noticed.

They’re all gone now. From the small local store I used to walk too in my youth to the bigger independent ones in the bigger towns to even the mall chain stores. You can still get CDs at the Best Buy in the local mall but that might be the only place left around here. I don’t really miss them either. Why would I miss someone charging $19 for a CD?