RECORD STORE TALES PART 5: The Dream Job
Of all my highschool friends, there was only one who had a job that he enjoyed. Peter worked at Steve’s TV, still pretty much the best video store in town. All my other friends worked at the typical places. One guy worked at the closest convenience store every weekend. Two more worked in the McDonalds kitchen. A few more worked at rival fast food places. All pretty typical for kids at age 16.
Peter on the other hand (who later became the best man at my wedding) had his wicked job. Back then there wasn’t much to choose from, the biggest chain store was Jumbo Video. Everything else was pretty crusty, except for Steve’s TV. Steve’s started in the late 70’s. Back then they had one room, one wall of videos (3/4 VHS and ¼ Betamax) and a small bin of video discs, the precursor of laserdisc. They used to offer package deals: Rent a VCR and five movies for a weekend for a special price. Not too many people had VCRs back then.
The store grew and grew and relocated pretty close to home. That’s where Peter worked during highschool, that and learning an electrical trade with his dad later on. We used to call him “TV Pete” because TV seemed to be his big love back then, so working at Steve’s TV was totally appropriate. Peter used to borrow movies from work, tape them, and bring them back the next day. Peter always had copies of all the new releases, and a library hundred of titles big.
I first became interested in working in a record store in highschool. There was a small record store in Kincardine, Ontario that sold a mix of CDs, LPs and cassettes. I bought a couple titles there over the years, including Out of This World by Europe, and Judas Priest’s monstrous Painkiller.
I thought to myself, what a great summer job that would be.
Instead, during the fall of 1989 my dad told me to go into the local Zehrs store, and speak to a man named Don. I went out and got myself a haircut. It was the first time I had a hair cut in 5 years where I didn’t ask the barber to “leave the back long.” I cut ‘er all off. It was a bit of a blow, as my hair had become…well, not great, but it was long enough that it was my trademark.
Neck still itchy from the clippers, and wearing some ill-fitting dress pants, I walked into the Zehrs store. The conversation was brief. My dad must have told the guy that I was getting my hair cut, because he told me my hair was “fine”. He outlined the requirements of the job, and asked me if I could start the next day. I accepted. I was employed! I began plotting my next order from Columbia House.
During my tenure there I bought my first CD. (Trash by Alice Cooper.) Other albuims to follow were Fair Warning by Van Halen, Damn Yankees, Slip of the Tongue (Whitesnake), the charity CD Stairway to Heaven / Highway to Hell, Black Sabbath’s We Sold Our Souls For Rock And Roll, Ozzy’s Live E.P., and the debut album by Badlands were all bought during the first few months with Zehrs money.
I didn’t like the hours, which interfered with the Thursday edition of the Pepsi Power Hour. I still caught the Tuesday edition on most weeks, but this meant my metal intake was now cut in half!
It was a job. That’s all it was. It was something to keep my dad off my back and make money to spend on albums. That was pretty much it. Monthly, the Columbia House catalogue would arrive. There was never a month when nothing was ordered. I was trying to explore everything.
But that was nothing, next to the dream job.
In July 1994 my dad once again came to me. “Go see the guy at the record store in the mall. He wants to talk to you.” I put on my cowboy boots (the closest thing I had to dress shoes) and walked over to the mall once again, the same fucking mall where the Zehrs was. It was awesome.
The store had been open three years. There had always been a place in the mall to buy music. This new store was replacing a failed A&A Records, and many predicted the same thing would happen to the new store. The young guy who started it came to my dad for help setting up an account. My dad managed the Canada Trust at the mall, and because of that connection, I was the first person thought of when he needed a new part-timer.
The owner worked all day, all night, every day, and rarely even paid himself for three years to keep that place afloat. He employed his brother and during the busy times hired part-timers. Then he hit upon the idea of selling his own used CDs at the store. He brought in a tray, marked it to about half price, and all the discs sold. He worked up a pricing scheme and was soon buying and selling. That’s when I came into the picture.
I’d already known about the used discs. I bought Kiss My Ass for $11.99 there, the previous week. It had just come out so I was fine with saving $10 on something I only really wanted a couple songs from. Other than the used stuff though, everything there was overpriced. It was one of those stores, the ones at the shitty malls with no selection and high prices. That was all about to change and I got to be in on the ground floor.
I worked there in training for the whole summer, and by fall I was closing all by myself. Those were the best nights. Those were the nights when I got to pick the music myself. We didn’t have many store play discs, and some albums were out of bounds anyway, but I gave a few a shot. Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains was in the player pretty much every night. I also found that I really liked David Lee Roth’s “multi-faceted” latest, Your Filthy Little Mouth. The only problem: We had a stack of 10 of ’em, and nobody wanted any of them.
The store owner was a shrewd businessman but musically clueless. While he was playing Anita Baker and Don Henley, kids were coming in asking for Pigface, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, and Ministry. He ordered a pile of David Lee Roth discs, in 1994. What the hell was he thinking? He did the same thing again with Motley Crue’s latest. There must have been 20 of them sitting there.
Very quickly in my tenure there, I picked up many treasures. Rush Chronicles, a King’s X / Faith No More split live bootleg, numerous rare singles, and deleted back catalogue titles like Twisted Sister’s You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll. We had the catalogues in front of us, so any time something decent was deleted, I made sure I snapped it up. I already had a lot of this stuff on cassette, but cassettes don’t last and I wanted to replace them all.
During my time at the record store, I pretty much accomplished that. If you come back, I’ll share some of the cool treasures that you may never see yourselves.
Man, it was always my dream to work in a record store, but never managed to gain employment in one. Those were hard to get nepotism was important I guess, and my family didn’t know anyone working or owning a record store.
Believe me it baffled me how they hired people from time to time. I can’t go into details but sometimes they specifically wanted a certain age, a certain type. I was lucky I had that family connection, I never would have been hired randomly.