1991 was the beginning! While I was busy furthering my education, the future owner of the Record Store prepared for his grand opening. The store was in a mall location and had a minimal staff. It filled a niche in that mall, and managed to survive where other stores did not. It wasn’t hugely successful, but that was about to change.
In 1994, everything shifted. The owner brought in a tray of his own CDs to sell used, and they flew off the counter. “Why not?” he asked himself, and switched to a 50/50 used/new format. I bought my first used CD from him that July. It was Kiss My Ass, which was a brand new release. I paid $12 instead of $19. Perfect, especially for a CD you didn’t want for every song! I vowed to shop there loyally.
Later that month, July of 1994, I had the opportunity to keep shopping, but with a discount! I was hired part-time. The first used CD I bought as an employee was Rush’s Chronicles. The sticker price was $20 instead of $34.
In 1995, the owner opened his second location with a novel 90/10 used/new format. This format took off, and in 1996 he opened the third location. He asked me to manage it. I had been waiting for just such an opportunity. It was the start of a decade long run for me, managing record stores. I missed saying goodbye to the original location, but relished having my own full-time management position. What a ride that was, as you have seen and read!
At the end of ’96, the original location finally closed but moved to Cambridge, utilising the 90/10 format. It was the end of an era – the era of the original location, which is still fondly remembered by all who worked there. For Record Store Tales #1000, let’s pay tribute to the original mall location of the Record Store. Some of the best years and memories of my life. Very little of this will be new information, for there are only so many stories to tell. However I hope you find this 1000th chapter interesting and entertaining: a tribute to the original!
Back when it opened in 1991, it was just nice to have a Record Store at the mall again. We used to have an A&A Records & Tapes, but they closed in 1990. There was a period of time where there were no record stores within walking distance, except the Zellers store‘s meagre music section. Unfortunately the Record Store prices were comparatively high: $14.99 for a regular priced cassette. I didn’t know then about things like cost and overhead, but Columbia House was a better option for me. Still, he managed to keep that store alive. Some of tapes I purchased there before being hired included Europe’s Prisoners in Paradise, Fight’s War of Worlds, and Mr. Bungle’s self-titled. That may have been it. Tapes weren’t cheap.
Then the used CDs came along. A used disc like Kiss My Ass was cheaper than its cassette counterpart; a no-brainer purchase. I was very fortunate to get on board the train just as they were taking off with a great idea. The owner hired me in July of ’94, and T-Rev shortly after in August or September. The things I saw come in used during my first weeks and months were incredible. Rare import singles, bootlegs, and lots of out-of-print metal stuff, long before reissues were a “thing”. I’d frequently have to choose what to buy for myself from paycheque to paycheque. I’d look up items in our supplier’s catalogue, and buy anything used that was currently deleted. Stuff like You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll by Twisted Sister, or the Brighton Rock albums.
There were a number of CDs we had set aside as store play copies, but only a stack or two. We could play anything that was in stock used, but if someone bought it, that was that. Two of the store play albums we played most often in the summer of ’94 were Alice In Chain’s Jar of Flies EP and Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple. Whenever I hear that Alice In Chains today, I can really feel that whole period again. Dark, but with a nostalgic glow due to the years. Once T-Rev and I started working alone, we picked our own music. If you heard Max Webster blasting from the store, then T-Rev was working. If you heard Sabbath, it was me.
We had a TV to play MuchMusic, but most often it was on mute while we played CDs in the store. The boss hated that TV. I think one of things that bugged him was when a customer asked him, “When did you get that TV?” It had been there for three years! I think I may have used it to watch Star Trek once.
I loved closing the store. You could listen to whatever you wanted. There was a lot to do though. Balance the register, do the deposit, take out the trash, vacuum, and file any inventory bags and tags from sold items, so they could be re-ordered. Each CD we stocked had a copy with a tag or bag on it, with the artist, title, and record company. These were then filed in a book at the end of the day, and anything put in the book would usually be re-ordered. That was the nightly routine. Sometimes I forgot to take out the trash and boy did I get told for it.
T-Rev and I alternated nights. There were two sets of shifts: Monday night, Wednesday night, and Friday night. Or, Tuesday night, Thursday night, and the weekend. We alternated weeks and it was great. But we worked alone, and Saturdays could be a grind.
The thing that really slammed us on Saturdays was buying the used CDs. It was such an important process, because by buying CDs we were controlling our cost of goods. So it took time and it was all done manually. Searching physically to see if we had the CD already. Flip through a book to see if we could find out what it was worth. Inspect the condition. Decide on a value. Keep ’em organized. It took time, and we had no space. I remember we had this small counter, with a big cash register, and off to the side were two damaged CD towers that we basically used as an end table to pile more stuff on.
Every Wednesday night was tag check! We had security tags like most stores, and every Wednesday, we re-taped ones that were coming off. Speaking of security, let’s not forget Trevor the Security Guard, who got me in shit for killing time talking to me too much. And the other weirdo security guard who got me into Type O Negative. Kind of looked like Farva from Super Troopers.
I remember the “regulars”, and lemme tell ya, malls have characters. There was a licensed restaurant in the same hallway as us, so we had the odd drunk. It was just something you had to deal with. If the smell didn’t give it away, the slurred questions did. There was one lady that was in all the time, buying stuff for her sons. Or at least, asking “if we had it”.
There was a pizza place and a convenience store, so food was taken care of. We didn’t have a restroom, which was a good thing, because we didn’t have to worry about customers wanting to use it. (There was one time a washroom would have come in handy, but only one time.) Unfortunately there also wasn’t a back room to store things or to eat lunch. I remember one afternoon, I was eating my slice of pizza on the bench outside the store. A dad-type guy walked up to me, and said “I can see you’re eating your lunch, and that’s fine, but I’d like to speak with you later about returning a tape.” I just nodded my head and said “OK”. Jesus Christ!
T-Rev and I were given a lot of say in what we carried. We special ordered new stock that we knew the store needed. Meanwhile, the boss was bringing in bootlegs and Japanese imports. T-Rev made the signage as mine were deemed too messy. I often wonder if the owner feels that way about my website as well. I was not allowed to make any signs!
The best memories of the Record Store were people, like T-Rev, who remains a friend to this day. It wasn’t long before we were influencing each others’ purchases. He recommended The Four Horsemen’s second album, Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By. I got him into buying singles for the rare B-sides. It was great working with him. Then one day I walked in and a big bearded guy was behind the counter. Tom had entered the picture, and a new era was about to begin. The founder of Sausagefest had arrived and things were about to get heavy! Shortly thereafter, Tom threatened to sleep in the store one night when his car doors were frozen shut. I kind of wish that had happened.
Or how about reconnecting with old school friends at the front counter. Things like that were rewarding, not to mention the sheer cool factor in working at a Record Store in 1994. It truly was the dream job! My collection boomed and I had to start looking at new storage options! And who was there to design my custom CD tower? T-Rev!
So here is a tribute to the original record store, all the great memories, and the best years of my working life! Thank you!