I was in Philadelphia last week for business and managed to take a rare trip downtown. It seems that although I’m in the Philly area frequently for work, I don’t seem to venture outside of King of Prussia enough. So, last week between the thunderstorms I went downtown with a couple of guys from work. I wanted to do some record shopping. We really wanted to see some live music, but there wasn’t much going on that we wanted to see.
I have been downtown a dozen times or so since 2002 for varying reasons– mostly to find some place to eat other than the restarants that are part of the King of Prussia Mall area. I’ve only been record shopping one other time and that was two or three years ago. My method for going downtown involves locating South Street and just parking some place and walking around. So, that was the method we used this time. We found a pretty cheap parking area off South around 4th Street for about $7 for the whole night. It was after 7PM by the time we got down there so we decided to hit some record shops before finding some place to eat.
The first place we stopped was Noise Pollution (619 South 4th Street). This is a typical small used record store with a good stock of vinyl and a particularly good selection of 45’s. On this trip I was looking for rare Calexico singles or vinyl, rare Tortoise singles or vinyl. That is really the approach that I recommend when you don’t have time to scour a store. I found a 12″ of Calexico’s Black Heart EP for $15, but that was more than I wanted to pay for it consideing the condition of the cover. This is still in print, anyway. The price sticker said it had been in their bins for a couple of years. The guy behind the counter was pretty helpful, but spent most of his time on the phone. One noteworthy thing I saw was a cardboard box near the front door full of VHS tapes that appeared to have live concerts or appearances taped from TV. I saw a Neil Young tape that looked pretty cool, but I wondered if they were dubs of another tape, which might have made the quality questionable. Somewhere around my house is a tape of Neil Young appearances from three Farm Aids, a couple of SNL appearances, MTV Music Awards with Pearl Jam doing Rockin’ in the Free World, and the live performance of “Philadelphia” from the Academy Awards.
The next place we went was Repo Records (538 South Street), which we saw online and looked promising and they have a basement dedicated to vinyl. We were very disappointed to find that the downstairs was closed temporarily. So, I flipped through the little bit of vinyl they had and we headed for Spaceboy Music up the street.
Spaceboy Music (704 South Street) is one of the stores I visted when I was shopping down here last time. I was impressed by it’s selection of music. Unfortunately, this time they are having a 20% off all inventory going out of business sale. Most of their vinyl was stacked in cardboard boxes in the middle of the room and was pretty well picked over. They still had a very good CD selection available and it looked like they had just received an order from one of their distributers judging by the pile of new CD’s behind the counter. I found a couple of interesting things in vinyl. One item was an REM fanclub 7″ of “Ghost Reindeer in the Sky” b/w the Gershwin classic “Summertime.” This was the Christmas single from 1990. They wanted $29 list, but that was more than I wanted to spend on that. I also found an opened “Freeze” 2 LP from DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. Unfortunately, it was used and had quite a bit of surface scratches on it.
I hit the CD’s and found three CD’s I wanted. The first find was a promo for the re-release of the two Manitoba albums under the new Caribou moniker: Start Breaking My Heart and Up In Flames. The official releases are 2 CD affairs and the second disc includes singles and remixes released around the same time as the original albums. This is a single disc sampler of the four CDs. It’s pretty cool, and makes me want to go get those releases. $6.40.
The next CD I got was in their “discount used” section in the middle of the store. That section didn’t have much, but I picked up Thrill Jockey band Town and Country’s 2003 release 5. I hadn’t heard anything from Town and Country, so I picked that up. Upon first listen it is very mellow atmospheric acoustic music similar to some of Tortoise’s music, or a little like Pullman. $3.99
I also picked up Eleventh Dream Day’s new CD Zeroes and Ones. I had a chance to hear this at Tower Records in Chicago at one of their listening stations. This is also on Thrill Jockey, and includes Tortoise bass player Doug McCombs. I like this album, it reminds me of pre-Grunge period bands in the late 80’s early 90’s. Sounds a little like Sonic Youth.
While we were walking around we saw a couple of other record stores that seem interesting. One I want to visit next, and when I have some time is The Philadelphia Record Exchange. They seem to have a huge vinyl selection.
After Spaceboy, we ate at a wonderful Italian restaurant called La Fourno Trattoria. They have fantastic Pizzas.
So, it’s sad to see yet another music store going out of business. I’m not sure what is going to help these stores stick around. I think that used CD’s and vinyl is part of the equasion. There is more mark up in a used CD or record than there is in new, so that helps, I think. Earlier this year, Des Moines lost one of the big indie record stores in Iowa known as Peeples Music after 30 years in business. In an article in the Des Moines Register, owner Mike Enloe stated that he needed 25 customers per day just to keep the doors open. The value of an independent record retailer is hopefully the knowledge that the typically passionate people who work there have. A lot of the important purchases I have made over the years came from the advice of a trusted employee of one of these stores.