A record store just opened in my town! It goes nicely with the indie bookstore that opened last year and the board game shop where I spend too much time and money. No, the year is not 1980 and we’re not going back in time. Analog is making a comeback and with it comes the return of analog places to shop. And since a lot of the corporate players have been eliminated from the market, many of the shops are local, funky, and quirky. And awesome!
Records, actual books, board games and other physical items are recapturing market share from their digital brethren. Part of this is a backlash against the “all digital all the time” world in which we live. Some (especially in the case of records) is because people recognize the superior quality of the original form. There’s also the thrill of owning a “thing” instead of a digital file which appeals to collectors.
For me, the best news to come from the return of analog is the return of the great little shops that sell the stuff. It’s no secret that I’m old enough to have grown up in the heyday of malls, bookstores, record stores, and hobby shops. While I’m not a huge recreational shopper, I always enjoyed going in such places and just looking around.
Not the big chains, mind you. Barnes and Noble is nice and the huge selection is fun, but they have nothing on a little indie bookstore that showcases the personality of its owner and community. Same with the old record chains like Camelot Music or Sam Goody. They were nice to shop in because they had a big inventory, but the stores lacked personality. Give me a record store owned by a music lover who decorates according to his tastes and passions any day.
Growing up, my town had two excellent indie bookstores, two record stores, and a funky hobby shop in which you could buy your craft and hobby supplies, along with your D&D rule books, dice, and miniatures. The bookstores were very different from one another. One cultivated the classic vibe, trending toward dark wood, serious books, and a more scholarly staff. The other was like a more adult version of the store from You’ve Got Mail. Funky little displays, various tchotkes and pictures scattered around the space, and staff that just wanted to chat about anything. Mostly books, but you could get them talking about anything. Both had their place and were fun to shop in, depending on your needs.
The record stores were also very unique to their owners. One was all classic rock, Grateful Dead, and hippie-ish. The other was more pop oriented, although it also had a very nice stash of classical music. The decor of each reflected the interests of their owners, from the posters on the wall to the hand-lettered dividers between the records. In either store, I loved looking at the records themselves. Each was a mini-poster of awesome artwork. CD cases just can’t replicate that experience, and a tiny digital thumbnail isn’t even in the same conversation.
The hobby store was just a big pile of awesome. Whatever the owner was into at the moment was on the walls or in the display cases. And he would take the time to tell you the story of anything you cared to ask about.
All of these places encouraged you to look around, take your time, and investigate the merchandise. There was no sense of hurry. These were places you wanted to spend an afternoon. If you visited often enough, the staff got to know you and would show you new things they knew you’d like and talk about the goings-on in your life. One of the bookstores knew me so well that when I went away to college and stopped in over my vacations, they’d ask about my classes and what I was reading in school.
These places were a magical refuge from the real world, a trip into someone else’s imagination and creativity. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed them until they started reappearing in my community. When I visited the bookstore, it was like coming home. Of course it wasn’t the same as the places I remembered — this was a new store with a different owner. But the vibe was the same. Welcoming, quirky, funky, and personable. The kind of place where you know there’s not another one exactly like it in the world. That uniqueness makes it special. Now the record store is the same.
These are the places I go when I want to relax, think, and boost my own creativity by basking in someone else’s creative space. They are the places I go when I want to be reminded that we all march to our own drummer and that’s okay. I visit these places when I need reassurance that the world is not comprised entirely of asshats and soulless corporations.
The funky, quirky sellers of analog products are a throwback to another, simpler era, yet these stores don’t feel dated. They the way shopping should be. (Especially when we’re talking about parting with discretionary income, which should be fun and not a chore.) They aren’t sterile and identical. They’re tributes to the humans who own and shop in them. And that’s awesome.
I’m not going to get into arguments about price and inventory. There are certainly arguments to be made for online shopping and mega-chains. (I love the convenience of online shopping as much as the next person.) But for the pure joy of looking around, meeting cool people, and actually enjoying the shopping experience, nothing beats the quirky analog places. Nothing beats these places that showcase humanity as well as merchandise. I’m so happy to see them making a comeback.