It’s hard to believe that at one time nearly every suburban town had a camera shop, pet shop, record shop, independent drug store (or two) , bakery, hardware store, stationer, shoemaker, and butcher shop, along with independent pizza parlors and restaurants. There were small dress shops and children’s clothing stores; shops that sold clothing for men and boys, hat shops, shoe stores—and none of them were in malls. Cities, of course, had numerous independently-owned stores. I spent many years in the suburbs, and was always in walking distance of a grocery store, a few liquor stores, a bakery, and an independent drug store. As the song says, “Those were the days, my friend.”
My three closest friends and I would walk a mile after school every day to visit two record shops in a neighboring small city (where we bought that Mary Hopkin album). The people that worked there knew us, the customers knew us, and our parents knew where we were. The guys who worked in the pizzeria also knew us—that’s where we stopped to get fuel for our trip home. Those two music stores are long gone.
Malls came, big box stores arrived (not where I lived for some reason, maybe we were too close to NYC), and chain stores and restaurants pushed the independents off the map. It started gradually, but in the past ten years, 3,000 American independent record stores have closed.
Struggling independent record store owners and insiders from the record business (such as Lenny Kaye of The Patti Smith Group and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth) discuss the death of independent records stores in I Need that Record: The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store, an indie documentary that reveals the history of the decline of the independents. Sure, it’s about record shops, but you can apply what it says to luncheonettes (replaced by McDonald’s, etc.), clothing stores (put out of business by malls), and other small businesses.
One might think that this is a rap that WalMart doesn’t have to take. After all, have you ever seen the music selection at WalMart? The prices might be good, but if it’s not for music I want they could be giving the stuff away for free and it wouldn’t affect me. Same for Best Buy, Kmart, and Target—they have an extremely limited selection–limited to things I don’t want. Surprisingly, in 2007 big box stores claimed 65% of record sales (actually CDs) and WalMart was the biggest box on the block.
Many things have eroded the hold record shops once had on us. Most of them can be found in the “greed” file. The telecommunications act, the homogenization of music, the limited number of titles played on the radio, soaring rents, and overpriced CDs (with ever-escalating prices) all made a contribution to the decline. Worse is the way record labels look upon the buying public.
Some may think that Amazon and MP3s are to blame, but Amazon gets hardly a mention. MP3s, and especially file sharing, have done their damage, though. Interestingly, 30,000 albums are released every year, yet the big box stores stock about 1000 titles.
Clips from vintage cartoons, movies, and documentaries, and archival footage are used throughout I Need that Record, and it opens with a very cool animation behind the credits. Extra features are over two hours of interviews with Ian MacKaye (Dischord Records), Mike Watt (Minutemen), Thurston Moore, Lenny Kaye, Legs McNeil (punk author), Glenn Branca (composer), Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), and Pat Carney (Black Keys).