Jan. 14, 2009 12:00

Ten best!: Record & CD stores

 

FYE: For Your Entertainment

400 Four Seasons Town Centre, Greensboro, 336.294.1884; Hanes Mall, Winston-Salem, 336.768.3411, www.fye.com The list of casualties in the Triad’s retail music scene grows longer by the day. Some notable departures in the past four years— and these are only counting Greensboro stores: Andrew Dudek’s Gate City Noise, famed for its in-store appearances, closed when Dudek threw his lot in with the Flying Anvil club, which in turn closed after a year; BB’s New & Used CDs near Guilford College shut down last year; the Record Exchange at the corner of Spring Garden and Aycock streets was torn down when the city approved a rezoning to put in yet another drug store; Collectables at the corner of Lee and Tate streets fell prey to crime; and Collectables Too on Holden Road closes Saturday to make way for a Dunkin’ Donuts. The FYE store closed at Oak Hollow Mall in High Point, but the chain maintains locations in both Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

The stores provide a notable service — allowing customers to scan the barcode of any CD and listen before purchasing. In addition to the standard rock/ pop, R&B and hip hop sections, FYE stocks Christian, gospel, bluegrass, country and international music.

Lil Wayne, Slipknot, Beyonce and the Twilight soundtrack are big sellers, but my money would buy Johnnie Taylor’s Wall to Wall, pressed on Malaco Records out of Jackson, Miss.

Da Beat

308 S. Elm St., Greensboro, 336.332.0032, www.da-beat.com Urban dance music waspumped out of the store as a DJ spun records in the display window when I visited da Beat one weekday afternoon during the holidays. Life. Movement between the street, sidewalk and store. Commerce. What city living is supposed to be all about. The live DJ is a nice oldschool touch, reminding us that record stores are supposed to be community gathering spots, places for the like minded to indulge their enthusiasms, but one function of the store is thoroughly 21st century: Patrons can download music and burn it in the store. Da Beat stocks major hip-hop and R&B releases, but I also found some vital entries from the contemporary American roots music canon: Dylan, the Drive-By Truckers and Lucinda Williams.

Remember When Records

2901 High Point Road, Greensboro, 336.297.1911 Owner John Hiatt Jr. suggested I drop the “10 best” format, and pitched me a “last man standing” type of story focusing exclusively on Remember When. He claims his store has the largest selection in the Triad, and that his is the only one that carries only music. He may be right. “This is the ultimate of record stores,” he says. “We’re probably one of the top 10 record stores in the world as far as record stores you can walk into, find records in the store that are cleaned and graded. We get customers from England and Japan. They’ve never seen anything like it.” He says he has 150,000 “pieces” in-store and two warehouses of extra stock. Remember When’s stock covers a half century, and including rock, blues, jazz, R&B, soundtracks, comedy in formats ranging from wax 45s to CDs.

Record Exchange

3254 Silas Creek Parkway, Winston-Salem, 336.765.2009, www.myspace.com/wsrecordexchange The Record Exchange is probably the most hippest of the remaining brick-and-mortar retailers, and it’s the last representative of the chain left in North Carolina. “We do well with new vinyl: old Love and Hendrix up to new Deerhoof, old Curtis Mayfield up to new Lil Wayne,” employee Jonathan Hodges says. Old soul music also sells well — the Spinners and the Delphonics. So too does old funk — Cameo and Cymande — and new indie hip hop — Madlib and Immortal Technique. Sales were only down slightly last year, proving that records stores can survive the scourge of the internet and the sour economy, and Hodges says the most enthusiastic consumers of vinyl are under 30. The store also stocks a respectable selection of local artists: the Avett Brothers, Caleb Caudle, Ben Folds, Jeffrey Dean Foster, Gillotine, Killwhitneydead and the Solos Unit.

Gerry’s News and Music

1153 E. Lexington Ave., High Point, 336.869.6212 Gerry’s opened on North Main Street in High Point in 1970, and then relocated to College Village near High Point University. The store carries discretely wrapped pornography and VHS cassettes, along with The New York Times, but also boasts a fabulous CD and vinyl collection, including Rhino reissues and 20th Century Masters collections.

Among the rarified wonders: Bobby Bland’s greatest hits on CD, The Best of Chuck Brown on CD (“16 classic tracks from the godfather of go-go”), Kenny Rogers & the First Edition’s Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town on vinyl, and two box sets of live Jerry Garcia Band. Satisfying both research and personal needs, I snagged a copy of Jeff Buckley’s classic Grace album on CD, a recording of the Kentucky Headhunters (those are my roots, baby), a vinyl side of Goose Creek Symphony (brilliant early-’70s hippie alchemists from my home state), and an LP by Nantucket (a counter-intuitively named North Carolina band that my publisher swears by).

Mighty Quinn Music

3722 Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem, 336.995.0813 Record shopping can be a frustrating experience for someone looking for something specific: Customers make the trip to a store only to find that the CD they want is not in stock, never to return.

A vicious cycle ensues, with revenue flagging and stores unable to purchase the stock to meet every consumer’s need. The end result is that Amazon.com reaps the benefit. Proprietor Jim Quinn uses the internet, and about every other tool imaginable to meet his customer’s needs. “I do anything that people ask me, short of selling my body,” he says. That includes making CD copies from his personal vinyl collection, downloading covers off the internet for home-duplicated CDs and mail-ordering rare recordings. “I actually have every Beatles concert ever recorded,” he says. “Somebody says, ‘My mother went to this concert way back when,’ and I say, ‘Would you like it?’” Quinn generally maintains store hours from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., so it’s best to call ahead.

Edward McKay Used Books and More

1607 Battleground Ave., Greensboro, 336.294.1884, www.edmckay.com Edward McKay strikes me as a hipster ghetto — a source of menial and minimal-commitment employment for members of the lumpen-creative class intent on maintaining some modest cash flow while they make art and play in bands. While I was browsing the CD racks one night last month, the staff was joyously blasting Huey Lewis & the News. I was digging it too, but I worried I would need to demonstrate a fine sense of the irony of Huey Lewis before I might gain admittance to the charmed circle. In any case, the bottom line is that the used CDs are affordable, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you’ll probably spot something you like. I picked up a copy of the Beastie Boys classic, Paul’s Boutique, an expanded reissue of Johnny Cash At San Quentin and a hologram-cover CD that includes only the symbol for the artist formerly known as Prince.

Soul Relief Records

Greensboro, 336.271.8082 Harley Lyles runs the business out of his house on Walker Avenue in Greensboro. Someday he’d like to open a physical store, but for the time being you can reach him on his cell phone and set up an appointment. He sells strictly vinyl and specializes in soul, jazz and blues, but stocks a fair sampling of psych, prog and reggae. He sells by mail order, and also special orders music to meet his customers’ needs.

Borders

3605 High Point Road, Greensboro, 336.218.0662; 252 S. Stratford Road, Winston-Salem, 336.727.8834; www.borders.com It’s not fair: Borders drove all kinds of independent booksellers out of business, and then proceeded to demolish the indie record store before opening cafes and co-opting coffee-house culture. It’s because they’ve market-tested the great American pop music canon.

Particularly around Christmas, when you need a modicum of predictability in your gift-buying purchases, you can make a safe bet that Border’s carries something by Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, the Band, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Woody Guthrie. I had my eyes on two music-doc DVDs for quite some time — Be Here to Love Me about Towns Van Zandt and You’re Gonna Miss Me about Roky Erickson — but I think I waited too long.

Saigon Video and Music

3803 High Point Road, Greensboro, 336.297.1911 These are desperate times for newspaper writers seeking a real, honest-to-God record store. I included Saigon in my list a couple years ago, even though the meager selection of Vietnamese traditional and pop music seemed strictly catered to homeland tastes.

Then, as now, I was unable to act as an effective cultural intermediary to guide mainstream ears to this music. I called the number again to make sure they were still open, and a woman’s voice said “hello” and then hung up the phone.

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