As part of this decade’s vinyl renaissance, we have seen the rise of a new breed of shop: the boutique record store. Generally these are popping up in odd urban spaces often low rent, soon to be gentrified neighbourhoods, featuring small inventories of overpriced records of varying quality. A strange byproduct of this boutique record shop phenomenon is the general rise in value of what were once common thrift store records, elevating prices of the Miami Vice soundtrack to Steely Dan levels.
Don’t confuse these boutiques with your regular independent record store, as I did on a uncomfortable experience at one such un-named shop. I hesitate on writing a less than flattering post about a subculture I love, but my experience was so confusingly compelling on that day when I tried to trade in some records for store credit; trading in records is an inevitable situation most music nerds find themselves in, eventually your collection gets too big, and there is stuff you haven’t listen to for years, so you trade in a bunch in for store credit, but ultimately end up spending more money and having evermore too many records. Mostly I visit a couple record stores to deal with owners I trust, but every once in a while I try to branch out my searches at new stores.
Rewind back to last week, when I stopped into a little boutique record store that had been recommended to me. It is closed on Mondays and also seems to shut early on the random days. I don’t go into the big city very often, but one day I happened to see it: OPEN! BUY SELL AND TRADE! Great, I had about 15 minutes to look around and I picked out a kind of beat up, ex-library Bollywood record for $30 – I chatted to the owner about Polish free jazz, scarcity of Fall pressings, and prog rock, & I asked if he would be interested in seeing any of the records I had in the car for a trade – he takes a look at the pile and picks out 2 records (Fela Kuti and Husker Du) and offers me $20 in trade. (Sure – sounds fine, the rest of the stuff is indie rock and not really what he stocks… the Fela Kuti record still has the shrink and “new” price sticker on it for $24.99). Decent enough transaction, despite the Bollywood record being overpriced for the iffy condition but great thanks, bye! At best, these little record stores can help nurture a community, and herein I thought perhaps was such a place.
Fast forward to today, I had the day off and thought “Ok, now that I know what his store specializes in, I will bring in some relevant (African, Post-Punk, Avant Garde, and Prog) records to trade. So pack up a bunch of records and head on down to his shop… he takes a quick look and see his eyes light up: “Master Drummers of Dagbon, I have this at home! I love this record!” “Bridgette Fontaine, and a Japanese pressing… cool! …I just sold one of her records to a friend and he was really happy with it.” “The Fall! great… I..ummm…” Pause. At this point I don’t think he had meant to lose his composure, as he suddenly gets a very serious tone and furrows his brow: “Oh….whatever…. I stocked their original records but nobody ever seems to buy the ones I have.” Having heard the opposite story last time, I knowingly glance away and try to joke that while the Fall may have like 30+ records but only 20-25 of them are totally essential.
I look around the shop’s Rare Groove sections for a bit as he scrambles to price everything out using Discogs on his smartphone (btw, he also sells records in his online store – we will get to that later…), when I noticed him looking up prices I was smiling a little inside because I knew there was a couple African records in that pile that were so rare that they had no discogs entry – I was curious to know how he would handle that. The store was hot and he was sweating profusely as I awaited his calculations while casually browsing. He was clearly struggling, time dragged on, and to show some compassion I suggested I would leave, go get some lunch and come back in a couple hours to shop more. Relieved he said “Yes, come back later and I will have a total for you.”
When I returned a couple hours later he started to complain of an inner ear issue. I asked if he was okay and needed anything, he said he didn’t… Okay.
“So, I am prepared to offer you…40 dollars.”
I imagine I looked bewildered, because he then turned red and looked embarrassed. “$40? ” I said. “That seems a little low.” I looked at the pile of ten records I had brought in behind his counter and thought I would be better off keeping them at if they are only fetching 4 dollars a piece.
“I think I have offended you. Let me recalculate”.
While I waited for him to re-calculate I flipped through the new arrivals and found the same Fela Kuti reissue I had traded in last week – I purposefully pulled it out knowing that he-knew-that-I-knew what is was: he had put a “new” price tag on it for $29.99! Huh? I had bought it new for $24.99 – had traded it in with the shrink wrap and original price sticker still on it… he had taken that old sticker off and was now selling it for a higher price! Oh my, I thought to myself, this is going to be interesting.
“This Fall record is worth nothing” he grumbles.
“It’s like only worth 4 dollars at best”
“Oh. You mean you’d sell it for $4 in your store?” casting my eyes over to the $100 David Bowie bootleg on the wall.
“Oh, but I’d never sell it for that price!”
Confused, I continued flipping through the new arrivals bin, noticing the lowest priced items he had in there were thrift store type Exotica records for $7.99, while Neil Young ‘s Harvest was priced at $29.99. Whoa.
His next target was a rare Stockhausen record I brought in: with a scowl he says “So this Stockhausen, but it isn’t even like Electronic music?”
For the record, though he has vast discography Stockhausen only has a few “electronic” records, but I reply respectfully “Much of his early stuff was for just piano and orchestra”. I initially thought he was interested in the subject, so I mentioned some more early Stockhausen trivia to no response… but I realize later this was a veiled attempt to put down the record and make me feel like it was a worthless piece of plastic.
It didn’t clue in to me because I knew the record’s value – despite him roughly putting it onto his in-store turntable and yelling “No-one will buy this! It sounds like is like nothing on it!” then repeatedly dropping the needle in random places of quiet abstract piano passages. I think to myself “Is that how he treats records he hasn’t paid for yet?” But I felt confident in the quality of these records and resigned to forgivingly ignore his crass negotiation tactics.
At his point I was cringing as he appeared to be on the verge of destroying my record, I suggested maybe I should keep both the Stockhausen and Fall record and let me know what kind of trade I could get for the rest. I extend my hand and he says: “Wait a sec, wait.”
His next target is the New Phonic Art record, where he promptly insults with: “I bet this is this one of those records by people who can play instruments really well, but all they do is make farting noises!”
I uncomfortably smile and reply: “Yes, I think they call that Improv.”
I really thought he was kidding (spying a used Sun Ra Nubians of Plutonia reissue on the wall selling for $25 – I assumed his non-joke was funny because he overly values jazz records), but later realized he was trying to insult the record so I would give it to him for next to nothing (see argument #1 below). Don’t get me wrong, I know times are tough economically and stores have rent to pay, so I am willing to forgive a little hustle in the process of making a deal, but this just felt abusive.
Same process with the other records as he manhandled them on his turntable, now making me realize why would I ever buy records from a guy who treats not only his own record stock, but other people’s records so roughly?
He then tells me that the guy that owned a record store on Salt Spring Island record sold his business, but secretly took all the Jazz records without the new owners knowing, and then had sold them to him… “And you bought them knowing this?” I wondered, thus cementing his reputation with me.
I managed to collect the “worthless” Fall record from his counter but he was still holding all the rest back. He comes back again with a surprising new total for store credit (now minus the Fall record)… $40! Huh?
BUT now he has two more arguments:
“Most people bring in a box of stuff and there are only like 2 records I can really use.” He is holding up my Fela Kuti record and a strange Japanese press of an African record, he stated he had listened to this during the two hours I was away from his shop, all the while flipping it over and over again, examining it carefully and holding back a smile.
He looks at me and says: “You know most people just give me the rest of the box and I sell their junk in the bargain bin or take it straight to the thrift store for them.”
“So then do you want to pick out the ones you can really use then?” I ask.
“Well, I can only use this one.”
“So, how much for just that one record then?”
(Ignoring me) “…but then there is this one, and this thing, and then this one… such interesting stuff, but I could never sell them in here.”
“So how much?” I think he wanted all those records for the price of one. He had obviously looked up all their online value and wasn’t giving up by giving any back… which leads us into his…
“I could never sell these sorts of records around here, they are sorta worthless here. If it was in Vancouver no problem!”
I earnestly reply: “Really? I should take these into Vancouver? That is probably a good idea! Like maybe Red Cat or … ”
Note: I was actually being sincere here, but in hindsight I doubt it came across this way as he shots me a grumpy scowl. When I get home later I learn, while it may be true that he has a hard time selling interesting records in that little shop, he does actively sell tonnes of prog, jazz, world, avant-garde and rock records online through Discogs under a different name than his storefront (he charges in American funds, and adds Canadian taxes – even an extra and mysterious 5%”tax” on all international orders!), so really that “worthless around here” argument was totally an attempt to swindle me. Not cool.
A few times I say “I am probably better off just keeping these” and extend my hand to get them back, but he just won’t let them go.
“I. am. going. to. pack. these. up. and. go. now.” and just reach across the counter to start packing my records up – I am trying not to say anything in response to his continued insulting hustle. As I go out the door, he hollers back: “You probably won’t, but I hope you will come back one day.” Huh? Creepy.
Epilogue part 1 : Dear record store owner, For the sake of this post, I went home and priced out the records I brought to you in that day on Discogs (conservatively graded and based on the previous sales and omitting the 2 rare LPs with no entries) and those online sales would have totalled between $180.00 to $392.00 ( Bear in mind that is in American funds, so if you converted the $40 in Canadian currency you had offered me in your store credit, it would equal $30.79 US. meaning for stuff he “couldn’t sell here” but if sold online would have cleared a profit between $149.21 to $361.21 US.)
Epilogue part 2: My favorite part of the story comes in the form of this text three hours later: “Stephen, it’s ______ from _______. Scott____ passed me your #. Please accept my apologies, I really low balled you on those LPs. Trade value should have been much higher, perhaps even double. I have a fever from this inner ear infection, it must be affecting me today. Anyhow again, I’m sorry about that.”
Whoa stalker! Your integrity should have been much higher, perhaps even double. So he remembered I mentioned last week that my out of town friend had recommended his shop, so this week he calls some other dude named Scott, who then gets my phone number from our mutual friend, so he can then text me this sweet apology/medical explanation. How do you even respond to this?