Saturday, June 4, 2011

Micheal Fremer Review

What Makes an Indie Record Store Owner Tick?

James P. Goss

by Michael Fremer

More of an informal sampler than a comprehensive look, James P. Goss’s “Vinyl Lives” offers a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of folks both sufficiently crazy and persistent to own record stores in the face of the Internet download juggernaut.

Combining interviews with narratives Goss effectively highlights the rise (and in some cases the fall) of twenty three indie record stores from coast to coast and places in-between—some of which you’ve surely visited or from which you’ve received emails.

Among the stores profiled are New York City’s Academy Records, Cheap Records, Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Great Escape in Nashville, Record Recycler in Torrance California, Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, and Enterprise in Portland, Maine (one of the few all-vinyl stores left).

Goss keeps it interesting by spending less time on the store contents and more on the mindset of the owners, some of whom are fascinating characters. These are stories of obsession and tenacity, good instincts and luck, sometimes combined with idealism bordering on the foolish.

There are profiles of smart, recent up and comers like Amoeba’s co-founder Marc Weinstein who opened his big second store in Hollywood back in 1997 and Tower’s Russ Solomon who lost it all and closed his doors in 2006.

The book is worth reading just for the Tower and Amoeba stories, though much else will be of great interest to vinyl lovers. There are sad stories of closings like John Goddard’s famous Village Music in Mill Valley California, one of those legendary “one day I’ll visit” places I never managed to get to before it closed in 2007 (online sales only now) and uplifting stories of survival.

Goss also talks to Records By Mail’s Craig Moerer who started his mail order only business in 1974 and now operates out of a 6000 square foot warehouse.

Record collectors unaware of the realities of square footage calculations, paying rent, employees and the rest will find the realities of what seems like a fun business somewhat harsher than might be expected. There’s also luck. Now closed once thriving Rhino Record store in Westwood California near U.C.L.A. moved into a new location a few blocks away from the old one that opened September 11th 2001 a month before Amoeba’s giant store opened in Hollywood. And so it goes.

“Vinyl Lives” is a quick, enjoyable read that would have made great summer reading. I’d meant to get it reviewed in time for summer but I was too busy listening to records. Better late than never! You can buy it, appropriately enough, at indie record stores and on Also, be sure to visit Goss’ website

Thanks to Michael over at   for the exclusive rights to reprint this material. Stop by for more reviews and features.

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