It’s Black Friday. I could have gone to the local upscale strip mall and fight moms in yoga pants, but I decided to meander down to my local record store, Lou’s Records. I hadn’t been in two years because it had saddened me how sparse the selection had become. Recently, I lamented to a friend about this and he said that is why I have to go down once an week and spend a dollar (or maybe more) just to show support. Once teeming with people in it’s day, the aisles were mostly abandoned. A sad reminder of how online downloading and file sharing of music has all but killed little independent mom and pop stores like this clinging onto the graces of its hardcore clientele who are either nostalgic for lost times or die hard collectors of music. I’ve probably come to the end of my die hard collector years and teeter more towards the side of nostalgia (although my collection doesn’t even compare to my friend’s husband’s who has well over 1000 CD’s).
My introduction to Lou’s was in the year 1984. I was seven years old. It was an intimidating little hole in the wall in downtown Encinitas between D and E Street off the Coast Highway. The rows (of which there were, like, two) were so tight that you had to back down one end to let someone pass. Even though it was the middle of the New Wave revolution, I could sense that there were punk rock undertones thriving in the walls. My first purchase (ok, my Mom bought it for me) was Madonna’s Like a Virgin on vinyl followed by Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusal. Mom never bought cassette tapes because she knew the best quality came from an LP, but she copied it onto cassette to play in the beat up, blue Ford Courier she owned once she had replaced the 8-track with a tape player.
We would become regulars, my mom and I. I moved from vinyl to cassette when I started to earn an allowance until we got a CD player. In a short span of time, I watched as the store evolved as they made room for compact disc. Their used CD section comprised of two small cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other next to the cash register. They never had what I wanted used, but the selection was small and CD’s were too new for there to be a big selection of trade-in.
Lou’s Records eventually moved down the Coast Highway a bit to Leucadia where they expanded into two buildings on the same lot. One building was dedicated to new arrivals and the second building, equally as big, was all used. (There was also a third smaller building dedicated to movies, but that was by the by.) I was in heaven. My friends and I always started in the used section, trading in CD’s we grew tired of, before moving on to the new part. You could find almost anything you wanted there, no matter how obscure; and if they didn’t have it, they’d be happy enough to order it for you. I spent so much money at Lou’s that I was able to participate in their “Gimmick”, which is when you presented your receipts from Lou’s adding up to so much you would get a discount off your purchase (or something like that).
As the store evolved, so did my musical landscape. Besides, my best friend’s influence, Lou’s had a huge impact in the shaping of my musical taste. They represented to me what an underground record store was. They were alternative before alternative was in. It wasn’t just a place to go and buy music. It was like going to your favorite coffee shop and spending an hour chatting to your friends. It was a scene. It had atmosphere. There was always some cool, offbeat tune playing overhead, whether punk, old school R&B, jazz or blue grass. Never, EVER, would you hear a pop music tune like Garth Brooks or Britney Spears, and if you did it was meant ironically. It was always up to the discretion of the tattoo-pierced purple, blue, pink or green haired employee working behind the counter; or Lou, who was this mythical creature we’d catch glimpses in the back with his curly black afro, mustache and thick, black-rimmed glasses.
And then came the the internet age of music. Lou’s Records had to downsize. They are still in the same location, but all the new and used CD, vinyl, cassette, etc has been consolidated into what was primarily the used section of the business. Almost like they’ve come full circle, but the store is still 3 times the size it was when they first started. Despite this more than annoying set back, the fact that Lou’s Records is still around is a feat in itself. It’s like a defiant “‘f’ you, I’m still here” in true punk fashion.
So, there I was, dressed in black (a black flannel shirt-dress to be precise), my Docs replaced with grey knee-high riding boots. Most of the customers were my age (the cusp of 40) or older and, probably like me, holding onto the remnants of a different era. The millennials that were there had been dragged along by their parents hoping to carry on a tradition slowly ebbing towards the edge of non-existence. I spent an hour wandering the aisles and was actually able to find quite a bit on my list and some I wasn’t expecting, like Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn used for $3.99 which is $10-22 for a CD on Amazon. I left with six used CD’s totaling just under $40 and a promise to make it a point to visit Lou’s Records weekly, if I can, to support their business and bask in nostaglia.