It’s 1976. President Gerald Ford is nearing the end of his first and only term, the face-melting wallop of “Frampton Comes Alive” can be heard blaring from stereos all across America, and an independent venture known as Record Theatre first opens its doors to the people of Western New York.
In today’s technological market, it’s hard to imagine a record store playing such a vital role in the community, but, at that moment in time, the shop served as a link between fans and the recording artists they loved.
Billed as “the biggest music store on Earth” with nearly 25,000-square-feet, it was able to single-handedly change the way music was brought to the masses in Buffalo.
“What I liked about Record Theatre was that they had stock imports from Canada and tons of local music,” says former employee Christine K. “It used to be the place to go for new releases, Saturday morning specials and even imports.”
Although its original location was at the corner of Main and Lafayette in Downtown Buffalo, it soon expanded to six locations scattered between Hamburg and North Tonawanda. The ‘70s and ‘80s proved to be an extremely profitable era for the store and many fans find that success to be a direct representation of the quality of music during that period.
“You’d pour over the lyrics back then looking to find insight as to what Jackson Browne was thinking when he wrote ‘The Pretender’ or what exactly ‘the pompetus of love’ was anyway,” says long-time music fan Ruth Eger. “I’m much too old for today’s music.”
Eger’s fervent reminiscence of the time is echoed by Record Theatre’s current Head Buyer Brandon Delmont, who has gotten an up close and personal view of just how drastically the industry has changed through the years.
“Nowadays, it’s become super fast to either plug your friend’s iPod into your computer and take all of their songs, or go to a blog and download a file,” says Delmont. “Within minutes, you have an artist’s entire catalog and it’s free. I really think that this has been the reason for the decline in sales.”
Delmont’s dismay with the present situation is evident in his tone as he goes on and on about how little specialized knowledge people have about the music they listen to, as well as how the Internet has altered the way most business is conducted.
While the onset of iTunes and other digital programs has signaled the end for some record stores, Record Theatre has decided to roll with the changes.
“As far as the Internet goes, it has been a way to connect with people that do not want to come into the store,” Delmont adds. “We have an e-mail list that we can run special coupons and promote certain artists/events directly to people that do enjoy the physical product.”
When it comes to online sales, Delmont leaves no area uncovered.
“We have a division that sells products on Amazon, EBay and half.com. Where we once had to depend on people to come to us, now we can get to them online. Now, with out-of-print and rare products we can make good money.”
His optimism about the future is a rarity among the record store community, but he firmly believes that the personal touch and camaraderie of the in-store atmosphere can’t be duplicated by any other format.
“Guys like me that studied music are the ones that end up with the knowledge to work in a store like ours,” he jubilantly declares. “I try to pass that attitude to the younger people that we hire, because they don’t necessarily have to be encyclopedias. They just need to retain information and help customers find what they need.”
Those familiar with Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel “High Fidelity” can probably relate to what Delmont is saying and Record Theatre even features a quote from the book on their web site. To those who haven’t read the book, it centers on a record store owner and how his obsession with music ends up influencing everything in his daily life.
“The customers, employees and artists sharing knowledge and tastes with each other, that’s where the community of a record store really works” says Delmont.
Despite having only three locations left, Record Theatre doesn’t plan on going away anytime soon. No matter how things play out with the industry, it’s determined to continue getting music to the public in the most efficient manner possible.
As Record Store Day* approaches, Delmont urges to people to come out to support the independent scene and celebrate the art of music while indulging in live performances from some of the area’s finest local bands.
“At the end of the day, people will always want to go to a physical store because we have a basic need to be social and want to do something with our time. I love getting away from everything and hunting down records, it’s a great waste of time!”
For a full schedule of events, go to www.recordtheatre.com or call (716) 883-1355.
* – Record Store Day is April 18