Until you can BitTorrent cauliflower or download scallops directly off the Internet, the food industry won't be turned upside-down quite the way the music industry has. Unless your backyard is farmland, you still need to trek out to an old-fashioned, all-analog, brick-and-mortar store to get your rice and eggs. But you can find almost any album you want on the Internet for varying degrees of free (if you don't mind the threat of a $9,250-per-song lawsuit) or legitimately through any number of online retailers.
With CD sales in precipitous decline, digital downloads overtaking physical music (though not quickly enough to replace all the revenue) and the traditional music industry facing a much-lamented collapse—Internet streaming will replace music ownership! Rivers will boil!—how is it that local record stores are still holding on?
"The way I look at it, we're not part of the 'music industry,' " says Doyle Davis, co-owner and self-described "vinylist" at Grimey's record shop on Eighth Avenue. To continue the food comparison, the new Mariah Carey album—which the industry would like very much for everyone to buy—is the Kraft macaroni and cheese of music: You can get it anywhere, it's not good for you, and people who are going to buy it are going to buy it anyway. And that's precisely why Grimey's doesn't carry it.
People out shopping for Crocs and hemorrhoid ointment who happen to pick up the latest Eagles album from a Wal-Mart endcap? Good on 'em. But the local record shop isn't trying to snare the casual listener any more than a restaurant like Tayst is trying to lure in people who go to Applebee's for "date night." They cater to "passionate fans of good music," as Davis puts it. Or as Louis Charette, owner of East Nashville's The Groove, says, "people who value music as more than something to work out to, or play in their cubicle—those whose lives are molded around what they listen to." And that means knowing their customers in a way no big-box greeter or online suggestion-bot can.
"We're more like a boutique with a curated collection," Davis says. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, Grimey's keeps its overhead low and its level of expertise high. And that ability to curate is key, because even with all the Internet offers—shopping at any time and without pants on, etc.—it's still pretty primitive in the way it recommends music: "People who bought Dark Side of the Moon also bought The Wall." Well, no shit, Internet.
There's no sense of a relationship with an online recommendation engine—it doesn't know why you like Pink Floyd, why you prefer the early albums to the later ones, or that you like the way the guitars sound on Meddle. It knows a lot, but it doesn't always know how to connect that information in ways that are useful. That's where your local record shop such as Grimey's or The Groove or The Great Escape or New Life comes in—or, rather, where you come in to your local record shop.
And there's more where that comes from. Beyond just the filtering-out of mediocrity (which is a noble service in and of itself), a good local record shop, like a good restaurant, is more than what it sells.
"It's more of a culture than the exchange of money," Charette says. It's about being a place to get turned on to new music by people who breathe it. It's about being a destination—hosting in-store performances (as both Grimey's and The Groove do), carrying local bands' albums and being a place where music lovers find things they can't find anywhere else. As Davis says, "It's the community vibe."
And if you've been getting into the whole locavore thing, you could easily find albums recorded in Nashville, manufactured here at United Record Pressing, and on sale at your local record shop. You might not be able to say as much about your bananas.