How to Work in a Record Store (Without Becoming a Cliché)
Bridge and Tunnel Club Heaven? Not quite ...
Ever wonder how to work in a record store without turning into Jack Black's character in High Fidelity? Well, Robert Edwin Haines has the answers: He's worked in record stores for 21 years -- the last nine of which have been spent at Amoeba Music in the Haight. In addition to setting up and running the punk rock section there, Haines is one of the buyers at the used counter, and prices collectable CDs and 7-inches. Here's his guide to working in a record store -- without becoming a cliché.
Don't Murder the Sellers
"The worst thing about this job is how personally people take it if we're unable to purchase what they're selling. We honestly will buy anything we think we can sell for a profit, but, no offense, I can't buy your Cranberries CD or your grandma's Perry Como records -- records have a sell by date, too, sometimes. Sure, on a great day you might get somebody who is unloading collectible LPs and it's always fun to talk with a passionate collector about their collection. Unfortunately, most people are selling CDs and DVDs that they no longer care about, and, typically, that means that no one else does either. Millions of people bought that Hootie and the Blowfish CD and that Matrix DVD, and nobody wants to keep either one."
Be Prepared for the Disgusting, the Stupid, and the Pornographic
"One time, we had one guy on our security staff caught stealing, who refused to sit on the stool we have shoplifters sit on while we wait for the police. His reason? He'd shit himself. Always a bad move. Another time, just before closing, I had two guys come in with some obviously stolen DVDs in a pillowcase. The second guy also had two VCRs with the cords hanging out in his hands. I passed on the DVDs and, as they left, the VCR-toting guy turned back and asked 'Ya know anybody who buys computers?' Seriously? I also once had a guy slap about a half-dozen gnarly porno DVDs on the counter and ask, serious as a heart attack, 'Y'all buy bootie tapes?' Seriously."
Know Your Enemies
"Being on Haight means we have to deal with a lot of crazies and scumbags -- including crackheads with dripping garbage bags of junk who won't take no for an answer. The street kids (or 'shitbags,' as we refer to them) are mainly a mild irritant, but I have been feeding and clothing myself since I was 16, so I have precious little patience for kids with cups in their hands. You'll also get the baby boomer shut-ins ('psychedelic fatsos,' as we lovingly refer to them) who wanna drop the current eBay value of some record they're selling, without taking into account that it's in destroyed condition or the fact that we have to resell at a profit. We also have to deal with people who aren't particularly knowledgeable about records who think we're trying to pull a fast one when we can't offer them original collector prices for their '80's reissues with barcodes on the back covers. Annoying."
Bridge and Tunnel Club Watch out for the shitbags!
Know Your friends
"There are people who try to pressure their friends, who buy the secondhand items in record stores, to purchase their dead weight. I mercifully don't have those kinds of friends. I am lucky in so far as my friends who sell are typically collectors who are looking to trade for other items."
Be Prepared for Dumb Questions
"The most irritating question people ask is: 'What do you pay for records?' -- like there are no differing values. A Readers Digest classical box set or a beat up Olivia Newton-John record is not an original Blue Note jazz LP or a rare pressing of a Misfits record. People are also obsessed with finding an average in what our offer is. If you have a $100 record and a worthless one, you don't have two $50 records -- you have a $100 record and a worthless piece of shit."
Get Used to the In-Store Shows
"The in-stores are both a blessing and a curse. Certain bands (Calexico is one that comes to mind) have an audience that are still music consumers, so that demographic will actually shop for additional items while in the store for a show. Other bands will draw a crowd that is just looking to buy that band's releases, typically because the band is doing a signing. The worst case scenario is when a band doesn't draw an audience -- because not only are we not selling their titles, but the noise might keep other shoppers from lingering."
Value the Good Stuff
"It's nice to not have to conform to a dress code or appearance rules (like, no tattoos -- that sort of thing), but the nicest thing about working at a record store is the connections you make with co-workers, as well as customers. Most of my best friends, influences, and heroes came into my life through the record store experience. It's harder to make those connections in a large store like Amoeba, but it is possible to create little communities based on a common love of music."