Record Store Day is the only day of the year that customers wait outside of The Good Stuff, a record store and café on San Francisco Street, for the owner, Ken Kordich, to unlock the doors. The people in line are locals as well as tourists, because vinyl aficionados visit record stores wherever they go. On this most magical day of the year, they are eager for access to new and limited-edition albums that are issued to participating stores.

Record Store Day 2018 is Saturday, April 21, and is the 11th such annual international event. The Good Stuff is one of two independent record stores in town taking part; the other is The Guy in the Groove, a retail space operated by Dick Rosemont and located inside A Sound Look on Cerrillos Road. Both stores are small, with selections of used records in many musical genres that are carefully culled from the collections of people who come in to sell their possessions for cash. Kordich and Rosemont carry some rare collectible items on the spendy side but most of their prices range from about $5 to $15. The Guy in the Groove is clean, modern, and bare-bones basic, offering a few rows of densely packed bins of albums, while at The Good Stuff you can also browse books, pick up a pair of sunglasses or a novelty T-shirt, and even sit at a little table with a cup of coffee. On a recent visit, Kordich was playing the Beatles at a loud but not overwhelming volume.

I grew up in the era of cassette tapes, a temperamental medium prone to warping and unspooling. The first one I bought for myself was Duran Duran’s Arena (1984). My parents had a reasonably large vinyl collection, heavy on Beatles, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, and The Alan Parsons Project. They had a JVC stereo system with brown speakers. A relative bought my twin brother and me our first record players when we were five years old: Bee Gees-branded models that were white on the outside and purple on the inside, festooned with images of the Gibb brothers and equipped with a strobe light. When I got older, I hung out at record stores, first at suburban malls and then in Chicago at places like Reckless Records and Wax Trax. Every city has its famous record stores — some of which have shuttered and some of which continue to thrive. There is Rasputin Music and Amoeba Music in San Francisco, Rockaway Records and Fingerprints Music in Los Angeles, and Academy Records and Rock and Soul in New York — among so many others in these and other cities and small towns. 

Art historian (and DJ) David Clemmer worked at Bow Wow Records in Albuquerque, which closed in 2002 — “killed by the internet,” according to bowwowrecords.bigcartel.com, a website that sells T-shirts and briefly recounts the history of one of the Duke City’s old punk-rock haunts. Clemmer worked at the store from the time it opened in 1984 until 1989. “I even lived in the back for a while,” he said. They hosted live gigs in the store and at other venues, bringing in acts like Black Flag, the Meat Puppets, and Jonathan Richman. In Santa Fe, there was Rare Bear on St. Michael’s Drive, which opened in 1986 and closed in 1999. The Candyman Strings and Things, also on St. Mike’s, used to sell vinyl. And until its closure in 2016, Hastings Entertainment was a treasure trove of used music. “There was a place in a basement on East Palace, near La Posada,” Clemmer recalled, “and there was another place on Cerrillos Road near Baca Street, but I don’t remember the names. People would open stores using their own record collections until they built their stock.”

The first CD he remembers listening to was by Madonna. Though they weren’t fans of hers, he and his friends at Bow Wow were impressed by the silence between the tracks. “We put our ears to the speakers to listen. There were no grumbles or crackles like with records.”

To me, the defining characteristic of cassette tapes was the way the sound quality deteriorated over time, replaced by a whooshing noise. Should you desire such a thing, you can buy used cassettes at Savers on Cerrillos Road — as well as used records, eight-track tapes, VHS tapes, video games, and books. The head of the department is the young and enthusiastic Samantha Jones, who likes to refer to it as the “vintage media section” and said she tries to build rapport with customers so she can get to know them and look for things they’ll like among donations to the store.

My husband picked up a gift of 45s for me from Savers a few months ago — “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club (1983) and “Suddenly Last Summer” (1983) by the Motels among them. When I went there, I bought the original music from the motion picture Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), because the cover is great, and what I thought was Marlo Thomas and Friends’ Free to Be … You and Me (1972) — but turned out to be music from My Fair Lady (1956) because the record was in the wrong sleeve. Lesson learned: When buying used records, always check your prospective purchases carefully.

At Guy in the Groove, I purchased Bill Monroe and Friends from 1983 and a 1979 Asleep at the Wheel live album, as well as The Best of the Legendary Jimmie Rodgers (1965), because I live for his yodeling. I’m considering going back to The Good Stuff to grab Gerry Rafferty’s Can I Have My Money Back Please (1971), which I was drawn to because of its cover art of a mournful boy with flowers. I’d never heard of Rafferty, but I listened to a few tracks on YouTube, and there is some fun fiddle stuff going on that I think I would enjoy on a full album. It might not be there waiting for me, though, because stock at used record stores frequently changes.

Even what is available specifically for Record Store Day is a bit up in the air, since the number of releases is limited and everyone is trying to get their hands on the same items. Among the dozens of artists with titles listed on recordstoreday.com are the Grateful Dead, Run the Jewels, Tank and the Bangas, Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and Johnny Cash. Rosemont said he preferred to surprise customers with titles on April 21,  while Kordich said he hoped to have — among many other Record Store Day exclusives — David Bowie’s Welcome to the Blackout (Live in London ’78) (Parlophone), Sufijan Stevens’ Mystery of Love 10-inch EP (Music on Vinyl), and Tom Waits’ Bastards, Bawlers, and Brawlers, which were originally included in the 2006 Orphans trilogy (Epitaph/Anti-) but are being reissued as stand-alone albums.

Not every former vinyl enthusiast is still collecting. When Clemmer DJs on Thursday nights at the Matador on West San Francisco Street, he plays music from his computer because grabbing individual songs from iTunes just requires less gear. “The younger DJs are into vinyl,” he said. “It takes dedication to track down all that stuff.” Clemmer has never even been to Record Store Day. Neither have I, but this year might be my year. I suspect that even though he already has Orphans, after my husband finds out that the Tom Waits records are pressed on transparent red vinyl, we’ll be up bright and early, getting in line outside The Good Stuff.