A few weeks back, I stopped by Jack's Rhythms, a modest record shop (and stockist of guitar strings) on the main street of New Paltz, New York. I had been going there for a few years, always with my friend Josh, always after stopping by another shop up the road with fresher stock. But this time things were different. Josh, owing to the caprices of the academic world, no longer lives near me and only enjoyed the details of this visit via text message, and the affable Red Sox fan Jack was no longer behind the counter. He died earlier this year after a lengthy fight with brain cancer.
There's really no reason to care about a record store unless you actually care about records. Step outside Jack's, for example, and you can find neighboring shops that specialize in healing crystals and running shoes, both of which might seem, to someone walking down the street, infinitely more practical uses of storefronts. A record store offers no real utility to the passerby, save taste-communicating dorm room furnishings or the momentary vertigo of nostalgia. To those who've spent any time browsing through a stack of vinyl, hopeful for some misfiled gem, a good record store can be a theater of dreams, but I've never expected anyone beyond this community of finicky consumers to understand this, or care about all the record stores hanging on for dear life. Their ranks are dwindling, and, given the free movement of MP3s across the Internet, there's really no reason this shouldn't be the case. Jack's Rhythms was one of the lucky ones. After Jack's passing, the store lived on thanks to his friends and colleagues. It's still there, only with a smaller and, it should be noted, better curated stock of records, and a newly dedicated corner of used books.