Record Store Daze – Fond Memories of Local Record Stores

As a kid we all find our passion early. It could be sports, it could be art, it could be music, it could be anything. I fell for baseball and Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose. But then along came music. My earliest memories were the This is Tom Jones show and the Jackson 5ive cartoon on TV. As for records, my mother had a really cool 45 collection from 1956-1959 stored in these fabulous books. She also had I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash and Raindrops Falling On My Head by B.J. Thomas on LP. Those two records solidified my love for music. The title song’s simplicity and logic made me intrigued with words and thoughts. I know they made me the songwriter I am today.

My first introduction to where you bought music was Gold Triangle and the Treasury. I saw the bins and browsed through them. Then when I turned 12 I could ride my orange Schwinn Varsity to the local record store. Record Haven was a half a mile away and it was of the time when you just parked your bike out front and didn’t even lock it up.

My friends were into KISS but I wanted to be Alice Cooper. Those days started an addiction that I have never been cured of. Alice Cooper Killer! I don’t know any of the Lord’s Prayer but I know every single word to that Killer album. I had become a disciple of the disc. I succumbed to KISS, Zeppelin, Aerosmith.

Anytime I made money I bought a record. Christmas, birthday’s, “Mom, I want records!”. And Mom bought them for me. By chance when I was 14 years old Record Haven became the spot for local music and the up and coming punk scene. The manager was a guy named Robert Mascaro. He was the most crazy, enthusiastic, animated character you could ever meet. He was the manager of the Cichlids too, and all the local bands came into the store. One day he made me buy a Kraftwerk record instead of a Pink Floyd record. I loved him for that. He set me up to sweep the store and by the time he left, I, at 15 years old, worked at Record Haven. We had a lifetime guarantee on 8-track tapes, so we’d break open the casing and splice them on the back counter. The Ohio Players records and those sexy gatefolds were my favorite surface to roll joints on in the store. It was common to find seeds in the used gatefold albums, and they weren’t all my seeds.

I left Record Haven in 1981 for other work but the record store never left me. Peaches Records became my place until I found Open Books and Records. Leslie Wimmer was what every local record store owner should be like. Then and now. She put out local band’s records, had a phone line you called for concert events and a song of the day. The people that worked there became friends or mentors and were amazing. Hal Spector, Debbie Rage, Malcolm Tent. There was a couch there and you hung out and talked music, or whatever. art, books, life, living… it was amazing.

Then I got hip to Yesterday and Today off Bird Road and Rich Uolla. I will never forget him talking me into I Often Dream Of Trains by Robyn Hitchcock. I love that record until this day. Bob Perry rounded it all out with Blue Note Records. When Open closed Bob had Leslie Wimmer work at Blue Note. It was such a local music store olive branch. Then there was the coolest bloke of them all, Michael Dean, with Yardbird Records.

Other stores starting in the 1990’s were Far Out Records, Underground Records, others slip my mind. Compact Discs came along and Borders and Barnes and Noble started gobbling up the little guys. I still bought music but vinyl was disappearing. There was a point when you couldn’t give records away. Some indie record stores popped up in the 2000’s. Sweat Records (Lolo Reskin) and Radioactive Records(Sean Kayes) especially. Selling mostly CD’s at first but by the late 20nothings records started to show up. A revival happened. I bought my CD’s at these places when I could. Survival was the key.

One day when Radioactive Records expanded they asked me to work there. Mostly due to they had a stage and needed help booking gigs and my knowledge of music. As a socialist and a luddite I wasn’t sure I was the right fit. I didn’t understand retail and the commerce side. My days there were legendary though with Mikey, Mitzie, Andrew, Paul and my record store brother Richard Vergez.

Before I really knew the Radioactive crew well something came along named Record Store Day. It was 2008 and it was a small marketing strategy to help small independent stores. I thought with my radical mind to show up and do a guerrilla performance in the store. My wife reminded me I had a gorilla mask so it turned into a gorilla performance. I arrived in the parking lot with guitar in case and mask on face. As I marched across the parking lot Mikey thought of calling the police but Richard told him “I think I know who this is”. I made up some song in the likes of “Corner Store” by Jonathan Richman about saving the little stores and sang a few more songs.

It was fun. Maybe a dozen people in the store. Record Store Day turned into a monster and after a few years I tired of the whole trip and by 2011 I wasn’t working at Radioactive either. I had family to take care of and other priorities. But I still went to the record stores. Sweat Records had a new employee and we hit it off, Emile became my sidekick in street performances after that. Sweat then asked me to do sound in 2015 for their in-stores and I was somewhat working in a record store again. By 2017 Emile asked me to come work the counter. Still a little weary of the whole retail end of stuff, I accepted.

Man, I was in my element. Back at the record store. I started attending Record Store Days again, and working them. I fell in love with waking up at 6 am and driving to Miami listening to “Downtown at Dawn” by Richard Hell and the Voidiods to be at a record store. I have missed one RSD since, due to Covid 19 visiting my insides. I will be there again this year, listening to Mr. Hell blazing down I-95. If you are lucky you may even get a gorilla performance there. That is if I can find the mask.

Support your local record stores. There are more a half a dozen good ones in South Florida. Technique, Yesterday and Today, Lucky, Radioactive, We Got The Beats, Found Sound and Rust and Wax. Of course my Sunday home on 2nd Avenue. I will be there on a Saturday, too.

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Steven Toth

Steven Monroe Toth is Mr. Entertainment. Observer of the art and music world plus Florida living.