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Independents Put Own Spin on Record Sales

December 19, 1991|KEVIN BRASS

There is nothing slick, corporate or mainstream about the independent record stores that dot the North County landscape. Rather, these not-at-the-mall stores specialize in the ragged, the offbeat and the rare.

Looking for an album by moody English rockers the Smiths? Or a '70s classic by the ever-upbeat Partridge Family? Not only does Off the Record in Encinitas stock Smiths albums, but a recent trip to the store found not one but two Partridge Family albums, including a used copy of the coveted "Partridge Family Christmas Card" LP for $10.

Off the Record is a thriving example of an alternative record outlet. It's a hole in the wall, with a low ceiling, posters for wallpaper, long bins of used albums and industry magazines scattered around the floor.

Although some independent stores are better for jazz, some for classical music and others for rock or blues, the independents offer more than just a wealth of unusual albums--they provide customers with some of the personality and lore of the music business. And they don't hesitate to offer a combination of new and used material, their stacks re-energized when customers trade in old music for new.

The independents tend to survive the onslaught of chain stores because customers can still find things in them they can't find anywhere else. And store owners often exude genuine enthusiasm for music as well as perseverance in helping customers find what they want--no matter how eccentric.

"You'll find that the store owners really love their jobs," said Gary Goldstein, owner of Gary's Record Paradise in Escondido. "The fun part is almost every day people trade stuff in. I just had someone trade in a collection of French import big-band albums. That's part of the fun; you never know what people are going to trade in."

Increasingly, what is being traded in are compact discs.

The growing stock of used CDs has helped revitalize the independent record store business. For one, unlike albums, sound quality on used CDs is basically the same as on new ones. And, when arranged efficiently, CDs also don't take up as much space as albums. Some stores specialize in this new genre of old music.

Off the Record (515 1st St., 943-0041), is in the middle of a stretch of Highway 101 that could be dubbed the Mile of Records. Three independent record shops line the road--in addition to Off the Record, there's Lou's Records and Sound Asylum. Although all are oriented toward rock 'n' roll, especially modern rock, they each have distinctive personalities.

Off the Record is a dark, cluttered, monument to recorded music. It is the type of place only a collector could love, and rummaging through the out-of-print albums and used CDs can reveal nuggets of musical gold.

Recently, a poster from the modern group Nirvana--featuring a naked baby in a pool of water facing a fishhook baited with a dollar bill--announced to all the world that this is a rock 'n' roll store, first and foremost. Although it doesn't sell tickets to most concerts as Lou's does, it does sell tickets to many of the progressive rock and Belly Up Tavern shows.

Inside, the store features an extensive out-of-print album section, emphasizing rock. A copy of "Meet the Beatles" was priced recently at $20. Huge posters of groups such as the Cure, priced at $10 each, decorated the walls. And, besides rows of new CDs, the store has at least a dozen bins of alphabetized used albums, mostly '70s and '80s rock 'n' roll, of varied quality.

But Off the Record has far more than just retrograde rock albums. Sections of used albums are devoted to reggae, rap, jazz, folk and country artists. As with most of these shops, it pays to explore, even to look behind and under the shelves. Off the Record has all sorts of things in odd places, including a box of used LPs sitting forlornly on the floor, awaiting the passerby who has been searching for Belgian folk music.

For some fans, though, the best part of the store undoubtedly will be the used CD collection. Off the Record has 20 boxes of used CDs, ranging from Elvis Presley to New Order, priced from $6 to $9.

Lou's is the granddaddy of the Mile of Records. It has bounced from Cardiff, where Russell started in 1980, to downtown Encinitas to it's current spot along Highway 101 in Leucadia (434 N. Highway 101; 753-1382). With each move, the store has increased in size.

The Leucadia location boasts 4,000 square feet in two neighboring buildings. One is devoted to new releases, while the other features used albums and CDs.

Lou Russell, the "Lou" of Lou's Records, said that the used CD market is indeed hot. "They comprise maybe 50% to 60% of our used sales."

Although Lou's is generally considered a haven for the black-leather-and-spiked-hair set, it also has an extensive used jazz album collection.

"I'm finding that good, traditional, used, jazz vinyl lasts a very short time in the bin," Russell said. "Miles Davis, John Coltrane. . . . It just flies out of here."

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