Notes On The Post-Holiday Retail Landscape

Dec 29th, 2008 // 41 Comments

Note: The above picture was taken while driving down Sunrise Highway in Massapequa, N.Y., yesterday. I swear. If only I’d looked inside to see if any inventory was still there, moulding over after two years of inactivity…

On Friday night, a friend and I were at my parents’ local mall, and as often happens with me, the conversation turned to music; specifically, country artist Eric Church, and his 2006 album Sinners Like Me. “I’d like to hear that album,” my pal said, “and I bet my dad would like it too. Do you think there’s anyplace in the mall where we can pick it up?”

Since the album in question wasn’t one that would appeal to the Twilight-and-Tripp crowd, the likelihood of it being in stock at Hot Topic, the one non-big-box store in the mall that hawked music of the non-videogame variety, was unlikely. (Although the Hot Topic in question did have a vinyl picture version of Danzig that proved almost too tempting.) The only choice: Target, which did not have the album on its ransacked shelves thanks to its coming out in 2006, but which did have a whole new slew of those Sony MusicPass cards for albums like Leona Lewis’ Spirit and Jessica Simpson’s attempt at country crossover. They were half-hidden behind a concrete piling; if one wanted to grab a copy of Carrie Underwood’s Carnival Ride one would have to crouch down and maneuver her hand behind the concrete.

It was 8:30 p.m. on a post-holiday Friday night in the suburbs, which meant that our options were somewhat limited. Circuit City? Probably not. Best Buy? Too far. So we piled in the car and headed to the nearest Borders, which—poetry alert!—had problems with the lights on its sign that resulted in the “m,” “u,” “s,” and “i” in “Music” being unlit. We were greeted by a bunch of boxes filled with $5.99 books, and the music section was all the way in the back (a pattern for 2008); the Eric Church album was in stock, but it cost $18.99. “Forget it,” my friend said, “I’ll just get it on Amazon MP3 and burn it later.”

It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that some people reported not receiving any music for Christmas for the first time in years; I didn’t get any, although my sister did buy me one of those 20Q balls that was music-themed. (And my mom got a couple of CDs, too.) And given that the few remaining stores that just sell music are facing what business types like to call “challenges” in the current blighted climate, maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising that an impulse acquisition is nigh-impossible for those who aren’t connected to computers.

Did you get any music as part of your holiday haul? Or pick over the carcasses of any dying stores? Are there any malls out there that still even have stores devoted to music, or is that concept—like Record World and Sam Goody—a vestige of another time?

  1. Ned Raggett

    I got the Jesus and Mary Chain B-side/rarities box set; then again, that was all I specifically asked for music-wise. Also an Amoeba gift certificate but that’s a standby every year — no carcasses picked but I did snag some gifts at the LA Amoeba store for folks, like the Sunn0))) live album for my sis.

  2. Dickdogfood

    I barely got anything beyond checks, so no–but come to think of it, I did get two music-related books, at least: Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia and The Rolling Stone Interviews.

  3. Cam/ron

    I often get a subscription renewal for The Wire but the last record I ever got for Xmas was “Paul’s Boutique” on vinyl 13 years ago. Mall music shops are definitely rare in my community – the local Virgin Megastore became an Urban Outfitters a few years ago. Ouch.

  4. Al Shipley

    One of the best gifts I got this year was Led Zeppelin’s Complete Studio Recordings box set from my wife. I rarely get music as gifts, though, probably because loved ones (rightly) assume that I’d already have most anything they could think to get me, but I hinted several times that a local store had the Zep box marked down. I also got an iTunes gift card, and I gave a Jack’s Mannequin CD, an eMusic subscription and some 33 1/3 books as gifts in December.

    As for malls, I passed one CD store while shopping in the outlet malls in Delaware the weekend before Xmas, but I know from experience that that store’s prices suck even with no sales tax. There’s one cool store in a mall near me that sells Go-Go CDs, but I wouldn’t go there for gift shopping.

  5. byebyepride

    Some carcass-picking here. The Woolworths round the corner from us was open for the very last time today. Everything was 70% of this morning, and 90% of this afternoon, although the crowd looked meaner later on. I was there about 11am and bought CDs by Abba (Waterloo), AC/DC (Back in Black), Fergie and Mariah Carey (E=MC2) for a grand total of £6.

  6. MayhemintheHood

    I got a gift card for iTunes, but will also spend some of my Xmas bonus cash on some cds, probably from the Virgin Megastore(convenience).

    On a side note, after seeing some Primal Scream on Idolator, I decided to get some of their stuff and ended up settling on XTRMNTR and Screamadelica. Only problem is that iTunes wont let me purchase the entire Screamadelica album. What the hell’s up with that? I didn’t even bother getting the “partial album”. XTRMNTR is pretty bad ass, though.

  7. Anonymous

    I got an iTunes gift card for Xmas – my first ever, yay! – and here’s what I’ve purchased with it so far:

    Tovah “D-Day”
    Sukteh, Deposited Trails EP/single
    Sinead O’Connor “Nothing Compares 2 U”
    Deerhunter, Florescent Grey
    Lexie Mountain, Boys
    Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers “Islands in the Stream”

    No other music gifts. Dang it.

  8. Anonymous

    I bought myself Panic at the Disco’s “Live in Chicago.” Would have been cheaper at Amazon but I wanted it very much, so I sucked it up and paid close to $20 at Borders. I’m inclined to buy music from them because they send a 20 or 30% off coupon out at least once a week.

  9. Maura Johnston

    @Varina: Borders is actually selling its entire CD stock at 30% off right now.

  10. Poubelle

    I actually got several CDs (my mother demanded to know what I hadn’t already gotten myself just after Thanksgiving) and three of the books I got were music-related (including Brian Raftery’s karaoke one, which I’ve been really enjoying so far).

  11. iantenna

    only thing i got was the sweet dust-to-digital box set “the art of field recording vol. 1″ but i gave some vinyl (silver jews, okkervil river) to my 18 yr old cousin who recently discovered the joys of pavement, etc. and some cds to my pops and brother (shirelles, magic sam, joe higgs).

  12. baconfat

    The FYE in the local mall was open for the last time on Saturday, but only had prices reduced 50%. It occupied a space which used to be a Sam Goody. I didn’t want to spend so much but I did find the James Brown Star Time box set new for $30. And I picked up 3 Ghostface records (2 of which were regular priced for $19.99 — no wonder they went out of business!) and the recent Dennis Wilson reissue. And the deluxe version of Whiskeytown’s Stranger’s Almanac (which I actually didn’t even know existed). I might’ve grabbed more but the store was in such a state that finding anything near where it should’ve been filed was a dicey proposition at best. I was also surprised to learn that FYE sells porn.

  13. Elijah-M

    I got almost nothing BUT music. Seven or eight CDs and an iTunes gift card. It’s usually the only thing I ask for, because aside from the essentials (which I would rather just buy myself), and the presently unattainable (a house, a Mercedes), it’s really the only thing I want.

  14. cassidy2099

    I actually had a pretty good haul of music this year. Q-Tip, TV on the Radio, Eagles of Death Metal, Ratatat, Juliana Hatfield, the Justice live album, The White Album. However, when I went to exchange a duplicate copy of Q-Tip(don’t know how my parents did that)I found my local indie record store in a sad state. Their once sprawling selection had been cut in half. The used stuff was now being stocked with the new, and the selection of new releases was dismal to say the least. I still managed to snag some good purchases(Ladyhawke, Dungen), but leaving I felt depressed. In its current state, I can’t see it lasting much longer. I did hit another indie store across town later in the day, and while they had about a fifth of the formers floor space, they had a much better stock of albums, new and old.

  15. The Illiterate

    For me, only one music related thing happened this Christmas: the hard drive that I keep my iTunes library on crashed. So I got to spend a good deal of the weekend restoring it from backups and other source files. Fun! I did rediscover a bunch of good stuff I’d forgotten I had, though, so that was a sort of present, I guess.

  16. Michaelangelo Matos

    I asked for six things total this year and got them all (thanks, fam!)–the sole music gift being Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia 4CD box set.

  17. Michaelangelo Matos

    I also went to the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis (where I go every Christmas), and the stock there looked pretty sad compared to its usual robust self. Still a great store, without question, though. Actually, this is funny: I saw the year-end issue of Billboard on the magazine rack and brought it up to pay. “Where did you get this?” the clerk asked. “Over there,” I pointed. “Um, this is the store’s copy–we can’t sell it to you. I’m really sorry,” the clerk said. Sure enough: it was a subscription issue. I laughed.

  18. fabulousrobots

    I got some music for Christmas! My parents bought me two things from my Amazon wishlist (Delta 5, Neil Young) and one thing from a weird rack at FYE (Edith Piaf). My boyfriend also got me a Fleetwood Mac extended version CD he picked up used at his second job at the record store. I bought him some used jazz LPs and the new Deerhunter.
    I can’t see a holiday without giving music at all. We still have a great local record store and there’s always Amazon.

  19. dyfl

    I didn’t receive any music this year, not even an iTunes gift card — but I did give music as a gift to my sister-in-law, which I do every year (she has kids now and needs somebody to keep her vaguely in touch). I burned her two mix CDs and gave her the Robyn album and this year’s R.E.M.

    The indie record store in my hometown finally gave up the ghost this year, however, and closed. That was heartbreaking. I’d estimate about a third of my CD collection comes from that store.

  20. Chris Molanphy

    @Al Shipley: I rarely get music as gifts, though, probably because loved ones (rightly) assume that I’d already have most anything they could think to get me

    Ditto. The only CDs I received were from a high-school friend who trolls my Amazon wishlist for my birthday and Christmas. The CDs: three of the four New Order reissues (everything except PC&L, which I’ve owned for years).

    @Poubelle: I too got the Raferty book! It’s coming with me on a New Year’s trip.

    @Michaelangelo Matos: Have you digested the Philly box yet? Am very tempted by this myself.

  21. RaptorAvatar

    I gave “Illmatic” to my brother and the first Los Campesinos LP to my sister. Gaslight Anthem, Mae Shi, and Max Tundra were all grabbed on gift cards. Other music stuff included the Pitchfork 500 and a nice preamp for my turntable. None of this was purchased from a brick & mortar store. Is it even worth the time to go to those these days? I mean, you can download, listen to, and probably write a decently informative blog post about a record in the time it would take to go to the store for it.

  22. the rich girls are weeping

    Music? Music? I guess the closest thing to a music gift was that my best friend visiting from Austin brought the Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester Christmas CD that she got from Amazon.de, but she took it back with her. Oh, and my mom bought herself a Chopin box set. We’re so worldly over here.

    My little sister got me some SWEET headphones, so I can look like one of the cool kids on the subway now, that was nice.

    Other than that, she and I spent a lot of time watching MTV Hits, or videos from her iPod connected to the TV, debating the merits and demerits of pop in 2008. Happy to report that we both loooove Kanye, Katy Perry and Pink, but are split on The Ting Tings and The Veronicas (she loves ‘em, I hate ‘em). Then again, she’s 20, I’m 32. The generational split is all too clear there.

  23. the rich girls are weeping

    @the rich girls are weeping: Oh, duh! And my mom got me a Buddha Machine, which was better than any album that came out this year, for reals.

  24. Michaelangelo Matos

    @Chris Molanphy: Not yet–no CD player in my hotel room, and my laptop’s drive has been acting up. However, the couple songs I listened to on headphones sounded astonishing: not just because I love that music dearly, but the remastering had the warmth of well-pressed vinyl and all the vivid detail of good digital. I am excited to play it at my happy-hour DJ gig for sure.

    (Also, there are five New Order reissues.)

    I got Raftery’s book for my sister the karaoke nut. She loved it. (And I got my other sister the U.K. Aftermath, Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Exile on Main Street.)

  25. Jess Harvell

    a handful of used cds were bought for other members of the family, but i don’t think i’ve received/asked for music for the holidays since i was 19 or 20. (and as my cd-r wielding sister ransacked my itunes on christmas morning, i realized the pointlessness of buying her the raphael saadiq album already lurking on my hard drive. except, you know, in the “keeping the industry alive one $8 purchase at-a-time” sense.)

  26. Tauwan

    No one ever attempts to straight up buy me music cause they know I stay busy throughout the year keeping up on new releases and gobbling up music like its my job. I did receive one 20 dollar gift certificate for Amoeba that I used to purchase It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 3 on DVD, and that new !K7 Tapes disc from The Rapture. I also walked to Best Buy on Friday to cop the new Keyshia Cole and wound up walking out of the store with both that and HBO’s Generation Kill miniseries and EXTRAS: The complete series. (Sucker for Best Buy’s 50% off all HBO sets every.time.)

  27. Tenno

    I bought my friend a Big Black album, and then because Zia records was having a buy 3 used get one free, I proceeded to get two Ministry albums, a Swans album and Eluvium.

    A good haul if you don’t mind me saying =)

  28. mackro

    @Al Shipley:

    That Led Zep box may remain my favorite, most functional box set ever. It’s all their studio albums, plus some bonus tracks on the [i]Coda[/i] disc to fill in the few holes, and that’s it. And it sounds great.

    Perfect!

  29. Chris Molanphy

    @Michaelangelo Matos: Oh, yeah — I forgot about Technique. I’m ignoring that one. I like that album fine, but I’ve owned it for years and doubt the remaster is going to bring anything new to it for me.

    I’d never owned copies of Movement or (more embarrassingly) Low-Life and Brotherhood. Those were my gifts. I’m half-tempted to pick up PC&L even though I don’t need it per se.

  30. Lieutenant 030

    Got the best music-related gift I’ve had in ages: a USB turntable.

  31. CloudCarrier

    My brother sent me Ice-T’s Home Invasion along with his disowned copy Chinese Democracy, which he felt “needed a better home during these troubled times” – I was happy. Mom and Dad received new copies of Mamma Mia! and Hercules & Love Affair respectively as per their wish lists, and I indulged my gift cards on one of those slightly botched Replacements reissues (Tim), Liquid Swords and the last Kelly Willis record, all with change to spare.

    Also, my loving brother admitted to me over the phone that he bought just about every featured song played during the first season of True Blood on impulse, all except the Cowboy Junkies cover of “Sweet Jane”. I laffed.

  32. SAShepherd

    Christmas isn’t a huge gift-giving holiday for us, but I did get some checks which I will be using shortly to get an iPod touch. So that’s, uh, music-related, right?

    I’ve asked for music in the past (the in-laws like to give something in the physical realm beyond just a check), but typically I find it easier just to take money and buy music where I want to, when I want to, than to ask one of my family to do the whole “walk into [name of store] and ask if they have [not obscure but not Billboard 200 album] and then pay $20+ after tax” thing.

  33. the rich girls are weeping

    @Chris Molanphy: In hindsight, I kind of wish I’d asked for the New Order reissues.

  34. highlifer

    I got my husband a Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo boxset (not really music but it is on CD.)

    He will make his annual Dead cd, a compilation of songs by those who died in 2008. It’s a popular number (people start asking ‘are you doing the dead cd again’ about this time every year.) You can’t start too early, cause you’ll miss Eartha Kitt.

  35. Anonymous

    Something I noticed recently that really shocked me – and I think I was already vaguely aware of it on a phepheral level: the local FYE has a used CD section that’s just slightly smaller than the new CD section. Which is crazy somehow. Because just about anything you could want that’s relatively mainstream that came out three months back or earlier can be had for $7.99 or less. And yet that store is never, ever jammed. Even at Christmans. Which makes me kinda sad, and I don’t even like FYE that much.

  36. Ned Raggett

    I thought the New Order reissues were themselves being reissued. (That’s why I haven’t bought them yet myself.)

  37. Christopher R. Weingarten

    I got six OOP rap records that were sitting in the record store of my hometown since their release dates in 1988-1994. Some of them had no shrinkwrap because they were taken out of the LONGBOX 20 years ago O_O

  38. natepatrin

    I wasn’t on either end of any actual music gifting, unless you count the stuff I bought for myself accompanying Matos on his aforementioned Electric Fetus trip — including a $6.99 super-bargain-price copy of The Time’s Ice Cream Castle. I did ask for and get a handful of music-related books, though, including that Hang the DJ book of lists that was mentioned here a couple months ago.

  39. Anonymous

    Because I was unable to go home for Christmas due to a massive snow storm in Seattle, I treated myself to a musical shopping spree.

    I supported my local indie retailer since Seattle has great record stores!

    Spent two hours looking around to come out with 8 CDs, 2 magazine and 1 DVD.

    Purchases included:
    Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Continued
    Tapes N Tapes – Walk it Off
    Black Kids – Party Traumatic
    Helio Sequence – Love and Distance
    Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires
    Elbow – Asleep in the (I had this, but not an actual copy of the CD)
    Fugazi – 13 Songs (Used)
    Cooper Temple Clause – Kick Up The Fire and Let the Flames Break Loose (Used, lost my old copy)

    Three Days – Jane’s Addiction DVD.

    This months issue of Spin and Q.

    Merry Christmas to me!

  40. Luke N Atmaguchi

    $10 Starbucks gift card towards [not!] supra-ironic Sonic Youth celeb-celected compilation. Ready response to “I got you something” blind-siding.

  41. T'Challa

    I was pleasantly surprised with a gift certificate to FreakBeat Records, in Sherman Oaks, CA. It’s one of the very precious few well-stocked indie record stores in the metro L.A. area, especially in this post-Amoeba world.

    Anyone in the area would do well to check them out:

    [www.freakbeatrecords.com]

    The .99 vinyl section is awesome, btw.

    Happy holidays, y’all!

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