On January 1, another used-record store departed to that vast cut-out bin in the sky:
Disc Diggers in Davis Square. While never my favorite recycled music haunt, I’d pop in once every couple months (grudgingly handing over my backpack to someone behind the counter) and occasionally find just what I was looking for.

My last Disc Diggers purchase was on the last Saturday in September. I had taken my bike across town to ride the Minuteman Trail from Alewife Station to Bedford Depot and back. Exhausted and sweaty, I entered the store thinking, “OK, I’ll only buy something if they have Sally Timms’ In the World of Him or Tegan and Sara’s So Jealous.” And when I found the former after running my fingers through racks and racks of new releases, dust-covered castaways and pitiable also-rans, I felt a rush of adrenalin--maybe not enough to take another ride on the Minuteman, but a sufficient reminder as to why I obsessively rummage through one used-record store after another. It’s not just the goal of finding that particular CD I don’t want to pay full price for, or potentially unearthing a buried treasure that changes my life. The challenge, the chase, the pursuit is just as essential.

The prototypical used-record store straight out of Nick Hornby’s novel
High Fidelity has existed for decades. I wasn’t aware of them until I turned eighteen. That year, CD Exchange, a three-store chain opened in the Milwaukee suburbs. As the name suggests, they didn’t traffic in vinyl or cassettes. The whole concept was foreign and questionable to me--selling CDs you no longer wanted… and buying other CDs someone no longer wanted… and hearing them right there in the store, at one of eight personal listening stations! It seemed too good to be true, and I approached the establishment with timid adolescent caution. However, the burgeoning bargain hunter in me (spurred on by working at a detestable, low-wage food service job) soon conceded, and I eventually made the rounds at the CD Exchange near Southridge Mall more often than Best Buy or The Exclusive Company.

Alas, CD Exchange was an anomaly, a young upstart, a business perfectly suited for a mini-mall--nothing at all like
Second Hand Tunes, my first real used-record store. Nestled on the corner of Murray and Thomas in Milwaukee’s East Side (and technically part of a chain that included a few Chicago locations), it was exactly like the store in High Fidelity only smaller, more condensed. At both windows sat wooden bins jammed with rows of plastic slipcases holding hundreds (thousands?) of CD booklets--all discs were kept behind the counter to discourage/prevent shoplifting. Tall, vertical see-through cases of cassette tapes made up the elevated employee counter at the other two ends of the square-shaped room, and in the store’s center, a giant, double-decker, C-shaped bin held most of the vinyl. Naturally, the windows and walls were plastered with cultish film and music posters of the Jimi Hendrix/A Clockwork Orange variety.

I spent many a Saturday afternoon in the mid-‘90s at that place, often flipping through every last slipcase, picking up stuff like They Might Be Giants’ Apollo 18, Jane Siberry’s Maria, and the Dukes of Stratosphear’s Chips From the Chocolate Fireball. Given their immense selection and my tenacity and dedication, I always found at least one thing to buy, if not two or five. I regularly saw guys (most customers at these places were usually guys) with teetering stacks of fifteen or twenty discs in their hands, and I couldn’t imagine getting together the funds to make such a weighty purchase (still can’t).

Before long, I began thumbing through the neglected dollar vinyl that sat in a wooden crate on the floor beneath the CDs. At that point, it had been four or five years since you could find any vinyl in most new record stores. At the height of my wannabe urban hipster phase, vinyl was uncool in most mainstream circles, thus cool to me. I loved the comparatively life-sized cover art and the cheap thrill of picking up something I’d been secretly itching to hear (like that Missing Persons classic, Spring Session M) for only a buck.

I acquired a cheap-ass table-top stereo with turntable and amassed a collection of about 70 or 80 vinyl records with a year. I drove all over the city and the outlying ‘burbs, habitually visiting likeminded businesses with names such as Sonic Boom, Rush-Mor, Prospect Music and Half-Price Books (they sold music, too). Between that and continuing to buy new CDs at the big stores and through at least three of those “Buy 12 CDs for the price of one!” deals you used to always find inserted in Rolling Stone, for the first time in my life, I had more stuff to listen to than I knew what to do with.

Whenever people ask me (sometimes contemptuously) how in the world I’ve ever heard of band X or know of singer Y, I guess this partially explains how I became such a music geek. Kinda like a chain reaction, really: you discover something you like, and then it encourages you to check out something else (or, if you’re as fervent as I am, five or ten other things) and so on.

I had nearly as much difficulty leaving Second Hand Tunes behind as I did my family and friends when I moved to Boston in 1997. You’d expect to find an adequate replacement in every other neighborhood in the most college-friendly metropolis on the East Coast, but I haven’t. The closest I came was Record Hog, a triangular corner shop steps away from the Cambridge/Somerville town line near Porter Square. They didn’t carry cassette tapes (by 1999, precious few places did) but everything else was perfectly, warmly familiar. More often than not, two cats sprawled their lazy selves across the centerpiece CD case and you’d have to gently lift them off the row of the discs you wanted to look through. This was where I made
my greatest on-a-whim purchase ever, in addition to fabulous buys like a promo copy of Stew’s The Naked Dutch Painter (a week before you could buy it at Newbury Comics!), Gordon Gano’s Hitting the Ground and Bellavista Terrace: The Best of the Go-Betweens, among many others.

Alas, Record Hog closed two years ago and supposedly moved to a small town in Western Mass (I can’t remember which town and a Google search for “Record Hog” brings up little but costly pork prices). I still acquire a lot of used CDs every year, most of them from the five-store chain
CD Spins, a true successor to CD Exchange. In each location, discs literally line the walls from ceiling to floor. A CD Spins visit more or less satisfies my used-music jones, but it’s like trying to get high off a pack of Marlboro Lights. I can’t possibly ever take in each store’s massive stock at once (at least half of it obscure $1.99 crap), so I skim through a mental list of stuff I’d like to get, which makes it shopping with a goal in mind instead of a free-form stress-relieving act of discovery. A few used-music establishments with potential still lurk within various corners of Boston and Cambridge (and a handful even carry vinyl), but most of them are either too expensive or limited in their selection.

My last visit to Second Hand Tunes was in October 2000. In town briefly for a friend’s wedding, I had an extra day to visit a few hangouts that were once so dear to me: Kopp’s Frozen Custard, Klode Park in Whitefish Bay, and Second Hand Tunes. I hadn’t set foot in the store in more than two years, and was surprised to find it haphazardly rearranged. The discs sat where the vinyl used to be, and they now even carried DVDs. Two employees I didn’t know talked loudly to each other behind the counter, watching clips of a training video for the Bronx police department. I made a customary run through the slipcases, briefly considered purchasing Bebel Gilberto’s Tanto Tempo, and then left without doing so. On my next trip two years later, the windows were papered up and a pitiful "Office Space for Lease" sign sat in one of them (fortunately, two other locations still exist in Chicago). Around the time I moved out East, one of the store’s old managers opened up
his own used-vinyl/CD haven two blocks away. I make an effort to frequent it every time I’m in town.

I still miss Second Hand Tunes, Record Hog and all the rest. I no longer buy vinyl (at least not until the day I get my parents’ old turntable up and running) and I still have enough disposable income to justify the hours I spend feeding my used CD fix. I’m not against buying music on Amazon or iTunes, although I know that to an extent, both are doing their part to put the oldfangled High Fidelity stores out of business. I’ve just about given up on finding a replacement that captures the personable, homey feel of those places. Thankfully, none of that distracts from the pleasure I still receive from a newly acquired album, particularly one that resonates on the first spin.