Decatur CD

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I remember at the dawn of CDs a music enthusiast who lived his dream by opening a store named Atlanta CD, a bit of a misnomer as it was located in Roswell, GA.  It was a treat because... they had a store full of CDs, not a rack of CDs amid rows of vinyl.   Those vinyl albums sold for $7 and CDs sold for twice that, but cleaning vinyl discs, while a labor of love, is a labor, as is flipping it over after 20 minutes.  And despite best practices and intentions, a snap, crackle or pop may appear which I can only characterize like this:  You’re in this listening “place,” then you’re cast from it immediately, once for the interruption and twice for the desperation to determine if further cleaning would remove the blemish or if you were stuck with it forever.   So, yeah.  Double me up on that pricetag.   That was circa 1987, and I guess I didn’t travel often enough from Birmingham to keep Atlanta CD in business.  It wouldn’t be a sole occurence in the years to come.

I was recently in Decatur, GA for a concert, and decided to opt for a quick detour to metro Atlanta’s only remaining quality CD store.  Yeah, Best Buy still has a rack of best sellers that is replenished annually for Black Friday, and used CDs can be found everywhere in a few remaining stores that sell comic books, action figures, DVDs, Blurays, gaming cards and anything else that might touch the wallet of the presumed demographic.  I called ahead to see if they had the CD I wanted, from an obscure band who had only been released it several weeks earlier.  They did.  I asked how much it was, and was asked/told “how much you got.”  I could hear the tension, and I understood it. 

Why does anyone buy something from a retailer?  This depends on the product, but it comes down to a “I want it now” price vs. “Wait for it in the mail” price.  I’m willing to pay more to support a local business, but, truthfully, that difference is not stricly defined.  It depends.  And, as I don’t live anywhere close to Decatur, this isn’t a decision that I have to make that regularly.

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When amazon.com arrived some years ago, I thought it was the savior for my music purchasing interests.  Big-box retailers with massive selections like Tower or Virgin weren’t convenient, and smaller chains like Turtle’s maintained selections that primarily met the needs of people who listen to pop music or who were, like me, replacing thier albums with CDs.  And never mind going to a Record Bar or Musicland in a mall… $18 for a CD?  egad.  But for me, spying that imported copy of Renaissance’s “Song for All Seasons” made me a spiritual disciple of searching “the big river.”  For whatever reasons, other countries led the U.S. by far in converting  more obscure works to CD, the very things that were the target of my musical quests.  Amazon became a habit, but it still held second place for new releases.  New music demands a listening asap.  And that could be found in some store down the street.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, continues to push at innovating online retailing.  My “Wait for it price” has surprisingly not increased as the competitors are essentially banquished.  Whatever reservations I had about paying Shipping & Handling seem to have vanished now that I pay a good chunk for Amazon Prime, a sum that I probably come out ahead on but haven’t taken the time to study.  And whether it’s the USPS delivering on Sundays or Bezos’ investigation in having drone deliveries, having to wait means less, especially in areas where Amazon now offers same day delivery (not to my street as yet).  He’s disrupted commerce by providing products and services in a new way, and he recognizes the potential for others to disrupt his model.  I won’t enter the ethical argument of displaced business owners and their workers.  I feel for them all, just as I feel for production methods which keep workers unskilled.  But. 

That “but,” multiplied many times over by the CD buying public, has netted Atlanta one quality CD store… that result no less because of a full generation of those who prefer digital streaming, iTunes, etc.  (Note, there are several other notable CD stores remaining in the area that others may prefer, but I’m confident in the line between “notable” and “quality.”)

So what is a quality CD store to do these days?  1) Charge a fair price,  2) Maintain an inventory that people desire,  3) Know your product, and 4) Treat your customers well.

Well, they had my CD.  It was the owner, Jerry, who took my call, and he offered to hold it.  Deal.  I had a few minutes to browse before meeting friends.  It’s not a large store, maybe 1300 sq.ft. of retail space.

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To keep with trends, he has some vinyl and some used CDs, but the main rack for my interests is at the right above.  In this and other visits, I’ve noticed that he maintains an excellent selection of CDs for artists favored by a discerning buyer.  You’re not going to be exhillarated by the Bieber selections here, if there even is one.  But, let’s say Robin Trower, a 70’s era guitarist who was exceptional then and remains so now:

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To find 10 different titles is amazing anywhere and unfathomable in a store of this size.  And that’s the secret.  Vary the selection, but keep the quantity simple.  You’re not going to sell two of the same title on the same day.  Sell one, buy another to replace it.  Listen to your buyers.  Know their tastes.  And add your own appreciation of music to the mix. 

I wanted to go ahead and start the disc spanning in my short drive from the store.  I slit the package, opened the sleeve and no CD.  No CD?  I’ve been buying albums, casettes, and CDs, in my reckoning, for 37 years.  I have never bought any of these to open the sleeve and find no product within it.  Until now.  Great.  I hate returning things, moreso for the “little guy” who somehow knew to stock “Dying Surfer Meets His Maker” by All Them Witches.  Anyway… Jerry, somewhat frequently referred to on Yelp as an amalgam of “old bearded guy,” apparently has seen it happen before.  Miracles, he had another copy, which he opened to verify that the CD was properly ensconced within and non-begrudingly sent me along my way.  That’s customer service, folks.  I hope he gets a credit from his supplier.

I don’t envision myself driving to Decatur any more frequently than when I go to Eddie’s Attic or the Decatur Art Festival, but I’ll continue to make time for this store.  Oh, and the awesome Brick Store pub.

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