By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 11:15 pm
I was a frequent Tower Records shopper until that chain collapsed, and it’s only been gone since 2006. I went to the Virgin Megastores in San Francisco and New York pretty often, too, and they closed in 2009. That doesn’t seem that long ago.
But at the moment, I’m in San Diego for Qualcomm’s Uplinq conference, and when I saw a Sam Goody music store in the same complex as my hotel, I wandered in–and boy, did what I found feel like something from another era.
Until I came across it, I wasn’t sure whether Sam Goody (which was founded in New York City in the 1950s by Samuel Gutowitz) still existed. Apparently, even Sam Goody is uncertain whether Sam Goody still exists: Wikipedia (which refers to the chain in the past tense) says it’s owned by Trans World Entertainment, which also owns FYE, the last bastion of big-time shopping-mall music stores. But the company apparently converted most of the remaining Goody stores into FYEs in 2008 and doesn’t even mention the chain on its corporate site. There is no such place as SamGoody.com anymore, either.
But this San Diego Sam Goody refuses to acknowledge its own fate, like a Japanese soldier hiding out on a Pacific island somewhere. (In this case, the island happens to be Horton Plaza, a sprawling open-air shopping center in San Diego’s Gaslight Quarter.)
The Goody store is a close cousin of the Tower Records and Virgin Megastores I’d once found worth my time, but I’d almost forgotten what they were like, and had to reacclimate myself to the whole concept of a great big retailer dealing primarily in discs with things recorded on them. As I toured the place, I took fuzzy photos with my iPhone.
First of all, this Sam Goody still has a sizable vinyl section. I was pleased to see it, although I shouldn’t have been shocked: even my local Best Buy is devoting more space to vinyl these days.
Goody also has…a blank tape section! (When was the last time I dubbed anything onto tape? The 1990s, although I’ve occasionally listened to cassettes more recently than that.)
Also available in abundance: Zune cases.
There are, however, some obvious signs that we’re in 2011 rather than 2006 or 1985. Such as the Angry Birds department:
And the two–count ’em, two–Justin Bieber sections. (One on each floor, each different and each a must-visit!)
A fair amount of Goody floor space is now devoted to stuff that has nothing to do with music, movies, or related matters. Such as Waboba Balls. (In the background, though, you’ll note the Bob Marley lamps, which seem like a perfectly reasonable thing for Sam Goody to be selling.)
The second floor of the Goody store is mostly devoted to DVDs and Blu-Rays, a startlingly high percentage of which were anime. But there’s also evidence that this place once consisted of three floors of recorded media–an up escalator that’s now blocked by a High School Musical 2 poster.
Hey, I almost forgot: Sam Goody sells CDs. Not all that many of them–you could miss the section if you weren’t looking for it–but they’re there. The chain’s slogan was once “Goody Got It,” but “Goody Probably Don’t Got It” would now be more appropriate. But I’m not sure if anyone cares at this point: while I saw folks browsing in the store while I was there, I’m not sure if I spotted a single person looking at recorded music.
Back when I spent a lot of time in music stores, I took the existence of an Easy Listening section as the sign of a joint operated by lazy minds–at least if it contained a lot of stuff which really should have been broken out into sections for oldies, vocals, soul, big band, and other genres, as was often the case. Easy Listening was often a synonym for “Stuff We Can’t Be Bothered With.”
And yup, Goody has an Easy Listening section of that type. It was about the only music section in the place with anything I’d want to buy–except that it was so poorly stocked that it didn’t have anything I’d want to buy.
(Um, isn’t that Justin Bieber peeking at us in the upper left-hand corner? Can’t get away from him…)
I’m fascinated by the fact that this Goody store has managed to survive the death of large-scale chain music retailing in this country. I wish it well; the employees I chatted with briefly were pleasant. But two floors of real estate in a major shopping mall in downtown San Diego can’t be cheap. How long do you give it? Is there any way you could turn a store like this into something with a future bright enough to last until, oh, 2020 or so?