I Visited a CD Store Today. (Remember Those?)

By  |  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?


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Dharmabumstead Says:

    Those Maxell XL-II tapes are getting a lot harder to find, and would fetch at least 4x that $6.99 sticker price on eBay.

    (Yes, I am an analog audio geek).

  2. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Thanks Harry. Interesting reminder of how fast this area is changing.

  3. Brandon Backlin Says:

    This is how my local FYE store is. They're a bit larger than an outlet store.

  4. Mark Hernandez Says:

    As a native San Diegan (welcome!) I took out several years out from computer design to work at a bookstore (and work on my people skills :-). The store I worked at still exists and still has some books and is still doing well, because it adapted.

    People in general still don't understand that content (books, music, video) has expanded at an exponential rate, and ultimately it literally crushed brick and mortar stores under all that weight. It's just not profitable to make all that content available on the off chance someone will come in and want that one thing. A different model has come along that works.

    But notice that things shift, they don't disappear. There's still vinyl, CDs, books and videos available to paw through, just not from "only" stores.

    Enjoy the awesome weather here, Harry. It's like this ALL THE TIME!

  5. SuperPC Says:

    That store looks a lot like a newer FYE from the photos…maybe its be slowly turned into one…

  6. Jay Says:

    Thats crazy. I remember we had a Sam Goody at are local mall back in the early 2000’s. They always had over priced CD’s. But I loved going in their the fact that their is still a Sam Goody still around in this day and age its a miracle. I hope cd’s and vinyl never go away

  7. Mason Says:

    All the best current artists record to LP. Records never left. But it is hard to make a record store profitable because the mainstream listeners don't listen to records. And that's OK and kind of why records are so great. The most successful record store I know of is still in business because it has a head shop on the second floor, above the first floor music section, making the money to cover overhead. It's kind of annoying to have to navigate the parking lot of stoners to get to the records, but worth it for the great selection.