Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Waterloo Records: A Store From Another Place And Time, But With A Big Difference

When I was growing up, record stores were a special place to visit. This was before the big-box chain record and electronic stores took over everything. Back in those days, with a little luck, a buck, and a few cents additional for tax, you could get the latest 45 rpm “hit” of your favorite singer or band. Those family operated record stores always had the Cash Box or Billboard charts posted on the wall, the 45’s in small shelves behind the counter, and albums stuffed in wood racks in crowded aisles. And, the owners were always knowledgeable about music they were selling.

Over the years, the technology changed, and record albums and 45’s were eventually replaced by 8-track tapes, then cassettes, and later still, by CD’s. And while CD’s are still around, they are slowly losing popularity as the ability to buy music off the internet increases.

The family record shops, for the most part, are long gone. So too, it seems, are the big box-chain record stores. Today, major electronic chain stores still sell CD’s of course, but it’s not the same. While they stock the most commercially popular music selections, they do not carry the music of local bands that have “cut” records, and are looking for a little exposure. In the old days, the small family-owned record shops would always carry several of these records, as a favor to the local musicians, their family, and friends. In most cases, they were vanity records which never amounted to anything, but, from time to time, some success came from them.

If I’ve got you at least a little bit nostalgic, then visit Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas. Started in 1982, it has the “look and feel” of the small record stores I remember when I was younger. There are crowded aisles, with employees who are knowledgeable about the music being sold, a large selection of commercially popular music, the not so popular music, and the music of local musical artists and bands trying to catch a break or two.

Waterloo Records, however, is far different from the small “Mom and Pop” record shops of the past. Like many bookstores that now have authors come in to speak about their books and sign autographs, Waterloo Records has musicians come in to perform and sign autographs. And quite often, these musicians are well-known. This year, Willie Nelson, as but just one example, sang at Waterloo. More recently, on December 5, 2009, Rosanne Cash performed at Waterloo.

But, the real difference that Waterloo Records has from the old family-owned record shops, in my opinion, is the fact that while it protects music’s past, it also embraces music’s future, utilizing the latest technology. While it still faithfully sells music on CD, and on long-playing vinyl albums, it also has in-store listening stations, and sells music online, including downloads. Waterloo Records, bridges the past with the present.

Perhaps, just perhaps, with its attention to the music technology of the past, and with an appreciation of local music, live music performances, and the latest music technology, Waterloo Records will not go the way of its predecessors. But, it still needs to do something about that tiny parking lot. That’s the one thing that hasn’t kept up with the times.

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