When I was a teenager, way back in the 1900s, there were usually at least two chain record stores in every mall. Sam Goody, Camelot Music, Record Town, Coconuts, Turtle Records, Tracks, Musicland, Spec's, maybe some rinky-dink chain like Tape World. Take your pick.
I can't tell you how many CDs I bought at shopping-mall record stores over the years, but one of them was probably (What's The Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis. I thought about that this afternoon when I stopped by Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg. Wonderwall was blaring overhead at the FYE music store — or rather, what was left of it.
You probably didn't notice, but the Tyrone Square Mall FYE closed this week. So did the one at Westfield Countryside in Clearwater. That leaves only one FYE in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, at Westfield Brandon. If you don't count places like Hot Topic and the occasional bookstore, the Brandon FYE appears to be the last chain record store at any mall in Tampa Bay.
How are we supposed to feel about this?
Many will surely say good riddance, that the death of a chain retailer is no reason for a music lover to shed a tear. (I'll openly admit, however, that I still greatly miss Borders.) A brick-and-mortar music store just isn't a sound business strategy in a major shopping mall. It's not like teens these days are racing out in droves to discover new music in record shops, much less purchase it in physical form.
But if you're at least 25 years old and you're telling me you've never stepped foot in a mall record store, you're lying. As recently as 1998, a quarter of all music sales were made in mall stores. Plenty of you probably even worked in one. Hey, there are worse ways to earn a paycheck.
And even among chains, FYE wasn't all that bad, was it? There were some decent deals to be found in its used stacks and discount bins. And the selection was enormous — as stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy shrank the real estate they alloted for CD sales, FYE kept stocking catalog titles the likes of which you were more likely to find at an indie store.
Maybe that was their undoing.
"The music business is half the volume that it was 10 years ago," said Nick Sorace, owner of the Disc Exchange in St. Petersburg. "It's still a multi-billion dollar industry, don't get me wrong, but the bigger the store, the higher the overhead, the harder it is to live on half the business of 10 years ago. No store, no matter how big it is, can order everything."
On Friday, a sign on the chained-up Tyrone FYE read, "The store is now officially closed. We appreciate your patronage over the course of the last 20 years." Inside, as Wonderwall played on the stereo, an employee was boxing stuff up and moving stuff around, gradually emptying the cavernous space.
But one year later, how much do we really miss Vinyl Fever? Life went on. Other record stores, like Daddy Kool, Bananas Music, Sound Exchange and Seminole Heights' new Microgroove, seem to be doing well. That's a great thing — I hope those stores never go away.
But I have to say, as weird as it initially felt not having Vinyl Fever in Tampa, it might feel even weirder not having a single record store at any of Tampa Bay's many malls. The way things are going, who knows how long the Brandon FYE will stay open?
What about you guys? Will any of you miss mall music?
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*