“I stopped going to Starbucks in 2003. It’s not that I don’t like the coffee. I stopped going because Erika was no longer behind the counter. It took some months of regularity, but it finally happened: Erika knew me. This corporate java behemoth actually employed someone who found the time to learn and remember my name and my order. Erika (not her real name) was a rock star to me. She knocked seconds, eventually minutes, off my waiting time. I’d walk in and, boom, a latte was in my hand. A minor thrill, but a thrill nonetheless. Once Erika disappeared from Starbucks, so did I. I just didn’t have the patience to endure another hazing for an indeterminate outcome. (…)
For 13 years I owned a CD, DVD and record store, right around the corner from Erika’s Starbucks. And for 13 years I was a rock star to many people. Celebrities, musicians, journalists and, of course, the everyday people who lived in the neighborhood would frequent my shop and hang out at the counter as if they were in a local pub. We’d shoot the breeze about everything, not just music. Some would drown their sorrows. I served no booze, but it didn’t matter. I had a duty, not just as a business owner and music maven. I was expected to listen. (…)
I was good at my job. Everyone knew that. The way Erika knew my order, I knew what my customers wanted and needed. I’d put avant-garde jazz on the side for Dan, Elvis Costello and power pop for Jules and any rare Clapton, pre-1973 only, for Tony. When I had to shut down in 2005—people just stopped buying CDs—it broke the hearts of many, but it really tore mine to shreds. How could something I love so much and am so good at just be removed from my life? (…)
I was a rock star when my business was successful and I had something to offer. Now that I am unemployed, something I hadn’t planned on being at the age of 44, am I just another schnook in the Big Apple? Everyone has a mom-and-pop shop he likes to think he discovered. Everyone has an Erika or Sal. And as long as retail shops still exist, people will find new Erikas and new Sals. But I don’t think all the Erikas and Sals can say the same. We need another 15 minutes.”
Excerpts from a beautiful essay by Sal Nunziato in Newsweek’s July 7 issue. Nunziato used to own a record store that closed.
What it means: it’s very humbling that nowhere in his essay does Nunziato blame technology or e-commerce for his store’s demise. He simply laments the end of a personal era of glory but does not point fingers. This article could also have been written by a travel agency owner or a DVD rental store manager. I think that article struck a nerve with me as I’m a major music fan. I’m nostalgic for real record stores staffed with experts who knew my tastes. Yahoo Music (aka Launch Radio) and Last.fm are good but are no substitute for a human being. These days, I find Metacritic.com (a site aggregating professional critics reviews) to be the most useful for me to discover new music artists. Maybe that should tell me something…