ROTTEN TO THE CORE
Adventures of a Temporary Vinyl Wholesaler
By Kurt Wildermuth, Part 2
A few blocks away, I found another, smaller hole in the wall crammed with vinyl, much of it in poor condition. It was the kind of store where so many records are packed in so tightly that you can't even flip through the racks. The clerk was enthusiastic about my prospects for selling The Big Apple there, and he gave me the buyer's email address.
As I walked back uptown, I pondered other potential vendors and remembered the middle-aged guy who sells records on 7th Ave. He sits on a folding chair on the sidewalk, displaying his wares in crates, with some tacked to a wooden wall or splayed on the pavement. Over the years, I'd looked through his selection a few times and never found a thing to buy or even asked about a price. Quality never seemed to matter there either, to the seller or whoever bought from him (I'd never seen anyone do so, but someone had to or he wouldn't have stayed).
I walked up, said hello, held up my two damaged LPs, and asked if he'd be interested in sealed copies of an '80's punk compilation. His eyes lit up. He'd been feeling unloved, a potential buyer having scoffed that morning at his asking price for a vintage Brazilian LP.
His business was being harmed, he explained, by people's access to the Internet via their cellphones, their ability to check prices on eBay and Discogs. Now here I was, walking up from out of nowhere and offering something intriguing. He barely glanced at the albums, but he laughed over the Psycho-inspired name of one band listed on the back cover: Norman Bates and the Showerheads.
I decided to aim high. "Would you give me $10 a copy?"
He frowned. "No, I couldn't do that."
"How about two for $10?"
He smiled and pulled out a $10 bill. Then he put the records on display. "Thanks for thinking of me," he said.
As I walked away, he shouted, "Come back sometime and see how I did!"
One man's trash, as they say, is another man's treasure. My trash had brightened this man's day.
Adopted hometown boy makes good!
In the evening, I emailed the buyer at the second hole in the wall I'd visited that day. In reply, he asked who was on the compilation. I mentioned the biggest names: Ism, Ed Gein's Car, and the Mob. I never heard back from him. Oops. Should I have mentioned Norman Bates and the Showerheads?
I was now a shark that had tasted blood. The key to offloading copies seemed to be creative thinking in scouting up locations. Who else in Manhattan would carry my wares?
Suddenly, I remembered the designer clothing store on the Bowery, in the former location of the legendary rock club CBGB's. Let's call the designer C. B. G. B. At that time, his ads featured rock stars, such as Ringo Starr in black leather and KISS in business suits. Most important, his Bowery store sells vintage vinyl at reportedly exorbitant prices. I'd never gone in the place, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to offer them a bite of The Big Apple.
The next day, I called the store and spoke with a clerk. "Can you tell me who buys your vinyl?"
"That's handled by corporate. I'll give you their number."
"You really think it's worth calling?"
"It can't hurt to try."
When I phoned the corporate number, the person who answered sounded surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice. I must have been given a private number, but he politely took a message.
The next day, to my great surprise, C. B. G. B.'s executive assistant returned my call. Her first question was how I'd gotten their number. When I explained, her silence gave me the sense that no store employee would ever make that mistake again (sorry, helpful clerk, if I got you in trouble).
Again to my great surprise, the executive assistant took my pitch seriously. She asked me to email her more information about the record so she could run the idea by C. B. G. B. himself. My imaginative leap had taken me this far, to be wheeling and dealing with a high-end name brand operating out of historic New York City rock and roll real estate. My sidewalk finds were headed to the top!
That C. B. G. B. was capitalizing on the achievements of sacred figures--the Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Television--and all the other musicians that had graced Hilly Krystal's stage over the decades was a travesty, of course. But the club was just a memory, and I was running a business. If C. B. G. B. offered me decent money for even one copy, I'd deliver. Literally.
Having already done my homework on the Web, I quickly sent the executive assistant some links related to the record. For example, a Wikipedia page is devoted to the first volume of The Big Apple: Rotten to the Core, which Raw Power Records released in 1982. Another page is devoted to Bob Sallese, the former NYC punk impresario who compiled both volumes. The online information indicates that he is quite a character.
Sallese is credited with coining the phrase "hardcore punk," which he first used on a flyer promoting a punk show in his native New York City borough of Queens. He was part of the creative team behind Ism, NYC hardcore pioneers who gained notoriety for their song "John Hinckley, Jr. (What Has Jodie Done to You?)" and their cover of the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You," nearly the subject of a lawsuit from the Partridge singer David Cassidy. By creating and marketing the first Big Apple compilation, which featured Ism, Sallese helped put NYC hardcore in the rock underground's consciousness.
By the time of Vol. 2, the underground had moved on. That record didn't receive nearly the attention that the first one had. Sallese and his partners in Raw Power Records reportedly experienced distribution problems and were ripped off by the record's manufacturer, who put "pirate" copies on the market. Sallese ran out of money, left New York, went to Hollywood and played parts in some movies, made and lost a lot of money through investing, and disappeared for a while. Years later, he became a pariah in certain parts of the New York rock underground by ranting against the rocker and club owner Jesse Malin after Malin posted a plaque honoring only some of the bands who'd played in the East Village hardcore punk club A7. I sent C. B. G. B.'s assistant enough of this information to convey the flavor of the record and its gutter-high view of New York nightlife. A few hours later, the executive assistant emailed to say "We'll pass, but thank you for thinking of us." So much for my shot at stardom. The rock and roll designer had proven himself a poseur.
Copies 23-? Again
My next imaginative leap was a variation on that retailing theme. This time, I stepped into one of the pop-up shops that fill Manhattan's Bryant Park during the holiday season. The proudly Brooklyn-based company in this booth was selling decorative items, such as trays and clocks, with a DIY slant—handmade from repurposed vinyl records.
The year before, they
'd equipped, or at least decorated, their booth with a couple boxes of beaten-up used LPs. "Are these for sale?" I'd asked the middle-aged clerk.
"Yeah, they're for sale," she answered, all but rolling her eyes, as though the idea of actually buying old records was nuts when you could buy a clock or an ashtray instead.
This year, the booth was stocked with vintage vinyl and what appeared to be a few new releases. I thought: "What might be more appealing to the tourists and office workers who browse here than a real piece of sealed New York City punk history, complete with a photo of a homeless man on the cover?"
A 20-something clerk said the owners might be interested. She added that they also welcomed "donations" (Donations? Please. I've got an industry to run!). She handed me their card, I emailed, and they didn't reply.
After two consecutive failures thinking outside the box, I gave up on nontraditional markets for my product.
Copies 23-? Yet Again
To find more sellers that specialized in punk, I emailed record stores across the United States. Only a handful wrote back.
One reply came from the 30-something woman who was running a used-record store in Venice, Florida. She'd wanted to open a vintage store, but Venice has a few of those, so she ended up selling vinyl. I'd stopped in her store a couple times during visits to the city, so I knew that, like a lot of vinyl purveyors, she had a ready market for the "classics": the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and punk. The store owners called it punk, anyway. I seldom saw actual punk or even new wave records in these stores, presumably because those items sold so fast.
The woman in Venice asked, "How much do you want for them?"
"In New York, I'm getting $10 a copy."
"Yeah ... I'll have to pass. Thanks for thinking of me."
One reply came from a buyer in Seattle. "You can bring in three copies, and we'll make an offer."
"I'm in New York."
"We aren't interested in any records that needed to be shipped."
Another store in Seattle wanted "a few copies."
"Two or three."
"At what price?"
"Copies go on Discogs for around $15, and one just sold on eBay for $10. With that in mind, what would you want for them?"
"With shipping, the numbers wouldn't work for either of us, but thanks."
See Part 3 of the story || See Part 1- The Beginning of the Tale
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