Perfect Sound Forever


BK Music before

Toasting dying shops in the digital age
Article and photos by Peter Criger

When I was a kid growing up in the '90's, I quickly became obsessed with music. Having easy access to MTV and music magazines in my small town made it easy to learn about whatever was happening in the world of pop, alternative, metal and beyond. But having access to real physical product was difficult. This being a small town in the early and mid '90's, my family and I would have to go to Williamsburg, Richmond, Newport News or beyond if I wanted to buy music. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of the record stores of my youth and look at the state of the ones I visit infrequently today.

I started being able to buy my own music around 1995 or so. There was a short-lived store in West Point that's name has escaped me. It wasn't open very long, it used to be in a shopping center near Cato, Food Lion and a video store. Prior to that, there used to be a record store in town when my mother was growing up that is now a bodega. She used to buy her 45's and LP's there. But it had closed long before I came around and until 1995, we went to Sam Goody and Camelot music stores in various malls we used to visit. I remember buying "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" on cassingle from this store but not much beyond that. The store must have been gone by early 1996. So I went back to the malls until spring of 1997. That was when my world really opened up.

It started innocently enough just before Easter 1997. I was about to turn 11 and I was with my parents getting groceries at Food Lion when I saw some new signage in the strip mall. The strip mall was located at 100 Winters Street in West Point, VA. At the time, the mall contained Cato Fashions, a hair salon, a chiropractor and a Top's China. The signage said 'Doc's Music' but it was clear they weren't officially open yet. I told my parents I was going to walk over there and I would be back. I knocked on the glass and quizzically asked if I could come in and look around. The proprietors, Linda and her husband (I never got last names on them) said sure and I started walking around.

Echoes cassingle

This was 1997, so cassettes were still very relevant. There was no vinyl to speak of, just CD's and the old school locked cassette cases. I was browsing and saw my holy grail: a copy of Faith No More's Introduce Yourself on cassette. Still sealed, obviously, and it was like 10 or 11 bucks. I freaked out and at the same time, my mother walked over to the shop to retrieve me. I showed her what I had found and she asked if she could purchase it for me. The owners took a liking to me and told her sure; she handed them money and the tape was part of my last Easter basket a week or so later.

About a month later, the store officially opened and I became a frequent visitor. I would get groceries with my folks, pick out what I needed, then walk over to the store and hang out and browse until it was time to go home. Thus began my weekly ritual. Whenever I'd get my allowance, I'd save up for a new release of a CD or the rare cassette and I'd be able to buy stuff on my own. This would be the pattern of my life for the next six years.

By the end of 1997, the store was doing pretty well and I had started earning the confidence and respect of Linda, her husband and the one or two other staffers the store occasionally had. If I had been a bit older, I would've been working there myself but alas at 11, turning 12, it would have been impossible. By 1998, Linda had become such a part of my life that my parents asked her to watch me one night when they went out of town for dinner and I didn't want to go. So they left me at the store for a few hours with a book and some snacks and I was good to go. I also started to be rewarded with free CD's which was amazing to me as I was just starting to transition from cassette to CD's. This was about the end of the peak era where record labels would send boxes of promos and freebies to record stores to give away to customers. I would happily take whatever I was given and once Linda understood my musical taste, I started getting lots of hard rock and alternative promos.

One of these discs, Hoarse's 1997 Happens Twice ended up containing some of my favorite songs of that late '90s alt rock era and it all came from a promo just handed to me. I still have it; it's all scratched up from wear but I have rarely seen another copy out in the wild. She also used to give me posters all the time; I was probably the only 12-year-old that had Radiohead posters on their wall. Pretty soon, I was helping her whenever I was in the store, whether it was stocking tapes, helping customers by unlocking the cassette cases or doing whatever was necessary. It got to the point where I would spend 5-10 minutes in the grocery store and 45 minutes in the record store just hanging out, shopping and browsing. I ended up getting into a lot of different things during this time but I discovered that music was my end all be all and I didn't really want to be doing anything else outside of school. My parents were OK with it because I wasn't spending all my money in one drop and was being reasonable with my selections.

During this time, Doc's was my primary source of getting my hands on stuff. I would also go to Sam Goody, where I had to special order Faith No More's then latest release, Album of the Year on cassette because Doc's wasn't able to get it yet and I had to get my hands on it. Ended up being completely worth it but other than that, I don't recall using any other store besides Doc's. Linda was able to special order tapes and later CD's from her suppliers and I ended up with her leftover catalogs which was a thrill for me because I got to nerd out over which records I would love to get my hands on.

By the time I was 12, I became aware of other stores around. My family began going to Williamsburg more and more and I found myself near a store called Echoes. It was a place I was vaguely aware of but didn't care to go to because I thought it was too 'hippie-ish.' But then, my grandfather had hip replacement surgery and the record store was right up the road from the hospital. Walking distance. So my mother and I walked in one day and there were CD's everywhere and I was enthralled. The store was encircled by used CD's all over and the prices were decent too. A healthy collection of cassingles and cassettes were all over the store as well. When you first walked in, you were greeted by a display of used new arrivals that beckoned you whenever you walked in.

This was one of those stores that gave away free posters they had been given as promotional items and they were kept in a small barrel by the door. One of the first times I was there with my mother, I discovered a Primus poster for Brown Album. I happily took it home and I still have it today in my storage unit. I quickly discovered this store was the place for me and all the negativity I had previously thought about the store were long gone. Between 1998-2000, I went back and forth between Doc's and Echoes and was able to start my CD collection and finish up purchasing what few cassettes I was still looking for.

Tower Records

I still had Camelot and Sam Goody but those had become less necessary as I had the two stores that would become pivotal to my overall discovery and adoration of music and physical media. As I entered high school in 2000, I began branching out more and discovered Tower Records. There was one in Willow Lawn, a suburb of Richmond. This store had a Tower Books right next door, so it was a perfect spot for someone like me that wanted to get their hands on as much media as possible. What was available at Tower was interesting because there was more emphasis on older releases, including some that were out of print. Between looking at CD's I'd never seen previously, the bookstore also sold music books that I couldn't get anywhere else. For the next three years or so, the store would become a requisite for spending birthday money.

Plan 9

Around 2001 or so, along came a store that had been around since the early eighties but because of my naivete and age, I had had little clue about. Plan 9 in Carytown, a shopping district in Richmond, had become one of the prime destinations for music lovers in the commonwealth. But I was unaware of it until we took a family trip around Carytown and I was able to go in. An upstairs and a full basement stocked full of vinyl, CD's, tapes and everything else one could possibly want. There were several locations of the store around the state at this time and while I loved Carytown, it was the location on the South Side, in Midlothian that was my go-to until they closed in early 2004. That store was where I bought my first vinyl: a 12-inch of "It's Gonna Rain" by the Violent Femmes purchased circa 2001. It was more convenient for what we were doing and just easier to get to. I took friends there and to Tower; it's just what I did when I wanted to hang out. It was such a blissful time in my life.

During this time, my family was traveling back and forth to Williamsburg constantly. I still went to Echoes two or three times a month but then discovered another store I'd never heard of. It was located in an outlet mall, one of those malls dropped in a metropolitan area designed to sell 'lower priced' brand name clothing like Nike, Columbia and Cole Haan. The store was called Music for a Song and it stuck out like a sore thumb in the Prime Outlets of Williamsburg. It was essentially a used store with some new items. They sold books and a bunch of other things to fit in more with the tourist vibe the outlets were going for. Don't remember how I discovered this one but it became one of my favorites because the prices were so cheap. Books about R.E.M. and Harry Chapin for 5 bucks each? I was in heaven. Eventually, that store moved to the smaller and cheaper outlet mall in Williamsburg and eventually faded away before closing in the mid-2000's. Nary a trace of the business in Williamsburg currently appears online, which feels unnecessarily cruel.

Also during 2001, a store I had never heard of or been to was closing up. It was called The Band Box and it was located on Prince George Street in Williamsburg and was located near William and Mary College and Colonial Williamsburg. I only became familiar with the store as Echoes bought out all their old stock and started selling it at heavy discount in summer 2001. The Band Box closed in June and Echoes must have started selling off stock by July. It was very overwhelming for a 15 year old to see that much music, a lot of it he'd never heard of (yet). I ended up buying as much as I could afford and every now and then, I still think about the amount of music that was sitting on tables in the middle of the store. A year later, Echoes was still selling off what was left, for literally pennies on the pound. They had a scale, you put your amount on the scale and they tallied how much owed relevant to the weight.

Plan 9 in Carytown

I started getting into vinyl around 2003 for no real reason really. It's been 20 years and thousands of pieces later, but it was just something that seemed to draw me in. Of course 20 years ago, vinyl was a lot cheaper and a lot more fun to collect. These days, it's about finding deals and for me, finding things on your wishlist under 10 bucks. It can still be done, but I digress. I started noticing the used vinyl at Echoes, because they weren't really making new vinyl quite yet. One day in 2003, I took a chance on a used copy of Pet Sounds and noticed it had a strip of braille on the cover. It had come from a blind man's collection and that delighted me to no end. Vinyl was so cheap back then and I could find a bunch of whatever I wanted at antique malls, thrifts and the basement of Plan 9 in Carytown, which was stocked with the best dollar bin I've ever seen and had some of the best prices pre vinyl resurgence. Clean, pristine copies of the first Violent Femmes, Woodstock and One Nation Under a Groove complete with bonus 45 for 10 bucks each. Couldn't find those kinds of prices nowadays!

FYE closing

June 2004 rolls around and I graduate high school. I'm going off to college in Lynchburg, VA. Home of Falwell and churches and religion everywhere, right? Not in my case. Literally, the first day I was in town to check in and settle into my dorm, my folks and I went to the local River Ridge Mall and there was an FYE. I was familiar with them already because they had previously been Sam Goody or Camelot Music in other malls. This FYE had a killer bargain bin and I scored Saigon Kick, Ass Ponys and a few other oddities within the first week of being in the city, Within the first couple of months of exploring, I found probably one of the greatest stores I would ever come across... The Record Exchange.

Record Exchange

How to describe The Record Exchange? In a sense, it was like pure manna from heaven. A kickass bargain bin tucked away in the corner where all CD's were a dollar or two. New used arrivals on the right-hand side, vinyl and DVD's just as you walked in the door and CD's galore all over the rest of the shop. For a kid in college on a budget, this was the greatest place you could have ever been. I shopped there religiously all four years of school and still have loads of everything that I picked up there, most with the original price stickers.

BK Music

Discovering CD's by the likes of Mary's Danish, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Midnight Oil, Anthrax and Therapy? among others was just one of the benefits of being about 15 minutes from Record Exchange. My friends and I went there all the time and relished hanging out and record shopping. During this time, I discovered another major store. On our way home from Lynchburg, my family and I would travel Midlothian turnpike in Richmond. Just before our exit to go home, was BK Music. Formerly known as Peaches, it had been a Richmond landmark for decades as a go-to store. I discovered the store as a lark when it was still Peaches, going there once or twice with friends but never leaving much of an impression. BK on the other hand, felt like a whole other animal.

The store's prices, circa 2005, were excellent and since vinyl hadn't hit it resurgent peak yet, used LP's could be found for 1-5 dollars at the most. They also had great deals on DVD's and even VHS at first and the best 99 cent bargain bin in Richmond. Their website had the ability to search for inventory, same with The Record Exchange, so I could shop online ahead of time and know exactly what I wanted to grab before I got there. What a time to be alive as a novice record collector!

Between BK, Record Exchange and the visits to Plan 9, Echoes and Tower before they closed in 2006, I was able to quench my thirst for physical media in trips to thrifts and out of the way antique stores. By this time, around 2006-2007, another store had opened in downtown Lynchburg called Speakertree and while they catered more towards vinyl as it was starting to become popular again, they still had CD's and cassettes and decent prices. So I frequented them every so often. Managed to score some good stuff but the store wasn't as memorable as others. Eventually, they moved locations to a less than desirable walkup in Lynchburg and finally closed in the fall of 2020. By then, the store had become less a record store but a hub for hangouts like a coffee shop or a low-level venue for up-and-coming artists.

Echoes, in the meantime, had been sold to Plan 9 around 2002, ostensibly because of declining sales. I didn't see that at the time, wasn't paying attention and only noticed when they changed the name of the store from Echoes to Plan 9. Sometime around 2005 or so, the store moved locations, losing its lush, prime location and moving directly across the street to a much smaller storefront near a Pizza Hut and a rundown Big Lots. The original Echoes became a bike shop and that location was torn down in 2018 to make room for luxury apartments and fine dining.

By the time, I had graduated from college and entered the workforce in 2008, the thing of the record store was long gone. Doc's had closed back in 2003 and was a very sad day. They kept another location open 40 minutes away in Tappahannock, a river town, but it closed in the early 2010's and I have unfortunately lost contact with the owners which makes me feel quite sad as that store and the people were so pivotal in my life and forming my musical identity.

Echoes/Plan 9 in Williamsburg carried on for a few years. As late as 2009, I was able to buy Master of Puppets in its original LP format for 8 bucks. But by early 2010, it had closed for good and with that, there were no sorts of record stores left in Williamsburg. There were thrift stores and places like Retro Daddio that sold CD's but it wasn't the same and I found myself pulled towards Richmond as there weren't any other choices left besides eBay and Amazon. There were other stores that tickled my fancy but they all ended up going the way of the buffalo: American Oldies in Newport News (closed 2020); Fantasy, a head shop that had an amazing upstairs record store also in Newport News (closed 2018). BK moved locations from Midlothian turnpike to the other side of Richmond to a smaller store and finally closed in summer 2019. They had a hell of a closing and I remember buying whatever I could get my hands on for mere pennies. It was sad to see it go and I haven't been to that side of town ever since. The original location became a Chipotle,. Even FYE finally gave up the ghost and closed most locations by January 2019. Closing discounts were at least 75-85 percent off and I cleaned up like a mother! There is still one location open in Colonial Heights, way outside of Richmond and I still go twice a year just for the memories and the bargain bin.

Now in present day, I utilize a couple of different places including Vinyl Conflict, Records & Relics, Wax Moon and numerous thrift stores throughout Richmond, Cherie's in Mechanicsville as well as AFK in Virginia Beach and Book Exchanges all throughout the Peninsula. Plan 9 is still here, in a different location across the street from the old and while it's not the same, it's nice to still have it, especially when they sell their clearance CD's for a quarter a piece. The bargain basement is long gone. The old location is now a Mellow Mushroom pizzeria and the basement now houses their restrooms.

My own personal history with record stores has taken me far and wide and now I have over 3300 CD's and close to 1000 LP's. It's been a blast and I'm always still on the hunt but it's not the same as it used to be even six years ago. I don't go to my spots as often anymore because a lot of times, they don't seem to have any new CD's but that's the nature of record stores these days; more emphasis on vinyl, and CD's relegated to a little kiddie corner. But I will continue to search and hunt and reward myself with once expensive discs containing music now bought for less than a dollar.

BK Music after

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