Searching for the Perfect CD Store: Is your CD-buying habit putting you into debt?
Before you resort to illegally downloading tunes from the Internet, check out these local, affordable music stores.
By Peter Gerstenzang
In the beginning, God created heaven and earth, and then the record album, first made of wax, then of vinyl. And God said, “These shall cost three or four dollars, except Tommy by The Who, which is a double album and should be $6.99, except at Korvette in Port Chester.” And He saw that it was good.
But some time in the 1980s, Satan (who had taken over the record industry and also discovered Mariah Carey) said, “I will now invent the CD, which is smaller than the album, and to some people’s ears sounds no different than the album, and I will put its list price at a whopping $18.98.” And people in Westchester still went to the music store in droves and bought several of these discs at a time, and their children suffered, which meant there was no money left over that week to buy any of them a pair of Sketchers. The question now is: Are there CD stores here where one can find popular and offbeat discs and not leave the store wearing a barrel, upheld by suspenders?
To answer the question, I have beaten the bushes (only metaphorically, of course) and actually found some cool places to buy CDs, and even one (to continue the gratuitous biblical imagery) that you should avoid like the plague.
At the Kohl’s shopping center in Port Chester sits one link in the chain that is Coconuts. Now normally, my socialist views would keep me from praising such a big, seemingly impersonal place. But that would be, oh so very wrong. Coconuts has a large and surprisingly diverse selection of compact discs. It’s the sort of store that not only sells the work of Dr. Dre and Outkast, but also of people like Harry Nilsson, Gram Parsons and the Jayhawks. It has soundtracks from movies like The Bodyguard and Friday, but also the soundtrack from Casablanca, complete with dialogue from the movie.
Coconuts’ prices are a bit too high (I recently paid twenty bucks for a Notorious B.I.G. disc), but they have a nice alternative to this unpleasant fact: a used-CD section. In this area, you can find treats like early Beach Boys’ stuff, Blackstreet CDs and things by P.J. Harvey, all for around $5. So you won’t necessarily have to choose between a music purchase and, say, dinner. Does it matter that these discs are pre-owned? No way. Not even audiophile geeks can hear the difference between a used CD and a new one.
Now, just down the parking lot from Coconuts is Port Chester’s really well-kept CD secret: the Empire State Flea Market Mall. I didn’t go in there for years, figuring only a rube would pay for fleas when you can get them free. Then, I found out they actually sold merchandise and felt like quite the dope. And what did I see amidst all the clothes and jewelry and clocks adorned with Jesus’s face? Why, bargain CDs, of course. There’s a preponderance of salsa (Celia Cruz, Tito Puente), which is fine by me, and they also have a surprising number of rock staples by classic groups, such as the Animals and Herman’s Hermits. You will have to do a little hunting at the booth that sells discs, but you will be happy too, since many cost just $3.99.
Since Rye is a bit more upscale than Port Chester, one would expect its CD store to be better stocked and more impressive. But Sam Goody on Purchase Street is more like a poverty pocket. Now, to its credit, its staff is enthusiastic. But this fact cannot keep CD geeks from noticing that the place is poorly stocked. Goody does have some nice bargains in the ten-dollar range (Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On, Prince’s Purple Rain and Al Jarreau’s Greatest Hits but the main artists’ bins are woeful.
There’s virtually nothing by Elvis, except his new collection of No. 1 hits. There’s no early R.E.M. There’s nothing by the Replacements, the best American rock band of the past 20 years, no Lou Reed, very little Iggy Pop. So, if there are punk rockers in Rye, they must be in profound despair. For jazz lovers, the place is strong on Miles, but weak on Trane and Lady Day. Sam Goody in Rye, in short, is a classic chain store.
So, if contrary to its jingle, “Goody Ain’t Got it,” who does?
If you can brave ugly, cluttered Central Avenue and can avoid becoming road kill trying to cross it, you’ll want to check out Central Compact Disc in White Plains. Now, it’s not so much the new-release prices that’ll impress you (Bruce and Petty are both $14.98); it’s their used CDs and ability to hunt down rare stuff for customers that makes this little store such a killer for real music freaks. Victor and Emile man the counter, and these two heavy-set, middle-aged hipsters (think that overweight comic bookstore owner on The Simpsons, but more pleasant) know everything about music, especially classic rock, jazz and blues. Hum a tune you’re looking for, and they’ll not only tell you its name, but who recorded it originally, and on what label.
This store is packed with great pre-owned CDs (Oasis, Johnny Cash, Robyn Hitchcock, movie soundtracks) and is more voluminous than Coconuts although a little more expensive (sorry guys, I got the Oasis disc at ’Nuts for three bucks less).
However, they have got a feature that Coconuts (or anyone else) can’t touch: They can look up any disc you want, and if it’s in print, so to speak, they’ll get it to you—fast! Owner Ron Masciandaro (Victor’s bro’) promises, “It won’t take more that two days.” I once ordered a Brian Wilson CD from Sam Goody in Rye. After three weeks of not hearing from the store, I went in to ask about the situation. The manager said my disc might be in the storeroom somewhere. So, we both went in back, looked and looked, and I found the CD, where it had been lying, apparently for two weeks. So, not only did Sam Goody make it hard to get a rare record, I had to become a virtual employee to get my hands on the damn thing. No such slip-ups at Central Compact Disc.
And another lovely and unique feature about this hip little hole-in-the-wall is that it’ll transfer music onto discs for you, tunes that exist in other forms. Have you got old 45s, old tapes, old disco 12-inchers you would like brought up to speed, technologically speaking? The guys at Central will transfer any of your faves onto a CD for you. They’ll make you a dance disc for your wedding. They’ll put Grandpa Joe’s off-key but affecting rendition of Darktown Strutter’s Ball (recorded on a reel-to-reel in 1955) on a CD. Anything, everything. However, as Masciandro understandably points out, “you have to own the material first, or have purchased it from our store or somebody’s store. We won’t just open up a CD here and burn some songs for you. You’ve got to pay for the music first, and then we’ll do the job. We’ll make you what you want, but we’re not bootleggers.”
If you’re not far from Scarsdale, you might want to continue on, until you find yourself at Borders. They don’t have used CDs, like Coconuts. They can’t order you something in two days, like Central Compact Disc. But they do have the distinction of carrying every CD in the known world. I’m almost completely serious about this. Not only does it boast a plush interior, pleasant staff and endless elbow room, but I have never looked in Borders’ bins for an artist in rock, jazz, classical, rap, or polka who was not represented by a placard, and then filled with said artist’s whole catalogue, or most of it. You want early Randy Newman? It’s there. John Prine’s work? It’s there. Hardcore hip-hop, that will have you parents phoning Lynne V. Cheney to ask the best way to de-program you? That’s there, too. They have a number of CDs for $9.99 (Todd Rundgren’s and Mott The Hoople’s Greatest Hits). And, they provide a great public service here as well. Borders features a rack of new and challenging artists who get played only on indie radio stations like WFUV, and need exposure—cool folks like Ron Sexsmith and Lucy Kaplanski. Do you wish to sample some of their stuff first? Borders has headphones you can put on to check out this new music before you commit to buying it.
The prices at this tony store are, in general, a bit high, but pretty much in keeping with the current market. So, if you want the Band or Crosby, Stills and Nash, it will cost you between $17 and $19. But Borders’ sale prices actually represent the word “sale” honestly. This past spring, I bought the Strokes’ debut album, Is This It? and it only cost $11.98. When the salesman rang it up, I wept, ran around the counter and hugged his legs. I’ve been banned from the store until 2004.
Now, are you hungry—for free food samples, as well as for a great, unsung place to buy CDs? Well, believe it or not, the Costco in Yonkers has some of the best CD bargains in the county. I’m talking about things like mid-to-late period Beatles (Abbey Road, Let It Be) for $10.98, Bob Dylan’s latest Love and Theft for $9.49, and the new Coldplay for $11.98. I recently purchased The Stones’ Exile on Main Street for $11, which is unheard of in these parts.
I also should mention that in order to get into Costco, you need to show a membership card at the door. So you should legally procure one, or go with someone who has one. Don’t rap Grandma Nell on the head and take hers just because you want the new TLC. Go to Costco, just don’t mention my name here, either. I’m afraid my over-enthusiasm got me in trouble at this spot too. That employee I mentioned didn’t like that wild look in my eye and the drool in my chin as I ran around the store holding my copy of the Stones’ CD. I’d tell you more, but the court order prohibits both parties from discussing the case. However, I am staying on my medication, and with another few months of community service, I should be allowed back in Costco. Right around summer, 2005.
Peter Gerstenzang got his first kiss in the record department of Korvette in Port Chester. It was from Susan Cowsill.