Stedeford’s is a true retro record store

By by Justin Jacobs

Last Saturday, during an excursion to the North Side, I found heaven. It was really messy. It… Last Saturday, during an excursion to the North Side, I found heaven. It was really messy. It had a certain musk, too, and a great jazz collection. It’s called Stedeford’s Record Shop, and you should go. Like, now. You’re reading this in class right now? No matter, you could learn more from Stedeford’s than Intro to Whatever any day of the week. You see, Stedeford’s Record Shop is among a near-extinct breed of real record stores, with vinyls piled up in every corner, CD and cassette tapes lining the wall and employees who not only know about the newest shipment of music to come in, but also about every shipment that’s come in since about 1972.’ In other words, it’s not FYE. Or Sam Goody. And it’s definitely not Circuit City, Best Buy, Wal-Mart or any of the other giants of shopping. In those stores, along with online outlets like iTunes, music is a mere commodity. But those spots are also in command of the market, leaving tiny spots like Stedeford’s to be all but forgotten. It’s supply and demand, regardless of the product. There’s often little care or know-how about the actual music from the employees, just attention to what the hottest sellers are. In Stedeford’s however, it seems that time has all but stopped. Sure, all the new releases are there, up front where you’d expect, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Walk through the store and you’ll feel like you’re in a flea market, but instead of lawn chairs and mouse pads, it’s all music ‘mdash; long lost records by famous jazzmen, indie-rock cassette tapes (I found the near-complete collection of The Pixies on tape!), bins upon bins of punk rock and soul 7’s, singles, special compilations of show tunes from the ’60s and a better hip-hop mixtape selection than you could find on the hottest block in Brooklyn. And here’s the fun part ‘mdash; you’ve got to search through all of it to find what you want! It’s like searching through the library to find sources for a paper without any real guide, except the paper is your record collection and the process doesn’t culminate in hours of boring reading, but rather hours of fantastic listening. After about a half-hour of digging through crates of records and perusing the odd collection of non-music items inside Stedeford’s, I emerged with an album by a soulful white boy named Remy Shand that I hadn’t even thought about since high school and a tie. Yup, a Calvin Klein tie. For $2. The elderly woman at the cash register said that both were a great fit for me. Now if your idea of record shopping is efficiency, than this is simply not for you. But if music isn’t just radio hits and your new ‘Party Playlist for Gettin Shwasted!’ than you’ll find crate digging exceptionally fulfilling. Because, and here’s the key, it’s not about the record you’re actually looking for. In fact, it might be smarter to walk into a store like Stedeford’s without any set purchase in mind, because in searching for it, you’ll find at least 10 other albums you didn’t know you wanted, but now you need to have. The method’s in the madness at independent record stores, but the method’s a good one ‘mdash; stores like Stedeford’s, or Jerry’s in Squirrel Hill (one of the best collections of vinyl’s anywhere, ever), are more about the experience of searching for records, finding new music, checking out the art, the lyrics, the relation of one artist to another, the movement of music trends and the great sound of a needle scratching a record than anything else. And so these stores, while they certainly don’t have consumers streaming in like Circuit City, have buyers who are loyal customers. And don’t get me wrong ‘mdash; while I’d love to say I’m a local longtime customer at Stedeford’s, I know I’m just a kid who wandered in. But there’s nothing wrong with that ‘mdash; becoming a regular could take months, and I’ll be out of here come April. The real record store, the cavernous, wonderful beast that it is, is a dying breed. Not only are people buying fewer albums, but when they do, it’s more and more often online. It seems the world has turned and left Stedeford’s here, along with all the little neighborhood record shops where the mystery and aura of rock ‘n’ roll still live. If that’s an aura you dig, skip iTunes, skip Circuit City and definitely skip Wal-Mart. Check out a local record store. But look through the Yellow Pages ‘mdash; true to form, Stedeford’s doesn’t even have a Web site.