Secondhand Joy: Records in Thrift and Antique Stores

Goodwill Hunting

Imagine it is 2005.

You’re a teenager getting into new kinds of music and have always liked the idea of vinyl records. You have a $20 bill in your pocket, and to the best of your knowledge new records are no longer being made. You join your mom on her Saturday off and go to the local antique mall. You’re amazed by the crates and shelves chock full of classic hits. Queen! Led Zeppelin! The Beatles! Your teenage brain is overwhelmed with possibilities, and at two bucks a pop, you can get 10 records. You think that the turntable console in your basement works and it would be a breeze to hook it back up to listen to Sgt. Pepper on vinyl. You finally fulfil the dream of 1970s.

It’s 2009 – December.

I pay good money to get two tickets to see Glass Harp play on the Kent Stage with my dad. This is the original line-up, and Phil Keaggy is going to do some of his solo work as well. Keaggy is one of my guitar idols and finally seeing him play life is a dream come true.

I go back to the antique mall that my mom and I frequent on the weekends. I am eagerly digging through the crates hoping to find anything by Glass Harp, and as luck would have it, I find two records by the band. Their self titled debut and their follow-up Synergy. They’re not in the best shape, but for a dollar a piece, who cares? My goal is to have Phil Keaggy sign the cover anyway.

The night of the concert arrives and they are perfect. I wait in line to talk to Phil and he is as modest and humble as his pictures led me to believe. We talk music, guitar playing, and he notices I have their first record on vinyl. He’s tickled pink and shows the rest of the band, who are busy packing up their instruments and gear. They are all happy to see it, and they all sign the record. My goal was only to meet Phil Keaggy, but the record was my ticket to meeting the rest of the band.

An original pressing of Glass Harp’s eponymous debut, signed by Phil Keaggy, Daniel Pecchio, and John Sferra.

Flash forward to 2020.

Anymore, finding decent records in an antique shop or thrift store is nigh impossible. The ones that are still there are marked up based on a quick and inaccurate eBay search (trust me, Thriller doesn’t sell for $45 used). The vinyl resurgence coupled with barcode scanning features on eBay and Discogs has led to these once safe havens for bargain vinyl to become overpriced pushers of mediocre junk records. Buying records from these places you come to expect a degree of wear and tear, such as faded covers, bent corners, and some degree of surface noise. This is acceptable if you are paying less than $5, but the problem is that these are being sold by people who do not know how to properly assess and grade records. They price them as if they are in mint condition with no issues, leading to massive inflation. Records are trendy right now, therefore the opportunity to make a quick buck on your grandparents basement treasures is too good to pass up.

The joy of low expectations being met with bountiful finds is part of the reason why looking for records in these shops is such a rush. It’s a lot like metal detecting or bird watching; unusual for most but rewarding for the ones in the know. Finding early Genesis, Rush, and Glass Harp records is like striking gold for me. Taking them home, cleaning them up, and putting them on the table to hear them play for the first time in decades is like opening a time capsule.

In total I have 24 records currently in my collection that I found in an antique store or thrift shop. This collection ranges from Olivia Newton John to Ravi Shankar. I have been lucky enough to find two records still sealed in their original Sam Goody wrapping, complete with sales stickers advertising the low price of $4.98. But this has become increasingly rare in the past few years. I have all but given up on finding anything decent anymore at the second hand shops, but recently I tried my luck at finding a good record anyway. At Goodwill whilst looking for shorts and other summer clothes, I wander to the shelf where records are kept. I gasp because I find Disintegration by The Cure. I had to pinch myself because it is in immaculate condition and was selling for $4. I am no fool and understand that this is an anomaly and the chances of me catching lightning in a bottle again are slim to none, but this doesn’t ruin the joy of finding a great record at a serious bargain. It’s as if I am 15 years old again.

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Jose Diaz

Jose Diaz

Collector of analog media.

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