Curate me! Why small is awesome.

Rough Trade Records W11 by Jamie Barras
Rough Trade Records W11, a photo by Jamie Barras on Flickr.

A while back I mentioned that I prefer small, curated record shops to big, expansive ones. Tara wanted to know why. Well, here you go!

This is the store front of the (almost) original Rough Trade. It’s in Kensington and is tiny. I first visited it in 2001 and was suitably gob smacked. It was a pilgrimage of sorts, and I promptly spent all my money on records to haul back to Berkeley. Thankfully they threw in a record bag because there was no way I could carry it all home with me otherwise.

Despite the shop being small and cramped, everything in there was class. I felt safe buying things I wasn’t familiar with because I trusted the people who stocked the shop. This has been true for lots of other small shops I’ve grown to love – Phono Select, 1234 Go!, Mississippi Records, Vinyl Conflict, and Smash Records are but a few.

They’re not like the Amoebas or Towers (RIP), that try to be all things to all people. They stick with a small vein and go deep, which makes them more useful for my interests and collecting. I don’t want to sift through cheap copies of Phil Collins or Pete Seeger albums when I really just want 60s garage, punk, or garage punk.

This is the same reason people like special collections. My library just cares about transportation. Nothing else. We focus on the subject and make sure we have the quality material researchers want and need. We know the subject intimately well. So when people ask us about concrete, I can speak a little to it (sort of like when people ask me about synthpop), but really cannot speak from an area of expertise. Our collection is not very robust in that area. However, if you want to get into traffic flow theory, I can bring out some deep tracks.

So in short – I like curated record shops for the reasons I like special libraries. They’re cared for, there’s a lot of trust, and saves time digging through junk.

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