I spent a disconsolate 20 minutes or so this week wandering among the half-empty shelves of the CD Plus store on Main Street.
The place is closing down, and at the tail end, now, of its liquidation sale.
The fellow at the till was being philosophical, though clearly disappointed, as he talked to a customer who was commiserating with him about the state of affairs.
“People just let these things happen,” he said. “They follow the carrot in front of their nose. That’s what they did with the music downloads. They followed the carrot in front of their nose, and they never thought that someday they wouldn’t be have any CD stores in town. And that’s what’s happened.”
Strictly speaking, that last bit is a bit of an overstatement – there are still a couple of venues around town where you can buy CD’s – but, overall, his point was well taken, particularly where smaller, more isolated towns like Whitehorse are concerned.
We are losing biodiversity in the music marketplace, and in danger of falling under the exclusive sway of marketing behemoths like iTunes and Amazon.
Not that the demise of the CD as a music medium – and its pending demise as a data recording medium, period – is necessarily such a bad thing.
Though clearly a vast improvement over the cassette tapes they replaced, compact discs never really lived up to their advance press as a robust, durable data storage a music playback system.
Pretty much all of us, I think, have seen CD’s rendered inoperable because of scratches on the playback surface, or by disc rot induced by oxidation of acidic glues.
As technology goes, they were really only a so-so innovation; the USB memory stick (and most mp3 players are really just fancy USB sticks) is vastly superior on all fronts – more portable, more durable, and less prone to faulty manufacture by shysters.
But it does not follow that the disappearance of CD music stores is an equally non-lamentable event.
Music stores, like book stores, are an important part of the cultural fabric of any community – a place where you can mingle with other enthusiasts for words or tunes, and perhaps stumble upon some book or recording you never knew you wanted until you saw it.
Whitehorse is fortunate in still having two viable bookstores (though I am sure their proprietors have their own serious challenges to face); but it is now all but destitute of music stores – and that constitutes a real social impoverishment.
There was a time, not more than half a dozen years ago or so, when we actually had it pretty good, in terms of access to music.
Those were the days when Deja Vu Records was in business of reselling used rock, blues, and pop CD’s, and Rose Music was around to sell blues, jazz and classical titles. CD Plus filled out the rest of the bill with the latest Billboard-charting releases.
It was at Deja Vu that I stumbled upon one CD Box set I hadn’t even thought I needed – the 1993 recording of Phillip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach – and bought it; and at Rose Music I stumbled on the LaSalle Quartet’s magnificent box set of performances of Beethoven’s late string quartets.
CD Plus served me for many years as a monthly or biweekly stop (usually on payday Fridays) to see what new stuff might be available from my favourite popular music artists.
With Deja Vu Records, in fact, I enjoyed the ultimate in plush customer service. The store owner (a fellow computer geek) actually tracked me in his in-store database, with automatic alerts built in so that he could notify me when a Frank Zappa CD I had not already purchased from his store came available.
If it turned out I didn’t already have the album, he would bring it down to my favourite pub after work, and I would stand him a beer and make the purchase.
Those days of plush service and unexpected pleasures are over, now.
Instead, I will be conducting online text searches for things I think I need, and probably missing all kinds of musical pleasures that would have come to me by chance encounter on the shelf of a music store.
The situation in Whitehorse is hardly unique in this kind of cultural deprivation, of course; small record stores are going out of business all over the country, and all over the digitized world.
We are not even unique in losing our CD Plus store in particular.
A quick Google search for “CD Plus closure” brought up news stories (though none from Whitehorse) about as many as half a dozen CD Plus store closures from Winnipeg, Manitoba to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, all within the past eighteen months or so.
In larger metropolitan areas, these closures are not so dire in effect. The larger market size means that at least a few music stores are going to be able to survive, at least for the foreseeable future; in smaller or more isolated communities like ours, however, the loss is going to be felt more completely and acutely.
I was feeling the loss already, looking at all those forlorn, empty CD shelves.
So long, CD Plus, gonna miss ya. Sorry about that carrot in front of my nose I was following around, recently.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.