I went to the mall yesterday, mostly because after finishing shopping for Sweetiepig's produce, I needed a safe area to turn my motorized vehicle around without careening off a slick cloverleaf...and I wanted to see if I could persuade myself to look for new pants, as they no longer make the Claiborne 100% polyester pants I've worn for the last decade. Heck, I followed the label to JC Penney, which is quite honestly my least favorite store humanly possible to anchor a mall. But I suffered through confusing pricing and sloppy stores, though I was impressed how with death at the doorstep, they've cut down merchandise and almost made the store presentable, less a K-Mart and more a Sears.
But walking through the mall, I stopped at two stores, FYE and Barnes and Noble. Being a tertiary mall, there is not a lot to enjoy, but I always enjoy a quick look at overpriced CDs, DVDs and books, knowing that basically anything I find not marked 75% off can be bought at Amazon, though I've been known to break for a full price book from time to time at Barnes and Noble...and appreciate the role they've taken on as a public square, while other public places shrink away.
More importantly than this prattling, I was struck by the following thought, first in FYE, then in Barnes and Noble. "What is the oldest new item for sale in this store?" The fact that someone might have bought Use Your Illusion 2 on release day in 1991 and convinced themselves 22 years later to let it go is noteworthy, foolish, but noteworthy. The real question lies in how long a piece of merchandise, long since written off at the corporate level, remains on the shelves of the store, just waiting to be purchased.
With Barnes and Noble, I felt fairly confident there was a book printed 15 years ago, bought to open the store, back when bookstores were still a going concern, just waiting to be purchased. Bookstores, especially Barnes and Nobles, have tremendous selection for a physical location. I would think there are at least 100,000 books in the store, even a small Barnes and Noble like this store. And as much as I would like to think otherwise, there has to be, hidden away in one of the fiction/literature or self improvement sections, a book that was there when the store opened and could be purchased today if I so chose...and could identify such a precious tome.
But with FYE, I was uncertain. The DVDs were automatically ruled out as the oldest item for sale in the store. DVDs didn't become popular until the late 1990s and early 2000s and were rivaled by VHS tapes back in the day. CDs though have not changed that much.
Originally CDs came in those gigantic, white cardboard sleeves, which contained the same case you receive today, should you have the heart and desire to purchase a CD. I took a non-thorough inventory of the store and did not see any tell-tale white sleeves, which would make sense, since the security measures added to these stores were remarkably similar to the original packaging. At first, I thought no white packages would be from at least the early 1990s, but I could also see some assistant manager announcing back in 1996, "We have a project. You need to remove all of these CDs from their original white packages and move them into these protective plastic packages to aid in loss prevention and provide uniformity throughout the store. We need to have pride in our jobs, people." God, this sounds like a lousy job. I've asked people to do terrible things, but never something as soul draining as opening and repackaging CDs.
I mean, is there a copy of Blood, Sugar, Sex and Magic from the original order, just sitting in the store after 22 years. I paid a dollar for my copy at a garage sale, which was a fair price in 1999, but imagine looking at the $18.99 CD and saying, "You know, I don't listen to Under the Bridge enough." and taking that plunge, only to find out that it was sitting there for the time it takes a person to be born and graduate college?
Actually, I bought a copy of One Inch Masters by Gashuffer CD at a used record store in Philadelphia last year for $1.99. I listened to about three songs on it, before not liking it, but I was totally impressed that the original flyer, showing all of the Epitaph offerings from their early years was still in the package. I would swear, someone at best opened it, never listened to it, then sold it 15 years later, waiting for me to blow two bucks on a CD. It was worth it for the flyer alone. But it's also a different context and culture.
FYE is about mass consumption, conspicuously placed in the mall, getting the latest and greatest item possible. The indy record store is all about the find, the score, the little victory, finding something old is good, because you can't get it anywhere else. It's a badge of honor from a bygone era less than a generation ago. But man, I just want to know how long something can sit in stock at a FYE...it kills me knowing I will never know what was left behind by the last generation for this generation...even at FYE.