To Thrift or Not To Thrift: 33 RPMs of futility

Thrift shop recordsOf my many stupid habits, few are more ill-advised than hoarding record albums. If you're considering the hobby -- maybe you dig on old music, perhaps today's bands just aren't cutting it for you -- forget it. The ends do not justify the means.

Sure, you can snag a thrift shop record for the cost of a single iTunes download, maybe your more charitable friends will be mildly charmed by your quirky collection. See if you can get those friends to help you schlep ten or twenty crates of those weighty nightmares when moving day rolls around.

Alas, if you do take up this ridiculous pastime, don't bother hitting thrift stores, it's just a waste of time and handsoap. For return on investment, there are few activities less rewarding than digging around on your hands and knees through bins of dirty, flaking, moldy, decaying record albums, dreaming that you're gonna come up with anything that will redeem the cardboard flecks covering your good coat, the dust assault on your sinuses, the mysterious hair that gets in your mouth, the spiders and their webs.

Thrift shop records Of course, for all my kvetching, none of that has sufficed to put me off flipping through virtually every record for sale anytime I'm at a Goodwill. But it's always the same flaccid collection, every shop I've ever been in, and probably every shop I'll never visit. Mario Lanza, Boston Pops, Flashdance soundtrack, laser disc (does anyone still have a laser disc player?), unlistenable promotional dance single, 50 more unlistenable promotional dance singles, Ben Hur soundtrack... ah, James Brown! Nope, empty James Brown sleeve. Sigh... Andre Kostelanetz, another laser disc, and so forth and so on and so forth and so on and on and on and on and on.

It's not like you don't have alternatives, if you're determined to keep your turntable around. For example:

Flea markets. The conditions at most flea markets are no less deplorable or disorganized, but your typical flea marketeer is at least looking to make it worth his or her while, so the catalog will be a little deeper, somewhat higher quality, and the records usually won't be completely torn up. I used to spend between $40 and $70 several times a month at the Raleigh, NC, state fairgrounds flea market, before the seller, the great and knowledgeable Gene Scott, closed up shop and reclaimed his weekends.

Local used record shops. I've lived in college towns half my life, populated with used book and music stores, most of which I hit regularly. Your better stores' record catalogs get more and more discriminating, not to mention alphabetized (and sorted by genre, even), but you'll pay a little more for the perks. Plus there's the added feature of trading in last week's lemons for some new records. If you're hunting for rarities, they've become easier to find, which is good, but in this internet age, shops are also more likely to know when they're holding something special, so don't expect to catch too many deals.

eBay. Records all over the place, and anything you're looking for will show up within a month's time. But bring your checkbook -- the eBay marketplace knows acutely what something's worth. Use eBay's "Buy It Now " premium price option if you spot a steal. Keep an eye out for attractive lots that may yield more for your record-digging dollar.

If you bothered to read this far, I wish you all the luck in the world. You're going to need it.

This post was written as part of a series on how to thrift shop smarter. Read more on what to buy, and not to buy, at thrift stores.

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