In the world of retail classical recordings, evolving technologies have spawned a rapidly changing business climate whose trends have been hard to predict. The onslaught of live streaming and online sources like Spotify, iTunes and Amazon have rendered brick-and-mortar stores rarities, because the actual thing you hold in your hand that has the music on it is no longer necessary for 90% of listenable music. One change for the worse is about to take place on October 1st when the Disc Exchange on Chapman Highway closes its doors. Since 1991, lovers of music from all genres have been descending on the Exchange to feed their hungry ears. A West Knoxville location was also open from 1993-2008. The current issue of the KnoxvilleMercury has a lovely article about the Disc Exchange, with reminiscences by former and current employees.
Time was, buying NEW records (lps) of any kind was a pilgrimage. You could buy them at drug stores, at Sears, Target, or at a “record store,” but you had to GO AND GET IT. It was no mere keystroke and mouse-click. Once in possession, it was then up to you to make sure that it didn't warp or melt in your car. Growing up in Hartford, as in any medium to large city, there were a couple stores (long gone now) that had complete classical catalogs of all of the major and many of the minor labels on their shelves, arranged by catalog number. If they didn't have it, then those four dreaded words would be uttered by the salesman; “We can order it." At that point, it was customary for me to curse my procrastination, since I doubtless needed a title in just a day or two-- in time for someone's birthday or soon enough to learn something really quick.
And then there were the mail order “clubs,” like Columbia House, where you could get 13 albums for $1! (provided you bought a large number of records for a large sum of money per record over the next three years-- many consumers' first brush with debt entrapment). Their classical selection was limited to the most popular titles; you weren't going to find any Ysaye or Crumb. C House's recorded music branch went under in 2009, but there are rumblings that suggest they are going to try a comeback selling resurgent vinyl.
By 1990. the compact disc had totally supplanted the lp as the dominant recording media, with cassettes bringing up the rear but fading fast. On Knoxville's classical front, Disc Exchange had a classical listening room wherein you could try out recordings. They followed the example of Lynn's Disc and Dat, another record outlet in town which fell to the online axe in the 90s. Former KSO clarinetist Heidi Madson was an employee at Lynn's back then, and way before my time, a horn player with the KSO and "veritable vinyl junkie" named Charlie Morris worked there. Whether the store was named after the emerging, short-lived Digital Audio Tape (DAT) technology, or it was just trying to sound like Popeye and then that technology just happened to emerge, is up for discussion. The big record store chains, like Cats, Strawberries, and those places in the mall like f.y.e. had just a token representation of the classical realm.
The Disc Exchange's Rock and Pop selection is by now depleted to the point where I don't recognize ANY of the artists, and that classical-only listening room is now given over to new Pop and Indie vinyl issues. Their classical selection is still fairly strong, though, and I saw some of the 2016 Big Ears repertoire for sale there today. They have a wealth of used lps, the better to compete with McKay's Bookstore and Raven Records-- as well as most Goodwill stores-- in that niche.
So take a trip back through time and pay them a visit! Dig through some crates!