Our favorite shops

RequestsWhen I travel or go anywhere new, really, I always make it my main goal to find a record store. Remember those? I’m sure that anyone living in New York or Los Angeles knows what I’m talking about. Other places perhaps not so much, as they are fading away, replaced by a computer application or a megastore with the cheapest prices and cheapest selection. I was lucky then to find Requests Music in Wailuku, Hawaii, which is, they claim, the only “record store” on the island of Maui.

It was a Monday and the family and I drove back across the island to get some food and a few other things. But first on my mind was getting to Requests. We came up on it; I parked the car and strolled up to discover it was CLOSED for President’s Day! I actually hit them up on Twitter (@RequestsHI) and returned the next day. I’m glad I did.

There were CDs lining the walls, boxes on top of boxes of used discs. In the center of the store there were racks of CDs, tons of Hip Hop, tons of Reggae and tons of Hawaiian music. There were LPs everywhere and the place just smelled like vinyl, that warm, musty smell of age that you get when you crack open a box in the garage. Two big speakers were playing some cosmic jazz and then some heavy old R&B. The stairs to the basement offered a chance to sift through the unfiled stacks of LPs underground. I stayed away from the basement, as you can’t be carrying a suitcase full of LPs while traveling.

The store has been in the same location for twenty years, no small feat for any retail location, let alone a record store in the year 2010. I hope it stays there another 20. Once you strolled in the big double doors you’re surrounded by music of all sorts, you feel at ease and at home and ready for everything you could possibly find. My wife can always tell when I leave a good record store because my response is consistent. “The store looks good.” Doesn’t really sound like much but I don’t say it often. I say that because I have been in too many stores that don’t look good. You know instantly when a store is empty and unloved. My beloved JAM music, the last time I shopped it before it closed, didn’t look good. There was stuff there I bought but on the whole you just know when a store is good and when a store is ill.

What makes a store is the appearance and the selection, the feeling of getting lost, and the conversations. I talked and talked with the guy behind the counter, he was helpful and friendly and just very easy to deal with. This is where iTunes fails. I can read 1700 album reviews and see how many people LOVED the music, but how helpful is that? By talking with an actual person you get their energy, their thoughts and you can tell by their body language that something has touched him in a deep and profound way. Working behind the counter, you build a relationship with your customers. You come to respect their preferences and if you are lucky they are influenced by your tastes and recommendations. I spent hours talking up rap music and the debate surrounding it with a few cats in 1995. They’d come in, two black dudes, and we would shoot the shit about it. The store was empty, sadly, and we could do that. When the first Best Buy opened in Okemos in late 1995 I wandered in and saw one of the two guys working there. He saw me, ran up and gave me a big hug and welcomed me to his musical playground. I didn’t even know his name, I don’t think he knew mine, but in our conversations we found common ground. I never saw him again but I felt like I had done something right in that moment. At the bookstore where I worked I only had five consistent customers but I still remember their names and I miss the interactions I had with them when they would shop my section.

What made Requests so great to me was more than just the selection or the smell; it was the sum of the whole. The combination of everything that being a record store is and was for so long. It was instantly comfortable, instantly fun, and instantly addictive. I don’t believe in Heaven, but goddamn it was close.

2 Responses to “Our favorite shops”
  1. Dennie Chong says:

    Great story and video! Thanks for sharing. Are you based in Maui? I wasn’t able to tell from browsing quickly through your blog/website.


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