Here’s a tale that’s been spun countless times for more than three decades: modern technology has made it incredibly easy to listen to our favorite music, anywhere and anytime, with good sound quality and less than a fortune in our pockets. Why, then, do so many of us still crave those old 45- and 33⅓-RPM vinyl records that invariably got scratched and chipped and ended up hissing like a tone-deaf snake?
It’s not only the records themselves that Connecticut residents of a certain age miss, but also the artwork on the album covers, the liner notes inside — and those great ol’ record stores where we used to buy them, our own private dens of musical delight, where we made all the decisions, not our parents.
We can still find a few places in Connecticut that sell or special-order old vinyl records (along with turntables, headphones, shirts and other items from the aesthetic to the nostalgic). It’s also possible to purchase almost any record online, no matter how wildly popular or downright obscure. But the record stores we remember from days gone by have gone by forever.
In the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s, there were many of them. A few were part of big chains, like Sam Goody, but there were plenty of smaller regional chains, and even more independents. Who can forget the posters on the walls? Everything from Led Zeppelin to the Osmond Brothers. Listening booths were popular. Most stores played music, from rock to blues, from pop to jazz. Many sales associates were delightfully helpful. Others not so much.
Just hearing the old names conjures up memories for customers and former employees: Cutler’s and Rhymes Records in New Haven; Marty’s Music Mart in Bloomfield; Al Franklin’s Musical World at the Hartford Civic Center; Sally’s Place in Westport; Coconuts in West Hartford; Karl Graff’s Record Center in Trumbull; Integrity ’N Music in Wethersfield …
Many towns had more than one. Take Avon. Though it essentially had just one commercial avenue, there were two competing music stores right across the street from each other, Strawberries and HMV, both chain outlets. Like many of the groups whose records were sold there, HMV (which stood for His Majesty’s Voice) originated in England, though it didn’t get to town until the early ’90s. Strawberries had a dubious history, with alleged underworld ties. “I went to Strawberries at least once a week, until my friends and I could drive,” recalls Karyn Dufresne, who grew up in Simsbury. “Once we could drive, we went even more often!”
Dufresne, who now lives in Massachusetts, says it was probably a good thing that she knew exactly what she wanted whenever she stopped in because “from what I recall, the staff wasn’t too helpful. Mostly they were young people who only cared about their social lives.”
That doesn’t appear to have been the case at Cutler’s. “Cutler’s was my favorite record store growing up in the ’60s,” says Douglas Snyder, who in 1989 opened a used disc shop called Replay Records, still in operation today in Hamden. “Cutler’s was a wonderful family-owned business, and the staff was incredibly knowledgeable.”
Replay took the place of another popular New Haven destination, Festoon’s Records, which Snyder, who eventually became a recording engineer, managed for a while. But it was his experience as a devoted Cutler’s customer that sparked his entrepreneurial spirit. “I remember asking the owner, Jason Cutler, what was new, and usually he mentioned something that was absolutely worth buying. I heard my first Steppenwolf album in a Cutler’s sound booth.”
Marty Grossman, the music lover who founded Marty’s, may personally have preferred Miles Davis’ “My Funny Valentine” over Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” but that was the great thing about records stores: they carried everything!
One of Marty’s earliest jobs was managing the record department at E. J. Korvette in Hartford. “When the store closed in 1970, my sister, mother and I begged him to chase his dream,” says his son, Marshall. “In 1971 he opened Marty’s in Bloomfield, close to when Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ was released. Talk about good timing!” Having a dad in the record business, he says, was like being a kid in a candy store, except the candy was made of vinyl. The entire Grossman family worked at Marty’s until it closed in 1982. Marshall has many fond memories, including a customer named Ginny who seemed interested in only one thing — the liner notes on jazz albums. Marshall married her anyway.
Some things do last, like enduring marriages and old records. Dennis Udice, a retired musical instrument sales manager, takes advantage of that fact by selling old records on eBay. He knows the record world well, having been the manager of Al Franklin’s Musical World in Hartford from 1975 to 1982. “The sound on the old LPs was amazing,” Udice reflects. “So was the artwork. To be able to discover something new and exciting was always a big deal. But in the early ’80s, CDs changed the business dramatically, and then the internet put most stores out of business.”
Remarkably, some kept on spinning through the challenging times, and a few were brave enough to start up even after CDs took over, like Replay, Exile on Main Street in Branford, and Sally’s in Westport, which opened in 1985. Sally White first worked at a Westport music store called Melody House. When that closed, she was offered a job running the record department at nearby Klein’s department store. When Klein’s closed, she decided to open her own place. “Sally was gregarious when she greeted customers, regardless of their age,” recalls Tim Woodruff, a municipal consultant in Virginia who grew up in Westport. “She had a great laugh and a happy remark for everyone who walked in. She had an enormous following of music-loving patrons all across the region.”
Sally was indeed a local icon, and many articles were written about her even before her store closed in 2013. Woodruff recalls that when he left town for UConn in 1976, he turned to a store there called The Disc in Storrs — but he never, ever forgot Sally in Westport.