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How I Celebrate Record Store Day ... Every Day

After work, when I’m tired and grumpy and can’t face traffic, instead of stopping in a bar, I like to visit a record store. Sometimes, I head for Bloomfield to Paul’s CDs at 4526 Liberty Ave., basically catty-corner from Tessaro’s.



Photo courtesy of Mogran Cahn and Hyla Willis

Paul’s is a classic little record shop that mostly sells CDs, but also some vinyl (primarily newer LPs, believe it or not). Generally, I spend my time up front considering the current bestsellers, perusing the British rock magazines and looking through the rack of used CDs. I also walk around the store and check out the CDs that Paul Olszewski and his “co-hosts” chose to highlight on the eye-level displays. 

I’m calling the employees here co-hosts because they’re more than just sales people; they’re music lovers, musicians, tastemakers and gurus. They read reviews on pitchfork.com. They may get tired of being compared to the guys in the record store in High Fidelity, but they’re like that:  opinionated and honest.  They’ve led me to many artists that I’ve come to love. They also play a cool mix of things in the store—from bossa nova to Buddy Nutt. 

Olszewski, a Carnegie native, has owned and operated this store since Labor Day weekend 1993.  I met him when he worked at Jerry’s Fine Used Records in Oakland before the shop moved to Squirrel Hill.  Olszewski always had a soft spot for spacey, folky bands from the British Isles, and he recently admitted that Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk was one of his favorite records of all time.  In the winters especially, Olszewski sports a long beard—sort of Smith Brothers style, maybe ZZ Top would be more apropos here.

There’s been a record store in this location since 1979. Before Olszewski bought the store, it was Jim’s Records, which was founded by Jim Spitznagel.  As you walk in, there’s a red “m” in the terrazzo entryway left over from when Miller’s Shoe Store was there. Olszewski points out that many of the shelves are from that era, too.  Lots of the posters and promotional decorations are from the Spitznagel days.  “Elvis Costello has been on that wall as long as I can remember,” Olszewski says.

There’s an awareness here that this sort of store is rare these days.  “I’ve never been able to define it,” Olszewski says.  John Bell, one of the co-hosts, says, “Remember Sam Goody’s?  This is like that: A real record store where people care about music, and they weren’t just pushing product.”  Yep, this is like that. John gets fired up. “I mean, there are just special places in the world where there’s energy and magic—like Stonehenge. This is one of those places. A place where music and people come together over some deep need. The energy builds and accrues.” It’s not always so cosmic, but I agree it’s an important spot in my world.

A national Record Store Day exists to acknowledge cool shops like Paul’s. The third-annual one is April 16. “People come that day,” Olszewski explains, “to get special releases and that-day-only items, but we find it means less business before and after because people save up for Record Store Day.” I seldom get there on Saturdays, so I don’t care about that day, but I care about this store. To me, every day is Record Store Day.
 

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