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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Shedding a Tear for the 99 Cent Bin
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I went back to Hofstra with a buddy of mine a few weeks ago to catch a football game and drive around the area looking for our old haunts. Something that quickly became clear is that things change as all of the stores we used to buy CDs at were gone. This is not a short list, either. Some we knew had died painful deaths, like Sam Goody, The Wall, Tower and The Wiz (yeah, I’m that old, I used to shop at The Wiz), but others we were downright shocked by. Two of my personal favorite places to find random used albums were Mr. Cheap’s, which we couldn’t for the life of us find on this trip, and Empire, which I had been selling CDs back to for years, including a boatload just two homecomings ago. As we passed by the strip mall that Empire used to stand so proudly in all we saw in its stead was a hollowed out shell of a store with a “For Lease” sign in one of the windows. It was a sad moment for a multitude of reasons.

It’s always hard to lose a favorite store. I had a number of fantastic finds that I purchased at Empire for anywhere from 99 cents to seven dollars and I still have fond memories of going in there once a week to search through the “just in” bins, which were completely disorganized, but gave one the chance to snatch something up before it hit the regular, alphabetized, racks. Mr. Cheap’s, although significantly smaller, had a fantastic 99 cent bin which I’d occasionally pull something interesting out of, like Richie Rich’s first album, the ironically titled Seasoned Veteran. Sadly, with the death of the record store has come the death of the 99 cent bin and this is a tragedy for us all.

I can’t imagine having the only album shopping options being Wal-Mart, FYE and online. The used CD store and the 99 cent bin are time honored traditions that we have let go by the wayside in favor or 99 cent songs on iTunes. People are paying as much for one song as I used to pay for entire albums. I’d much rather take my dollar and find something interesting that nobody else knows about than get a freaking download. Apparently I’m in the minority, though.

The fun of shopping at stores like Empire and Mr. Cheap’s was that I’d go in thinking of an artist I had seen once, late at night, on MTV or BET, and see if I could find them. It’s how I scored Bluezeum’s Portrait of a Groove when I couldn’t find it in any traditional CD stores. Mr. Cheap’s also had tapes, yes the beautiful audio cassette, and I managed to find Busta Rhymes’ The Coming for all of $2.99. One of my best stories from these stores, however, doesn’t even involve an album, it involves a poster and my freshman year roommate at Hofstra.

My roommate had this idea that Luther Vandross (rest in peace) was gay. At the time Vandross had just come out with an album titled Your Secret Love, which only added more fuel to the fire. Mr. Cheap’s used to have a large trash can with rolled up used posters, each one costing a dollar. One day I was in there with another one of my roommates (we had a suite, so we had four people living together) and we saw a promotional poster for Your Secret Love. I instantly had a horrible idea and my buddy loved it. Since my roommate thought Luther was gay my other roommate and I decided to get the poster and put it up on the ceiling over his bed. This was no easy task as I had to reach pretty high to make it happen and my buddy had to be a lookout down the hallway. We were the first room around the corner and as soon as he saw him coming I bolted into the next room. We heard him flop onto his bed and then heard… nothing. Not a peep out of him for what felt like 20 minutes. He finally came in and with a fake lisp said “thanks guys.” The really weird thing was he didn’t take the poster down for quite a while. I wonder if his current girlfriend knows that story? Oh well, she does now.

That, of course, is just one story from my 99 cent bin files. As I go through my album collection I see a number of albums that were purchased either because I really wanted them, or because I thought they’d be funny, at my used CD stores. Because of Empire and Mr. Cheap’s I own a lot of CDs I love that may have never made their way into my collection. I also own a whole lot of awful 99 cent albums that were really fun to pick up and laugh about. It’s a shame the current generation of music buyers won’t know the fun and excitement of finding something great, or just finding something random, in a 99 cent bin.

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