As a child, my favorite store to hang out and just browse all the cool shit was the hobby store at Capital Court mall. It was called The Hobby Horse, I beleive. Both it and the mall are long gone, just childhood memories now.
But back then I was into plastic modeling and racing HO cars (those little slot car racers made by Aurora). HO cars, like trains, were a huge fad back in the 1960s. Unlike today, where you get a cheap race track set for a few bucks that runs on batteries, has crappy cars that won’t stay on the track or even run half the time, and you end up throwing the whole piece of shit in the trash in a month, the HO cars of the ’60s were well-made, durable, and customizable.
Everything on the car, from the chassis itself, to the wheels, magnets, bushings, and the conductor rails, were replaceable with higher end accessories designed to give you an edge in a race. (I still have my cars and parts.)
Many a Saturday afternoon was spent in the Hobby Horse just window shopping for all the latest car designs or the newest plastic model kits.
Then, sometime around when I was 14 or 15-year-old, my tastes drastically changed. It happened when I heard my first Black Sabbath album and read my first fantasy novel (Tarzan or Conan, can’t remember which was first). My new favorite stores to browse in became Walden Books and 1812 Overture, a record store on the corner near my home (as well as downtown’s Radio Doctors).
I’d spend hours at each, just browsing, picking up books that caught my attention, or flipping through records in the bins. Walden’s then had a great selection of current books in the science fiction, fantasy, and pulp adventure reprints. Back then, it seemed like every visit brought a plethora of new paperbacks that smelled fresh off the presses: a new Doc Savage, The Shadow, Tarzan, or Conan.
And the record store as well was an aural and visual delight. The store’s staff always had some new music playing and just browsing through the bins was an adventure. This was back when album covers were truly worthy of being called art. Many artists of the day created some frame-worthy pieces, most notably Roger Dean.
Then in the 1980s, the VCR became affordable for consumers and video stores opened up, like Suncoast Pictures, where you could go and browse for your favorite movies, TV shows, or musicals, and to reserve copies of the newest upcoming releases. Browsing a Suncoast was a movie-goers dream: they offered not only videos, but posters and other Hollywood memorabilia.
For many of us, browsing is a thing. We could spend hours sifting through records, or videos, or perusing books. It was a truly enjoyable experience and one that has in many cases gone away.
Today, everything is digitized and available on the Internet.
Record stores are just a memory. No one buys albums any more (except for the current nostalgic fad). Music is just a bunch of binary 1s and 0s and album art is also a thing of the past. I mean seriously, is it possible to appreciate a postage-sized graphic representation the way we could a 12 inch by 12 inch gorgeous piece of artwork?
Video stores are all gone and book stores, like Walden, B. Dalton, and Borders are all out of business. Only Barnes and Noble survives, but they’re becoming just a shadow of their former self, catering less to bibliophiles and becoming more of a gift shop, specializing in action figures, Legos, and manga. For book browsers like me, a trip to B&N takes mere minutes now.
For those of us who love to browse, the Internet and digital technology is our bane. Its sad because people need that adventure of discovering new music, or a new author, or what have you, that only comes from physically holding the object, enjoying the tactile feel, appreciating the visual aesthetics, reading the cover blurbs or liner notes. You can’t do that online, not like in real life.
In comparison, online shopping is one-dimensional. You can only see what they want you to see. The experience is static, artificial, and unfulfilling. Maybe one day businesses will realize this and attempt to give customers more of the old-fashioned, hands-on shopping experience. Sure, they’ll never return to brick and mortar stores, those are proving to be too inefficient, but maybe three-dimensional holographic stores could be the answer. With a pair of glasses, you can log-on to Amazon (or online retailer of choice), choose books or music, and voila! You’re transported to a virtual bookstore, with shelves lined with books, just like the good old days, and you can pick them up, look at the front and back, open them, peruse them, and discover books you wouldn’t have just scrolling through page after page online.
Maybe. One day.
A fella can dream, can’t he?
But, until that day, at least I still have guitar stores to go to and browse.