Dimple Records just closed its doors after 40 years in Sacramento. It’s a huge loss for folks in the area who like to get out of the house and browse for books, DVDs, vinyl, CDs, comic books, and video games. Yep, Dimple was that kind of place.
There were actually several Dimples scattered around the vicinity, but my Dimple was located out in the burbs on Arden Way. When I started visiting it was a single store, stocked mostly with CDs and movies, but it was a huge one. “Cavernous” might be an apt description, and that’s just what you could see. The store may have only been about half of the entire building, the rest dedicated to warehouse space. Eventually they carved out some of that space and made a little vinyl store with its own entrance, completely separate from but connected to the CD store. Two guys manned the record store, Ryan and Steve. Ryan was the more social of the two, and as such he was usually the guy on the register. Steve owned his own used record store prior to joining Dimple, and he put that experience to good use grading and purchasing incoming vinyl.
They were pros, the two of them. Ryan could tell you if the Minutemen album you were holding was a first pressing just by holding it. “Later pressings were on thinner vinyl,” he’d say, and there you had it. Ask Steve to name a single bearing the ATCO yellow “trumpet” label, and he’d think for a couple of seconds and rattle off a name. Their knowledge went well beyond trivia: When I swung into Dimple they almost always had something under the counter that they knew I’d want, and I can’t remember them ever being wrong. I’m sure I’m not the only record geek whose tastes they memorized.
A few years ago, Dimple added a bookstore to the Arden location. It was separated from the warehouse/store by maybe 100 feet and a doughnut shop. For reasons I still don’t know, they moved Ryan’s and Steve’s little vinyl clubhouse to the back of the new bookstore. It wasn’t the worst thing to ever happen: I still had stuff waiting for me under the counter and my buddies were still there, but the store lost a little of its feel.
That was even more true when Steve passed away suddenly. A new guy came in to help out Ryan. He was a nice guy, but he wasn’t a record guy. A question like “Who sang ‘Walk Away Renee'” or “What was the Lemon Pipers big hit? I’m blanking on the name” might elicit a shoulder shrug. Eventually that dude moved on, and Ryan’s only backup was the bookstore employees. This meant that unless Ryan was there a trip to Dimple Vinyl was no longer social, just transactional. I’d walk past the rows of bookshelves until I got to the record bins tucked in the back of the store, and then I’d thumb through the new arrivals. If I found something I wanted, I’d carry it to the bookstore counter where they’d ring me up as if I was buying groceries–no “great record” type small talk. Most days I split empty handed.
Ryan’s last day was a bummer. He probably just hit that wall that all record store guys eventually encounter, the one where you can’t listen to one more geek talk about matrix numbers or dead wax, can’t handle one more guy arguing the price of a Fugs album because “that’s a scratch, not a smudge.” Those boxes of records get heavier and heavier as the burnout presses down upon you. I’m just guessing–maybe he simply found another job. Regardless, just like I didn’t know the last time I saw Steve was going to be the last time I saw Steve, I had no idea that Ryan’s last day was Ryan’s last day. I would’ve exchanged information, offered to buy him a beer, something. From my perspective these guys were friends. I guess maybe from their side of the counter I was just a customer, I don’t know.
Dimple never hired another vinyl guy. For the last few months of the Arden store’s existence the bookstore people doubled as the vinyl folks, and they weren’t very good at it. Records were priced weird. Sometimes that worked to my advantage, but more often it didn’t. It wasn’t unusual to find a dollar record priced at five bucks, a $5 marked at ten, on and on. Rumors started circulating around town that the store was jacking up the price of its inventory to inflate the chain’s paper value, all in hopes of attracting a bigger sale price for the business. Unfortunately, the result was that they ran off their loyal vinyl buyers and never attracted a buyer for the chain.
This summer, the owners announced that after 40 years they were retiring. The next day the store was packed with hyenas tearing at the record bins like they were wounded gazelles. How do I know? Because I was right there with them. During the multi-month liquidation I bought dozens of books, probably 150 CDs, and a little bit of vinyl. Most of the good records were grabbed by pickers almost immediately. I even bought some of the art off the wall, just as a memento.
Yesterday I drove down Arden Way, past the empty shells that until last week were the two Dimple buildings separated by a doughnut shop, past the vacant Aaron Brothers location, past the empty this and the empty that. The amount of vacant commercial real estate on that road is startling. Arden Way is a very busy thoroughfare, after all. You’d think businesses would consider it prime real estate. Presumably the change is due to the internet. Why shop for movies when you can stream them? Why buy music when it is free? Why even leave your frigging house anymore?
It’s a strange new world we live in, one where we gut our local neighborhoods in favor of online convenience; one where there’s less and less chance of knowing a Ryan or a Steve who will hold a record they know you’ll like or who will help you pass a little time on a Saturday afternoon. Fortunately, I still have a local record store that doubles as a clubhouse, but for how long? What will I do when all of the places I like to hang around are gone? What will become of all of those empty buildings?
I guess there’s an idealistic version of that future, one where ugly buildings are destroyed and the land beneath them is reclaimed, reforested, something. In that version of the future, guys like me stop hanging out at places like record and bookstores in favor of something less consumer-oriented. Maybe I take up hiking or dedicate more time to writing, who knows? Maybe I’ll have a great spiritual awakening and move to an ashram.
All I know for certain is that my local landscape is changing, for better or worse. The loss of Dimple is just the most recent domino to fall. Wondering which domino falls next fills me with dread. Please don’t let it be another bookstore, another record store, another local business of any sort. I wouldn’t mind seeing a local Wal-Mart or two go under, though, unless Ryan is working there. I’d hate for my buddy to lose another job.