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No fidelity
Disc Diggers closes as local used-record stores struggle with the digital age

Perhaps the best description of the idiosyncratic and amusing workings of that strange yet wonderful retail animal known as the used-record store can be found in the pages of the first novel that brought British writer Nick Hornby American acclaim. Named after an Elvis Costello song and set in struggling used-record store, High Fidelity is a coming-of-age tale of sorts. But over the course of the novel, the store itself takes on a personality all its own and becomes a character filled with characters ó a safe haven for a small group of misfits whose identities are linked to music as a way of life as they soldier on, shielding themselves from the encroaching digital world with vinyl LPs and finding purpose in anointing themselves as protectors of real rock and roll (and the jazz and blues and country that fed its development).

High Fidelity was eventually made into a film that did its best to convey the subtleties of Hornbyís book. But thereís a much easier way to experience the dynamic described in High Fidelity ó just start visiting any of the handful of used-record stores that dot Greater Boston. Before long, youíll get a feel not just for the kind of music the store carries but for how various clerks and regulars regard the current state of music, for what their favorite new releases are. And if youíre lucky, youíll begin making discoveries of your own. At some point, a few years down the line, you may even realize that youíve accumulated the beginnings of your own used-record store as your collection grows. Itís a way of life, really. And like any relationship, itís a commitment that comes with built-in highs and lows. But in a year when Appleís iPod was the "hot" holiday gift that, like last yearís Playstation 2, blew out the doors of Best Buys everywhere, the low took the form of the closing of Disc Diggers, a landmark in Somervilleís Davis Square that survived the ups and downs of two decades only to reach the conclusion that the cost of operating a brick-and-mortar store no longer makes sense when you can sell your stock on-line. Donít get me wrong: change is good. Bidding on eBay auctions and downloading are both great new features of the changing world of music. But to anyone who came of age in the post-punk world of all-ages shows, college radio, indie labels, and used-record stores, it was hard not to feel that the invisible hand of Adam Smith had raised its middle finger and aimed it directly at something near and dear.

I was one of the people who frequented Disc Diggers on Saturdays, which seemed to be the best time to hang out and talk about new releases while running into various people from the local music scene. At first, it was just the most convenient used-record store for me to get to, but over time, I got to know the people behind the counter and developed a loyalty to the store. About a decade ago, Disc Diggers also became the first big used-record store to get rid of vinyl ó a controversial move, but one that simplified business both for the store and for people like me, whose allegiance to vinyl had been overcome by the convenience of the CD and the explosion of deluxe CD reissues. (Most of the major used-record stores in town still sell vinyl, and the re-emergence of hip-hop DJ culture has done a lot to keep the vinyl market alive and kicking.)

But as of January 1, Disc Diggers closed its doors to the public and became the first used-record store in town to concede to the realities of the digital age. "A lot of things contributed to making our store disappear," says Michael Soria, who moved to Boston from Michigan in 1982 to work at Nuggets, a used-record store that still does business in Kenmore Square, then joined the Disc Diggers staff in 1985, shortly after the store opened, as the storeís main buyer, a position he holds to this day. "I started working at record stores in 1975, when I was an art student in college. A friend of a friend had a store, he looked at my record collection, and he hired me based on that. It was in a mall and the Eagles were big and all that. But I still remember looking through the singles rack in, it must have been 1977, and seeing a record called ĎPsycho Killerí by Talking Heads. Something about it caught my eye, so I played it, and that record basically changed my life. After that, it was Elvis Costello and the B-52ís and Devo and Blondie and the Ramones. . . . And from the mall store in Grand Rapids, I got a job at a hipper store where we actually sold a fanzine called Boston Rock. That was my introduction to the Boston music scene. Nuggets offered me a job over the phone. And there was nothing like working at Nuggets in Kenmore Square in the early í80s. Bands playing at the Rat would always come in, like Henry Rollins would stop by, and if you worked in a used-record store, then you were automatically all right. There was also Spit [now Axis] around the corner, so a lot of bands came through that part of town. It was a real cool scene. Weíd get out of work and go to the Rat or Spit. But thatís where everyone would hook up, you know, at the record store. I always worked on Saturdays, because thatís the day when everyone came in. Some of my best friends in town I met in Kenmore Square on Saturdays."

Soriaís manager at Nuggets, Rob Hart, went on to start Disc Diggers in Davis Square long before that location was the hot spot itís become. Hart, who owns Disc Diggers to this day, brought Soria and a number of other Nuggets employees over to Davis Square with him. And as the Square evolved, Disc Diggers became more and more a part of a scene, with band practice space and a lo-fi recording studio in the basement and a loyal base of people who came around ó often on Saturdays ó to buy, sell, or just hang out and listen to whatever Soria and his crew had on the stereo. But as Soria recounts, "It was about five years ago that our numbers started dropping by 15 or 20 percent a year. A lot of it had to do with changes in the record industry. I mean, it used to be that you could sell tons of copies of a record to young kids by just playing it in the store. But I donít think young kids care about music the way they used to. Itís not the rebellious thing that it once was. And there are so many other distractions. Our client base went from younger college kids to people in their 30s and 40s, you know, people who want to have the CD and donít want to just download the song."

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Issue Date: January 14 - 20, 2005
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