I used to love hanging out in record stores.

I could spend hours flipping through the albums, looking for things I knew probably weren’t there. In my regular haunts, I knew what was in the stacks well enough to notice anything new or when a familiar title went missing.

(Who bought the Desi Arnaz compilation? Why didn’t I grab it when I had the chance?)

When I went to a new city or a college town, I would sniff out a promising record store, to check out the uncharted inventory. A special rush came from seeing in real life for the first time the cover of an album that I had only read about.

Elvis Presley’s “Sun Sessions,” Magic Sam’s “West Side Soul” and “Swiss Movement” by Les McCann and Eddie Harris were important finds.

But that was a long time ago.

I realized how long last week when one of my favorite local record stores, the Portland branch of Bull Moose, announced that it would be closing its doors at the end of the month. The company said the lack of foot traffic downtown during the COVID era made it a good time to retreat.

It was like hearing that an old friend you’d fallen out of touch with had passed away.

Back when the Press Herald was still in the Press Herald building on Congress Street in Portland, I would often wander over to Bull Moose and flip through the CDs, telling myself I was “thinking.”

A few times a week, I would buy something and try to slip it into my collection without my wife noticing.

As far as she was concerned, we had enough music in the house. But I was always unsatisfied, feeling that the perfect soundtrack for our lives was within reach.

I had some obsessions: There was that weird Gypsy music phase, where I was convinced that the next CD I bought would be the one that gave our home the true feeling of Roma culture, undaunted by the fact that no one really liked the ones I’d already gotten.

Then there was a morose Frank Sinatra period, not the swinging Frank, but lugubrious albums like “In the Wee Small Hours” and “Only the Lonely.” My wallowing got so deep at one point that my then-6-year-old daughter looked me in the eye and said, “I’m glad that he’s dead.”

I bought hundreds of records – LPs, cassettes or CDs – and every one of them was my favorite for a moment. But about eight or nine years ago, they all wound up in the basement, got damaged in a flood and ended up being donated to a church bazaar.

I still listen to music, but now it’s through streaming services, which scratch conceivable every itch. If I want to dig into the early work of Ornette Coleman or find the best version of “La Cucaracha,” I can do it from my couch.

It’s hard to remember what it was like to find out about music before the internet.

If it wasn’t in the Top 40, somebody would have to tell you about it. My big sister let me listen to (but not touch!) her Bob Dylan records. I heard a snatch of a Charlie Parker tape when I was hanging out with a cooler, older friend of a friend and started researching. I stumbled onto Dr. John’s “Gumbo” album in a public library and spent years looking for the New Orleans R&B artists who’d made the original versions of songs like “Don’t You Just Know It” and “Junko Partner.”

Now any song I ever might want to hear a few clicks away, any time I want it. No record store in the world could be as big as Spotify. But there are still plenty of times when I still can’t find just the right thing I want to hear.

I haven’t thought about it in a long time, but when I heard that Bull Moose was closing, I realized that I miss hanging out in record stores.

Just like Bull Moose’s old neighbor, Videoport, which closed its doors in 2015, I got as much pleasure hunting for music or movies to rent as I did listening to and watching what I’d brought home.

There was more than “content” in those places. But I didn’t really see it until it was too late.


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