“Music is an important part of our culture and record stores play a vital part in keeping the power of music alive.” – Chuck Berry
As a lover of all things music, independent record stores are at the top of the list when I think of music in general. 10 years ago there was a possibility that record stores would be wiped out. The liquidation of Tower Records in 2006 had many thinking the independents would rise up, but quite the opposite happened. We saw many independent stores close due to the rise in online shopping and the digital music marketplace. During this time the economy wasn’t in a great state and extra spending was minimal. Yet, to raise awareness of the dying breed of independent record stores, Record Store Day was created. I can’t say it was the superhero to saving all record stores, but Record Store Day did help stop the bleeding in more ways than one. With the awareness of the independent record stores and the sudden surge in vinyl, independent record stores started to flourish. Any store that would close from here on out was on their own terms, and that is the case of Play It Again in Bethlehem, PA.
Growing up, I was blessed to live within walking distance of at least three record stores, five record stores within a 20 mile radius of driving. If one didn’t have what I was looking for, I’d just walk to the next. I look back on those walking trips and stores as what made me who I am today, and that will never go away. My two “go to” stores were Compact Disc Center on the north side of Bethlehem and Play It Again on the sketchy south side of Bethlehem. Both stores had different qualities, Compact Disc Center was more modern and kept up to date on new releases, wide variety, and good pricing. Play It Again on the other hand didn’t have ever new release, but I could always rely on them on having the most hard to find, obscure, weird selection than any other record store around me.
For over 15 years Play It Again was always my record store I could count on. Even if I didn’t have an idea as to what to buy, I knew I would walk out with something new and different. My first visit was actually forced on me by a girl who wanted to hang out with me. I had reservations with the girl and Play It Again due to the horror stories my parents told me of south side Bethlehem. She actually lied to me and said they sold merchandise of the band Showoff there, she knew that would get me. I went, but there was no merchandise, she said that it must have sold out already. Yeah, in a span of 30 minutes. Play It Again would last longer in my life than that girl though. That day I spent about two hours going through their shelves and being amazed at the selection they had. So many albums to purchase, but I only had enough for one. I made it simple, I just started with the “A”‘s and picked up The Ataris – Blue Skies, Broken Hearts…Next 12 Exits.
From then on, I started saving more money and making more trips to Play It Again. My $25 allowance every two weeks wasn’t enough. Play It Again had cheap prices, but I needed more money. My plan became that my $3 lunch money would only be spent on a $1 can of Pringles, the other $2 was saved for music. Probably not the smartest idea, but I was young and spending money on music was better than the list of other things kids would buy. To this day, I am amazed at how much music I bought during my youth with limited funds. You have to remember this was pre-internet craze where music was consumed for free. Even then, I still buy music at the Mom & Pop record stores. It just feels right.
As I grew older, my taste in music changed, but going to Play It Again stayed the same. I still remember walking the 1.5 miles to Play It Again in the dead of winter with snow everywhere to pick up Five Iron Frenzy – Electric Boogaloo 2. Or when I bought Alkaline Trio self titled and was trailed on my way home by three people until I walked only on the main roads. While hanging out with friends in the warm summer days, we always made trips to Play It Again because the walk was nice to talk about problems, girls, etc. and we always walked away with a purchase that helped us know a little bit more about who we are.
Now, after 35 years owner Joe Hanna is closing shop. However, from articles I read Joe isn’t closing due to finances or the ever changing music market. No, Joe seems to be letting the business go on his terms. Sometimes in life we just decide it’s time to move on. As of today a pizza joint now sits in Play It Again’s space. I can’t be mad at this for multiple of reasons, but I will say this. Even though Play It Again is gone, I will always remember the excitement I felt every time I entered to pick up music. Without Play It Again, my music knowledge, youth, and the bonding time with friends wouldn’t have existed. Thank you Joe and Play It Again, you helped shape who I am today.