Record Store Ran Out of Ways to Compete

By ALBERT MCKEON Telegraph Staff Writer

NASHUA – Bolstered by anarchistic snarls and guitar chords, a wave of punk rockers catapulted to the top of the rock scene in the late 1970s, capturing the attention of a young Hayden Crilley.

Groups like The Clash, Generation X, and a decidedly neo-punk Irish quartet called U2 enthused Crilley so much that in 1980 he opened a record store in Saugus, Mass.

With a partner, Crilley ran Rockit Records until 1984, when he split the business tandem and opened another store by the same name in Nashua. By then, only U2 had survived the fickle ways of the music industry, becoming more of a mainstream band while nonconformists like The Sex Pistols broke up instead of buckling to market trends.

Now flash forward 16 years to last Wednesday morning and through even more shifts in the music landscape – rap, heavy metal, grunge and techno.

Crilley has stopped dashing around his store, having turned on the lights and cash register, and finished dealing with a delivery man. He looks at one of the large wooden bins that hold stacks of compact discs and somewhat wistfully recalls when most of his store space held piles of vinyl records.

His hand sweeps by a poster promoting the latest U2 release, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” The boys from Dublin are bringing their music to yet another generation, but Crilley won’t be there to help.

He will close his store at 293 Daniel Webster Highway next Sunday, pinning the end of his business on one too many industry revolutions.

Not only has the music changed, but the methods used to deliver it have been reformed as well. Internet music sites, compact disc burning and computerized inventory tabulations have all but eliminated any future niches for Rockit to carve out.

“Everything I saw as an advantage has been taken out, one by one,” Crilley said.

The computer age has ended the need for a record store that made its mark selling rare and hard-to-find merchandise, independent label releases and imported discs, Crilley said.

For years, that mark gave Rockit an advantage over most record stores, he said.

Long before record sellers began computerizing their inventory, album release dates were never really solidified. As a result, some record stores wouldn’t have an album until long after its release, Crilley said.

Rockit leaped at the chance and got an album (a designation for vinyl LPs that has since vanished with the CD) before any one else, Crilley said. And the store specialized in scoring European albums months before their American release, he said.

The next revolution sounded with the CD. Not only did Crilley have to rearrange his store to accommodate this new advancement – dwindling his vinyl selections to a small space – but he also lost his drawing card as a quick provider of goods.

“The CD brought along the big boys,” Crilley said of stores like the now-defunct Lechmere and mega-retail outfits like Best Buy that sell mass quantities of music. “The industry then standardized the release date with the CD.”

With other stores now on the same par with merchandise, Rockit strove to maintain its feel as a “working man’s record store,” Crilley said. Shoppers could still depend on a knowledgeable sales staff that knew music, unlike employees at big chain stores, he said.

But Rockit’s days finally became numbered with the recent advent of Internet music exchange forums and the marketing of CD burners, with which people can copy songs from different releases onto one disc. “Music as a free concept is rising,” Crilley said. “I would overhear people saying, ‘Don’t buy that I can burn it at home.’”

Crilley has seen his business drop about 12 percent in the past year. Although he could have remained open for a few more years, Crilley figured he’d get out while the going was good.

“Clearly, I know there will be more downward movement in 2001,” he said. “I figured there was no point in continuing a fight against this rear-guard action.”

News of Rockit’s closing has shocked many of its customers, Crilley said. “It’s been wonderful to have that kind of testimony. I can only thank all my customers for their support.”

Merrimack resident Dan Lord remembers when Rockit first moved into its Daniel Webster Highway location. He continued shopping there even with the 1990 opening of the chain store Newbury Comics across the street.

“They had everything, dude,” Lord said of Rockit. “They had imports you couldn’t get anywhere else.”

Crilley will now pull out his vinyl collection and other products he’s stored for a final clearance sale.

Personally, he won’t miss the business. He’s looking forward to a long vacation and pursuit of interests in aviation and bicycling.

But Crilley won’t forget moments like the store’s occasional midnight sales, when Rockit sold a new release just as it was legally available. That’s when music fans displayed their true devotion to their favorite artists, he said. “The night the first four Beatles CDs came out, we had guys waiting outside late at night. And you know they had to be at work later that morning.”

He paused and added moments later: “Twenty years is a damn good run. I’m happy so many people appreciated the store.”

© 2001, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire

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