That slight scratching sound the needle makes when you gently place it on the record. The brief static that comes through the speakers before the music hits. Then: bam! Just like magic, music emerges from my vintage suitcase record player, sounding like nothing else. It was my mother’s. She gave it to me when I was a child, and I was immediately drawn to it. Surely the ’70s rainbow design on the inside lid was the initial culprit. After digging through her Heart albums I found Peter Frampton Comes Alive. Intrigued, I needed to find more records like that. It was in this moment that I felt my vinyl obsession begin.
Throughout the years since receiving the record player, I’ve browsed around every time I’m at a flea market, tag sale, or vinyl shop. Plenty of days were made just to find that missing Pink Floyd album for my collection, or that rare Frank Sinatra that my Memere used to listen to. When I flip through and stop at a specific album I had on my wish list, I leave feeling like I’ve found a hidden gem.
Since digital downloads came around, physical forms of music has become difficult to find. I went to a few stores recently to buy the new Radiohead album on vinyl or CD to listen to in my car. No one had it, but Amazon did. Buying something like that through a huge corporation — and online, at that — just defeats the whole purpose of wanting to go into an actual music shop, then having the excuse to browse around for something else since you’re there. However, there are still some places where you can find it all.
On March 1, Electric Eye Records in Florence opened its doors and became one of those places. Upon walking into the store for the first time, I immediately feel overwhelmed. A sense of nostalgia mixed with comfort as all the records and vintage toys stared at me. It was hard to pick a starting point to venture off to. It’s small and intimate, yet boasts an elaborate collection of vinyl I hadn’t seen in other stores.
Andy Crespo, who used to work as a printing press operator, started Electric Eye purely out of passion. With no background in operating a business, he felt it was a hurried and pretty hard transition. “It was a passionate hobby,” he says.
Crespo has sold records online and collected them his whole life. He says he is also named the “local longtime go-to weird bass player” in the Valley with multiple projects, and he digs listening to James Brown, ’70s jazz, and hardcore punk.
Every business name is important and need to stand out to get attention. The name of this store was birthed from two different names Crespo had originally pegged that no one else ended up liking: Electric Eel, “because I could see the Eel mascot in my mind,” Crespo says, and T.V. Eye, after the Stooges song. “So it’s a combination and a compromise. But I think it worked out well.”
In the past couple of years, new businesses have been popping up in downtown Florence. It is becoming a new cultural venture to frequent, avoiding the congestion of downtown Northampton, with Florence Pie Bar for an array of delicious pie, the 13th Floor Music Lounge for more of an underground-style live music venue, and now Electric Eye, to name a few. “I love Florence — it’s wonderful and it allowed me to do this,” Crespo says.
Although Crespo is the sole provider for the store, he does have a handful of consignors to help keep the store full, all of whom are close friends.
“You need more people to find out about this place,” Crespo’s good friend John Maloney says during my visit. Maloney is a touring musician and tour manager for Dinosaur Jr., and a frequent staple at Electric Eye. “Collecting a lot of records, I travel a lot. I’m all over the country. Every town we go to, we hit a ton of records,” Maloney says.
There is a steady flow of inventory flowing through Electric Eye, with changes all the time. Customers also come in to trade, which means good things come in everyday. The store welcomes some regulars but attracts the sporadic customer as well.
”There are a lot of record affectionados around here, and a lot of other record stores. I think it’s cool that we can be successful because of the other record stores. We kinda have a lot of things that they don’t,” Maloney says.
“We all have a symbiotic relationship, we all know each other and support each other,” Crespo adds.
“If we don’t have something here, we’ll gladly send them over to Feeding Tube or Mystery Train, Turn It Up or Newbury Comics. If we don’t have it, we know where to get it,” Maloney says. “There is no animosity at all,” Crespo adds. All these local record stores within a short driving distance screams out, at least to me, for a record shopping adventure on a nice fall New England day.
Classic rock is the most popular genre for customers entering the store, “but personally, when I was younger, I was a punk — and I’m still a punk — but then I got into jazz,” Crespo says. “Every customer likes something different.” Walking into the store, you realize there is something for everyone. “Records that you had when you were a child, cultural items,” Crespo says. There are doodles on the record bags aligned on the wall behind the cash register — all done by customers — which gives the store more of a friendly, community-style vibe.
As I flipped through the genres, my head started to spin. It was hard to concentrate on what I was looking for. Which is a good thing. Sometimes you go into a record store and just keep flipping through countless records you’ve never even heard of.
Crespo immediately asked what I was looking for. Pink Floyd is always the first to come to mind, and I walked out with a decent copy of Obscured by Clouds. He helped me sift through some more and found an almost mint copy of Sonic Youth’s Evol. When I inquired about some Danzig-era Misfits — which made him go on a hunting spree with no such luck — I realized this man loves his vinyl, and the passion is very much there. “I’ve always been drawn to it, it grows with me, I discover new things, every day I hear something I haven’t heard before.”
Contact Jennifer Levesque at firstname.lastname@example.org