(A customer walks over to the first aisle and taps each and every last CD case with his finger while saying either ‘mainstream’ or ‘sell-out’. He proceeds to do this with every single CD in the store, which takes him about 25 minutes. He then walks up to the counter.)
Customer: “What a bunch of mainstreamers you guys are! Don’t you have anything more obscure?”
Me: “We do have a pretty large indie section, which you seemed to have skimmed over.”
Customer: “You call those indie? I’ve heard of every single one of them. They’re all sell-outs.”
Me: “So, what is it that you’re looking for?”
Customer: “How the h*** should I know? If I’ve already heard of it, I wouldn’t buy it.”
Back when I worked at Woolworths, I spent most of my time on the “Record Bar”, which was the music department cashdesk. It didn’t look like a bar except there was no way of knowing who was next in line, which actually sounds pretty bar-like, come to think of it.
I would often have people come and ask me if we had a particular band or style of music. The thing to remember is that Woolworths wasn’t a cutting-edge music store, or a taste-making pioneer. There were two sections in the music selection: Chart, and Back Catalogue. Chart was stuff that was in the charts (or was predicted to be there very soon*), and Back Catalogue was stuff that presumably had been in the charts, but which had proven to be popular enough to warrant continuing to sell it. Never mind the Long Tail, this was the Beachy Head of supply curves. We didn’t have a section for imports, or special editions, or limited vinyl, or any niche stuff. Just what was selling now, or had proven to sell.
[*Predicting what was going to be in the charts soon sometimes gave rise to some interesting buying decisions (made by head office, we had no control over what we sold). Plodding, contrived techno yawn-fest Das Boot by U96, with it’s tedious reliance on a vocoder sample of the title, and some dodgy “orchestra hit” sound, was a huge hit across Europe in 1991, so someone believed it would have the same success in the UK. Boxes and boxes of the CD single were bought, and clogged the stockroom for weeks. We barely sold any.]
So every time some smirking indie kid came in and asked if we had the first EP from the latest long-named band to come out of Stourbridge, which had just been released today and got SOTW in NME, I had to simply say, “No”. I would have liked to add, “Of course not. This is fucking Woolworths. This is a chart shop. Even Andy’s Records doesn’t have it yet. You might try that place next to Pixies down the alley, opposite where Planet Clothing used to be, but I don’t think it exists yet. What exactly do you think you’ve proved by asking for that here (apart from the fact that you are a smug little turd)? The next time I see you, which will be Friday night at Esquire’s, I will spill my delicious pint of Harp over you.”
This happened a few times, as you can imagine. The other thing people liked to ask for was a niche genre which we obviously didn’t or wouldn’t have. You had to wonder about the faculties of some people though. This guy comes in and asks for ‘hardcore ragga’ (this being ’92-’93). Me being the consummate professional (and I don’t mean I had tuberculosis) I was polite and asked for more information, such as an example of an artist that might fall under that genre so we could find it on the shelves. His rolling-eyed answer was, “Bob Marley”.
Smug, condescending and wrong is no way to go through life, son.