The 50 Best Record Stores In America is an essay series where we attempt to find the best record store in every state. These aren’t necessarily the record stores with the best prices or the deepest selection; you can use Yelp for that. Each record store featured has a story that goes beyond what’s on its shelves; these stores have history, foster a sense of community and mean something to the people who frequent them.
Nestled among a string of independently owned shops stretching modestly along a literal Main Street, In The Moment isn’t exactly the sort of record store I grew up frequenting.
As a born-and-raised New Yorker, I spent the ‘90s and ‘00s in decidedly more downtown digs, commuting from Queens apartments to cop at establishments like the infamous snob boutique Other Music or the utilitarian underdog Mondo Kim’s or niche techno favorite Sonic Groove--notably, all now closed. I narrowly avoided overpriced tourist trap Bleecker Bob’s as I prowled East Village dub dispensary Jammyland, occasionally squeezing down its narrow staircase to finger through the bespoke noise CD-Rs and cassettes at Hospital Productions. Those three are gone too, along with dozens of spots both short-lived and otherwise that quenched the city’s thirst for new and old sounds before technological revolutions and real estate cravenness made running a record store in Manhattan about as tenable as choking.
In The Moment is not at all like these places. For starters, it is located in Brattleboro, Vermont, about a 200 mile drive from Generation Records, one of the few surviving Greenwich Village outposts. Furthermore, the place is quite clean and well-lit, a downright herculean combo for any shop selling used as well as new vinyl records. Despite an industry standard of dust dancing defiantly in cruel fluorescent lights, it stays as relatively pristine as any other operation in its near vicinity, such as Mocha Joe’s Cafe, Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, and the family-friendly Whetstone Station Restaurant / Brewery.
If it sounds like I’m poking fun at small town America, let me assure you that it’s purely a function of my seething self-contempt and utter jealousy for what local patrons of In The Moment have that I never did. Nobody gave a good goddamn when I rolled my greasy hide into any of the record stores mentioned above, save for Sonic Groove when Adam X or Dan Physics, not-infrequent patrons of the goth-industrial nightclub I DJed at, were behind the counter. Apart from that sole exception, I was treated like a wet stranger at businesses I continued to visit at least monthly and, at times, almost weekly.
No matter how cool or obscure my armful of selections, no matter how halfway clever my remarks at the register, my patronage of Manhattan record stores meant nothing more than an incremental sale to these assuredly struggling and in no way conniving business owners and staffers. If I made any sort of impression, it was to turn these folks off. Hell, I’m still burning bridges now that all the good spots occupy the hipper parts of Brooklyn. Rough Trade actually blocked me on Twitter, if you can believe it.
At this point in my life, I don’t want to be liked, let alone recognized. But yes, there was a time when I wanted nothing more than that from my local record store. I had read in books about bands that formed by hanging out at these places, friendships forged, legends made. In his recently released gonzo memoir Feel The Music (Anthology Editions), renowned collector and independent seller Paul Major describes working in the late 1970s at Village Oldies, which had previously employed proto-punk notable Lenny Kaye. With wide-eyed street poet grace, he writes of mobsters and junkies, scammers and pederasts, people with nicknames like Broadway Al and Sorcerer Dave. It’s a relatively short yet magical section in a great book about obscure and rare records. You should buy it.
Regrettably, that wasn’t my record store experience at all. Mine was purely transactional, altogether devoid of wonder or mischief like so much late capitalism. I never stole, never haggled or complained over a price tag, and generally smelled fine. I was a weird scrawny teen who subsequently plumped up into a weird young man and at no point in the process was I ever even considered for inclusion as so much as a footnote in the annals of New York City record store history. At some point, I started wearing headphones religiously, an unsubtle rejection of the in-store picks the employees no doubt fought hard amongst themselves to play over the speakers. Perhaps I did it to give these rotten elitist bastards an excuse not to engage with me, a habit of mine that continues to this very day whenever I leave the house.
Byron Greatorex owns In The Moment and, based on our rather pleasant conversation, is not a rotten elitist bastard. Formerly an insurance man living in Connecticut, he opened the Vermont store with his father in 2005 after deciding that, despite being well-paid at his job, he didn’t want that as a career. “I had a little money at my disposal and off I came up here,” he says of his nothern move. The location choice for In The Moment coincided with Greatorex’s much younger sister’s attending of a private high school in nearby Putney. It also served to help fill the void left by Mainly Music, another Main Street record store that suffered a fire. “We didn’t do it,” he jokes with a touch of darkness.
That mildly blackened humor may have something to with Greatorex’s long-standing love of heavy metal. From his teenage years up until he owned a record store, he primarily listened to classic thrash and proto-metal. His tastes have since broadened as a function of his trade, but Greatorex didn’t intend to become a collector himself. “I remember a really clean copy of Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All came in, an original press of it,” he says of the life-changing acquisition. “Now I have a whole room in my house for vinyl, though I’d promised myself I wasn’t going to do that.”
After a few years of partnership, Greatorex took the reins and made a decisive change to the business model. “When I bought the store out in 2008 or 2009, I got rid of the CDs really quick,” he says. “I went strictly vinyl.” He’d seen the attention paid to the resurgent format by his customers and opted to fully commit to it, a shrewd judgement both then and in retrospect.
Despite Greatorex’s headbanging roots, he hardly limits his stock to any one genre. In The Moment carries a wide range of records, organized by category but regularly loaded with surprises and left turns. “I try to maintain a respectable classical music section,” he notes, citing a desire to have something for anyone who walks through the front door. “If they want lounge music, I’ve got a lounge music section.”
A recent Instagram video of new arrivals featured previously-owned albums by jazz great McCoy Tyner, vaudeville-era banjoist Uncle Dave Macon, and influential bluesman Muddy Waters, as well as prog rock classics by Genesis and Yes. For a bleary-eyed veteran buyer like myself, long left jaded by endless hours spent trawling through filthy New York bins, it’s a delight to dive into these and not come out with grey fingers.
Walking into In The Moment, I experience something akin to what I did in my more youthful days as a record buyer, an eagerness to explore that comes on like the felt presence of a vestigial appendage or phantom limb. I find joy in these outings, which coincide with visits to my in-laws who live roughly a half hour away. Afterwards, I retain vivid memories of my purchases--like a novelty edition of J Dilla’s “Fuck The Police” on badge-shaped vinyl--as well as those I now wish I hadn’t left behind--a gently abused copy of Stephen Stills’ largely unloved 1978 affair Thoroughfare Gap.
Good curation assuredly helps make a record store great, but that’s not enough to keep it going. Deeply disinterested in stagnation, Greatorex preemptively considers ways to keep customers coming in and, more importantly, coming back. At one point, he sought to add a bar to the premises, a plan that ultimately fell through when a proposed partner couldn’t get the necessary funding together. “After a prolonged phase of trying to get it to happen, it was a real bummer,” he says.
Still, one area of expansion that Greatorex explored is incidentally what endeared me to In The Moment on my first and then repeated visits. Purchasable posters and prints adorn its walls, but not the usual record store sucker bait of Fillmore West reproductions or Grateful Dead pothead gimmickry. Instead, concert-centric art drawn by underground rock cultists like Alan Forbes, John Howard, and Arik Roeper are on display.
It all started with a couple of key introductions by local musician and friend Dave Sweetapple. “From there, I just went down a rabbit hole and started researching other artists,” Greatorex says, turning on to Barry Blankenship and Dan Stiles, among others. He keeps the offerings fresh while resisting the temptation to keep the pieces for himself. “I’ve organically become a real fan of this stuff.”
On one of my excursions to In The Moment, I gawked at one of Forbes’ trippy pieces for Chris Robinson Brotherhood almost as much as the gems in the record bins, snapped back to reality only by recalling the Dinosaur Jr. poster of his I already own. At the counter, the clerk chatted with me as I handed over a copy of the Dave Sweetapple project Witch’s sophomore full-length Paralyzed. It was a brief yet thoughtful interaction with a vibe of commiseration, an inherent acknowledgement of our shared status as music geeks. It may not seem like much to you, but after a lifetime of institutional brutality at the hands of New York City record store goons, I cherish those few minutes of human decency. I really do.
Up Next: The best record store in Mississippi.
Born, raised, and still living in New York City, Gary Suarez writes about music and culture for a variety of publications. Since 1999, his work has appeared in various outlets including Backstage, Billboard, Complex, Deadspin, Four Pins, High Times, Pitchfork, and Noisey, among others. His Digital/Divide column appears monthly on Vinyl Me, Please.