Ed Driscoll

All Boutique Dealers Must Pass

Sadly, one of the surest signs that an audio or video format has made the big-time is that the funky proprietary retailers specializing in it during its early adopter cult phase ascendancy begin to bite the dust.

Back when I was living in New Jersey, shortly after I bought my first CD player around 1984 or ’85, I have fond memories of driving out to this really hip CD store in Medford, which had imported CDs of albums not yet available otherwise in the US on compact disc (such as the double CD-imported-from-England version of George Harrison’s mega-opus All Things Must Pass). You sort of felt like you were touching the future a little–because you were.

A couple of years afterwards, that store closed, as CDs became ubiquitous. There was less need for such a boutique dealer, especially in a somewhat out of the way location.

But laser discs, another new technology of the 1980s, really needed boutique dealers. I got involved in LDs when I read an article in Billboard around 1987 or ’88 about some new company called “The Criterion Collection” that was releasing letterboxed movies on laser disc. They had already released a letterboxed version of Blade Runner, and Billboard mentioned that 2001: A Space Odyssey was coming later in the year.

Seeing these movies letterboxed? The full widescreen frame the way the director intended? Sold!

But because laser disc was such a cult item, film freaks such as myself invariably either bought them mail order, or drove, as I did, to distant specialty shops. One of those shops was Rock Dreams in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. As the name implies, it was started by two budding entrepreneurs (I think in the early 1980s) who were also serious rock fans. The store was a good half hour drive for me, but man, it was exciting: in addition to selling laser discs, they also sold high end home theater equipment, such as Pioneer’s Elite line. (And in those days, when its equipment had rosewood-veneered side panels, and outstanding build quality, it really lived up to its name.)

Rock Dreams is still in business, but unfortunately, having moved 3000 miles away in 1997, I’m no longer a customer.

Eventually, I discovered a similar business in Cupertino, California that was only about 20 miles away. Called LaserLand, they rode out the transition from laser discs to DVDs fairly successfully. Like Rock Dreams, they sold both software and hardware. But sadly, they folded last year, as I discovered a few weeks ago, when I went shopping for my new A/V receiver and loaded up their Webpage.

As an early adopter of laser discs and their successor format, I’m thrilled that DVD has succeeded beyond its designers’ wildest dreams. It has usurped not just the high-end 12-inch laser discs, but the lowly videotape as well. And while the Long Tail of the Web allows both huge enterprises such as Amazon.com, and 724,000 one-man operations to make a living on eBay, there’s something to be said for walking into a small store run by guys who really live and breath the products they sell, and then browsing through three-dimensional merchandise, rather than flipping through pages on Internet Explorer.

But hey, I still have my original CD copy of All Things Must Pass, and a surprising number of discs from Rock Dreams. And catalogs of home theater gear past.

And Amazon isn’t that bad, either…