After 36 years, Discovery Used & Collectors’ Records in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood is shutting down, with a month-long April close-out sale serving as the shop’s farewell.
Owner Jim Levitt opened the store in 1982 with 10 milk crates of used albums set atop some donated old banquet tables. The records were priced at $2.50, the rent was $300 a month and Levitt’s store directly across the street from a horse-racing track was nothing if not a gamble.
After selling his car for startup money, Levitt used a bicycle with a crate attached to cart in LPs purchased at yard sales. “Everybody thought I was crazy,” says Levitt, 68, sitting behind the desk he’s rested his elbows upon for decades. “But 10 minutes after I opened, someone came in and bought a record. And he’s still a customer to this day.”
The eighties were a good decade to get into the used-record business: Music fans were dumping vinyl by the ton, replacing their collections with compact discs. With the recent vinyl revival, business is still good for Levitt’s quaint, dusty operation, which moved from the Beaches to Leslieville in 1989.
Leslieville, though, is modernizing. The building that holds Levitt’s 26,000 or so albums was recently sold and is slated for renovation.
Record stores are not a dying breed exactly. But many new shops are more of a boutique operation, with smaller heavily curated collections catering to vinyl hounds with specific, high-end needs and tastes.
Discovery Records, on the other hand, carries a diverse selection — everything from ABBA to ZZ Top, with room for classical, blues, jazz and soundtracks, too — at prices skewing lower than average. “If you get the right records, there’s no trouble selling them,” says Levitt, who describes his patrons as an older crowd. “I get a Rolling Stones album on a London label and it’ll be sold before I can put a price sticker on it.”
The average rate for one of Levitt’s discs is $7. To clear the store of stock, he’s marking down his prices considerably: $2 per record this week; $1 the next.
“He’s not trying to get the most money out of his records,” says singer-songwriter Shawn William Clarke, a regular customer. “He’s making some money, and you still feel you’re getting a deal.”
Clarke treasures the old-style record-shop experience and worries over its possible demise. “It’s a little messy at Discovery. But if you have the time, it’s a place where you can find something magical – something you didn’t know that you were looking for. I think that’s lost in some of the newer places.”
Levitt estimates that two-thirds of his clientele are regulars. When they come in, he’ll put on a record he hopes will pique their curiosity. “It’s fun,” he says. “If I turn them onto something new, it’s like I’ve accomplished my goal.”
Though he’ll miss the store – “It’s my little part of the world that I have control over” – Levitt isn’t overly concerned with the neighbourhood’s gentrification. “The biggest problem is getting lunch for under $12,” he says. “It had to happen, and I’m fine with it. I was ready to retire anyway.”
Toronto has a past littered with used-record stores. On April 30, Discovery Records will join many of them in the remainder bin of history. “A lot of them have come and gone,” Levitt says, unromantically. “And now it’s my turn.”
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