It’s been the subject of conversation and speculation among record collectors and dealers worldwide for decades: a large, normally nondescript building in the sticks of Northern Maine that reveals its true nature in spectacular fashion only once every few years. It’s said to contain multitudes: over a million items, many of them rare recordings. Some record people who may think themselves savvy won’t reveal whether it exists or not, but I’ve been to Maine’s most mysterious music mecca, and I’m telling you now: it’s real.
Welcome to Maine Record Sales. Located on Route 15 in East Corinth, about 20 miles northwest of Bangor, Maine Record Sales is “the LARGEST Music Warehouse/Museum in the USA!” (We’d fact-check that, but why bother? The place is undeniably unique and gigantic.)
Lured by the romance of Maine as viewed from his hometown in New Jersey, the owner of the place, Dave*, moved here in the late 1960s. [*Dave, like many who deal in large quantities of records, prefers to keep his surname out of print to keep the most rabid collectors at bay.] Inspired to add a countercultural edge to the Bangor area, he opened a “head shop” that sold psychedelic posters and their companion blacklights, underground magazines, and all the pot paraphernalia that was legal at the time. Dave laughs about those days, recalling that the cops watched him “like a hawk,” trying to catch him doing something — anything — illegal, but there was never anything to pin on him. He was, in a word, circumspect.
The “help wanted” sign occasionally posted in the front window could be a sign of life, but otherwise it’s hard to tell if Maine Record Sales is even occupied. Calling ahead can be a good idea, but you’ll usually get sent to voicemail — which doesn’t mean Dave’s not there. There are no posted hours and no “entrance” sign, but there’s only the one door, and if you try it on a weekday morning or early afternoon, chances are good that it’ll open.
Once inside, you’ll find yourself in a maze of wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves packed full of records in almost every genre. The aisles are spaced to accommodate the width of one adult’s shoulders and not an inch more, and as often as not they’re cluttered with boxes of albums you’ll have to step over while browsing. Dave also has (literally) tons of cassettes, 8-tracks, 45s, reel-to-reel tapes, CDs, DVDs, books and memorabilia (posters, keychains, t-shirts, clocks…) packed into the three-story building. Here and there, one can see signs that the structure’s substantial timber framing is straining under the tremendous weight of it all. “Enter at your own risk,” reads a promotional poster Dave made years ago. “We are not responsible for injuries.”
I’ve been buying and selling records out of my little brick-and-mortar store in Portland since the ’80s and have known Dave for most of that time. He’s usually there weekdays from roughly 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; weekends are a crapshoot. I’ll drop in for a visit every now and then, always packing a lunch for the occasion. I often arrive unannounced, but we always cook up little bits of business while I’m there. He’s always got stuff that’s “just in” that he wants me to see, and I sometimes bring a few interesting things to trade.
I eat my lunch while Dave packs stuff up for shipping. In recent years his business has migrated almost entirely online, and someone’s usually at the warehouse/museum to keep up with the thousands of items constantly churning through his system, posted for sale on all the major Internet platforms. In the past couple of years, records have become The New Hip Thing (again), with more albums being pressed and more titles in print than at any time since the ’80s. The business has been, and still is, changing in ways that are hard to predict, and not always for the better.
But the focus during my visits is always on our conversation. We talk about how business is going for each of us, what we’ve been doing and what we want to do, and recall people from the trade whom we both knew in the past. We’ll also talk about politics, various aspects of human nature, and our current pet peeves. It always makes for a fun afternoon.
Now well into his 70s, Dave is an old-school hustler from the days when that term was a compliment, a walking encyclopedia of the music business, and if he hasn’t got it, you don’t need it! He aspires to make Maine Record Sales “The World’s Largest Music Retailer” — “bigger than Amazon!” he says — yet when you meet him in person, he’s rarely in a “selling” mood. Rightly or wrongly, Dave often suspects potential buyers think they can take advantage of what they assume to be an ignorant old man selling obscure records way out in rural Maine.
A funny tale I heard some years ago (that might even be true) concerns an English guy in the pre-Internet days who heard rumors about Maine Record Sales and, with visions of all the rare stuff he’d find and buy at pennies on the pound, somehow found out where Dave was and how to get in touch with him. After a brief phone conversation, the Englishman booked a flight to Boston, rented a car, and drove nearly five hours to Corinth. When he finally arrived, it took Dave — nobody’s fool — about 15 minutes to size him up and send him packing.
Every few years or so, to make his “museum” stand out (but mostly just for fun), Dave cranks up his wacky notion to make full-size, full-color copies of the covers of hundreds of the records he has for sale, using them to turn the side of his building that faces the road into a giant mosaic. With no help from anyone with anything, Dave first assembles the scaffolding, then proceeds to clamber up and down, back and forth, across the entire breadth and height of the façade, sometimes 25 or 30 feet off the ground, stapling each cover to the wooden siding while accounting for the overall color palette as he goes.
The project takes him weeks, but the result is always astounding and makes a big splash. Lots of people stop to take pictures and post them online, prompting others to make a special trip to Corinth to see for themselves and take and post yet more photos. The giant work of art lasts until the first few rainstorms. After that, as staples give way and more and more covers get blown off or bleached featureless by the sun, eventually what’s left are a few isolated pieces hanging on like the last stubborn dry leaves on a tree at midwinter.
Dave concedes that he “might not” make his goal of surpassing Jeff Bezos as the world’s biggest purveyor of music, but he’s having fun trying and it still gets him out of bed every day. If you make the trek, be prepared for an experience departing from the idea of a welcoming “retail atmosphere” — and be prepared to be amazed.
Maine Record Sales (301 Main St., Corinth) is usually open weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m., other times by chance or appointment. 433-0347.