Like all niche stores, record shops are keeling over left and right. Only one or two record stores among each hundred have survived the evolution of the music industry. In turn, a priceless cultural gathering place has been all but lost. A cornerstone that ignores occupational, national, and social boundaries, concerned instead with music, and the rich dialogue fellow enthusiasts share with one another therein.
Rightly so, considerable ink has been spilt discussing these places - the choice survivors - shops like Good Records and CD Source. Even Bill's and Forever Young receive their mentions. But Dallasites might be surprised to learn that there is another place. Perhaps, an even better record store than these. In fact, it's THE record store for local collectors, audiophiles and DJs. It's also one of the oldest and best kept secrets in the DFW music scene. I'm speaking about a refreshingly nondescript store called Groove Net.
After years of blaring recommendations and a seemingly endless stream of "you wouldn't believe what I found" stories, I finally made my over to Groove Net this last Wednesday.
If, like me, you depend on GPS technology to overcome even the simplest of navigation, finding Groove Net can be something of a chore. It's off the beaten path, tucked amongst a series of small warehouses on the fringes of Mesquite and Garland (635 and La Prada to be exact). But, of course, that's the point. Owner Randy Frierson considers Groove Net his retirement headquarters. It's by no means meant as a window-shopping, high-traffic venue; however, as I would soon discover, Frierson is more than happy to accommodate any and all customers.
Once you've arrived, you're faced with a minimal, no-flare storefront, stamped with a sign reading: GROOVE.NET MAIL ORDER. HOURS: BANKERS. You see Groove Net is not solely a physical shop, it's also an internationally recognized hub, satisfying scores of discerning crate diggers the world over. And HOURS: BANKERS? It is as it sounds. Groove Net keeps Mon-Fri: 8am-4pm/Sat: 8am-2pm hours. Well, sort of. Since Frierson's hands are constantly in several ventures at once, it's best to call ahead just to make sure he's still in for the day.
A swing of the door and I'm inside. It's a stark, delightfully low-key interior, housing a neatly aligned series of well-kept records. Sounds both strange and pleasing fill the air. It's a clean, welcoming place, refreshingly free of the bothersome industry marketing materials that typically blanket a record shop. I'm met with a friendly "how can I help you?" and soon proceed to search the stacks.
It takes only a few moments to realize that the selection here is superb. As celebrated local musician and DJ Wanz Dover told me beforehand, "It's all killer, no filler." He couldn't have been more on point.
There are two reasons why the quality is so high at Groove Net. Firstly, the depth of the titles offered can be attributed to Frierson's dealings with international clientele. That is, the selection is informed by a much larger pool of tastes. Secondly, the man is a godfather of information, and all his regular customers know it.
"[Frierson] holds so much knowledge and history about what he sells," says Dallas DJ Mark Ridlen, a customer of Frierson's for nearly thirty years now. Record collector Evan Chronister, another longtime customer, echoes this sentiment, "Groove Net is easily the record store with the deepest catalog of underground releases and the most knowledgeable owner in Dallas. It is a travesty that when discussing the best record shops in Dallas Randy's never comes up. It has easily been the best place to buy hard to find releases."
But Frierson's experience extends well beyond mere stats and tastes; he's a master at customer relations. He's wise in this regard, knowing the difference between exceptional service and unwelcome meddling. As most crate diggers will tell you, the two most annoying things a customer can face when record shopping are indifference, and, its opposite, obtrusiveness. You won't find either at Groove Net; Frierson is helpful but not intrusive.
Frierson's breadth of knowledge makes him a keen salesman too. Frierson has a nose for unlocking your musical sympathies, and you usually end up buying more records because of it. "When I go there I start pulling records, Randy notices the titles, then starts playing stuff he thinks might interest me," Dover explains. "I typically buy ¾ of what he plays." During my visit, Frierson extended the same courtesy to me. And, of course, it worked. The man is exceptionally good at what he does.
The key to making the most of a visit to Groove Net is open-mindedness. As Dover put it, "I never go there looking for specific records. Groove Net is where I go for records that are looking for me." Whether you need help finding some new music, or you're a seasoned expert already well aware of your tastes, Groove Net will not disappoint. Frierson will show you stuff you never knew you'd like, and, with 18,000 titles in stock as well as access to 250,000 more through his suppliers, he can find you nearly any album under the sun.
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Considering this, it's no wonder Groove Net collects devotees in droves. "I've been in business a total of forty-two years, with retail stores for thirty-seven of those years," says Frierson. "I've had the same customers for fifteen or twenty years." One such customer, famed local DJ Gabriel Mendoza, shares the respect he has for Frierson and his store, "Randy used to have a record store called RPM's. I used to go as a 16 year old back in the early '90s. I remember walking in there and it blowing my mind. Over 20 years later I walked into Groove Net and [my] mind was blown again. It says a lot about Randy that even now with everything (music) one click away he can still have that effect on a life long music snob."
I stayed in Frierson's shop for over two hours on Wednesday, pawing through records and sharing conversation--the sort of rewarding dialogue that's simply not possible when downloading Mp3s or ordering direct from Amazon. I can say with confidence that Groove Net is the best record shopping experience I've had in some time. Maybe ever.
Before I left, Frierson shook my hand and thanked me for my business. It was a handshake that reflected sincerity and candidness--a gesture more reassuring than the most ironclad of guarantees.
In spite of its pedigree, selection and excellent pricing, Groove Net has one major drawback: it's too fucking good. No, really. In fact, Dover warned me about this before my visit, "It's a dangerous place." Dangerous? I asked. "Yes," he reiterated. "Dangerous for your wallet."