Spinning out of control

Michael Lucarz

The unmistakable scent of stale cardboard and aged vinyl consumes the air throughout the quarters of 26 West Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, Pa. A cornucopia of rock ‘n’ roll and pop culture paraphernalia, Plastic Fantastic Records stands alone as one of the last great retailers of Americana. Soon, however, the shop will end its brilliant 30-year run when it is forced to shut its doors, the unfortunate result of an era that never knew the neat aesthetics of catching vinyl grooves with a needle or savoring the scratchy sounds of an LP. But time is on the store’s side, for at least the next few weeks anyway, as the Main Line staple will provide true aficionados one final opportunity to snatch up buried gems before Plastic Fantastic meets its maker.

“Our white poodle died,” recounts Harold Gold, the store’s founder and owner for nearly three decades. “We took it as a sign. He was our mascot, and I decided it was time to go when that happened.”

While the passing of his pooch may seem like a viable reason to pack up shop, Gold is the first to admit that the day was a long time coming. Despite the resurgence of vinyl discs as the medium of choice for teenagers and adults in recent years, the market is nowhere near its heyday of the 1970s when funk, punk and disco ruled turntables nationwide. CD-burning and online song swapping is the future of Gold’s industry, one that has languished severely since the vinyl disk went the way of the dodo nearly two decades ago. But with “retro-chic” all the rave these days, album addicts are flocking to Plastic Fantastic one final time to cash in on the craze that will soon be silenced by the Main Line fixture.

“We wanted to go out while we were still on top of our game, you know what I mean, kid,” the vinyl veteran makes clear to me on a particularly busy Friday liquidation kick. He looms over a stack of vintage records like a sage, carefully perusing each corner for creases and cracks, swamped elbow-deep in an abyss of square-shaped cardboard and plastic bags. “Kids like you used to keep me in business,” Gold tells me with a smile. “Those days are long-gone.”

He tips his Rolling Stones cap upward, wiping his forehead while sighing like an army general who just realized defeat is imminent.

“Yeah, we’ve got some cool stuff here,” he mutters sullenly while sifting through a stack of vintage vinyl.

“Cool stuff?” I exclaim. “That’s what you call this? Just ‘cool stuff’?” My own glee seems to complement Gold’s gloom perfectly as I turn away to conquer the confines, my heart racing with adrenaline as a frenzied feeling of urgency takes over. While the owner’s own grief may be a damper at the checkout register, the store itself is alive with sound and color, splendid in its antiquity and anti-establishment to the max; this place is rock ‘n’ roll.

The ambiance inside the spacious, two-floor confines of the music shop that aptly calls itself “a different kind of record store” is inimitably vintage, and in every way. There is an aura of authenticity here, from the stacks of ’70s Rolling Stone magazines to the one-off, limited edition promo posters to the original tour programs that will surely fetch a few bucks from your wallet. For the true fan, however, price isn’t even the issue.

Finding an original 1969 Decca pressing of the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” on vinyl or a late ’60s Beatles poster with torn and frayed edges is to the learned music fan what the Holy Grail was to Indiana Jones, even if Ringo’s ear is missing. Plastic Fantastic offers real, living and breathing pieces of history whose value is immeasurable to say the least. It is the perfect record store, one whose individual character surpasses that of every other boutique within view from the Bob Marley-adorned windows upstairs in the vinyl room.

But time waits for no one, and of this Harold Gold is firmly aware. While his store may be steeped in its own tradition, Gold does not intend on leaving behind the legacy of Plastic Fantastic just yet.

“I think I’m just going to open up an all-vinyl shop,” Gold explains. “It’ll be a bit more of a success as a specialty store.” He is confident in his words, and even more confident in his profession.

The man who has seen bands fizzle and fade away quicker than the cigarette that dangles from his mouth knows what the public wants and, if only for a short while, it’s vinyl.

As long as there is recorded music, junkies will come to Gold for their fix, copping a disc or two and maybe even a poster or pin. The man’s devotion toward and obsession with all things music is apparent, with a slight air of pretentiousness underlying his responses even as I manage to match wits with the guru himself.

It’s checkout time I finally acknowledge as I lug a bundle of marked down LPs to the register. Goldie is there, where he has been for 30 years, and where he’ll probably be for another 30-some place down the road.

“Marianne Faithful, eh?” he asks, glancing through my choice selections, slightly impressed by my eclectic array of B-sides and obscure records. “This is good stuff, man,” he says slyly, somewhat reluctant to let one of his babies go to a complete stranger.

“I like the Stones songs she covers on this album,” I admit. “’68 was a good year for her.”

“Yeah,” the man says. “She was dating Keith Richards at the time.”

“Actually, it was Mick,” I chime in as I rummage through my wallet in search of a twenty.

“You’re good, kid,” Goldie says to me, albeit a bit forced. Finally, my quest for respect has been fulfilled by the guru Gold.

I pack up my bag and head for the exit, glancing back at the register one last time. He has a smile on his face, but I’m sure it’s slightly sarcastic. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though. The house of Fantastic Plastic wouldn’t stand for as long as it has without a man like Gold.

It’s only rock and roll, but he likes it. A lot.

“Yeah, we’ve got some cool stuff here,” Gold mutters as he sifts through a stack of vintage vinyl, adjusting his Rolling Stones cap so that it sits flatly on his head. Vinyl junkies can get their fix.