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Downtown Boulder Losing Bart's CD Cellar

Retailers come and go in Boulder, but Bart's attracted many customers for its large upstairs collection of vinyl, both used and new.
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I joined a crowd of bargain and holiday gift hunters at Bart's CD Cellar, which put up "store closing" signs this week after its out-of-town owners told staff it was shutting down the long-time Boulder business. The original owners sold the store in 2006 to Value Music Concepts, based in Marietta, Ga.

Retailers come and go in Boulder, but Bart's attracted many customers for its large upstairs collection of vinyl, both used and new. With Christmas just around the corner, sales were brisk as the store slashed prices 40 to 50 percent off all of its remaining inventory.

Surrounding the bins of CDs and vinyl are walls full of pop culture memorabilia -- everything from Beatles lunch boxes to Rock Legends bobbleheads to Star Wars characters. T-shirts, posters, games and movies filled out the offerings.

Clearly another victim of the digital download times, customer after customer gave their thanks to Bart's employees and asked how long the store would remain open. "Mid-January" was the only answer staffers could give.

Bart's closing will leave Boulder with just a few choices for buying and trading in used music -- the packed basement location of Albums on the Hill on 13th Street and the small Beat Book Store on the west end of Pearl Street. For collectors on the search, that means more searching at garage sales and local thrift shops.

In this age of iPods, Zunes and other MP3 players, music sales are increasingly moving online, with Apple iTunes and Amazon leading the way on online sales.

According to one report, global sales of "legal" digital music, at about $3.7 billion in 2008, still only accounts for about 20 percent of global recorded music sales. The problem with coming up for "total" sales is that many believe some 95 percent of all downloads were illegal.

As one friend asked my, why do you want to listen to vinyl anyway? And as a very small collector (I met one guy at a yard sale this summer who said he more than 60,000 vinyl albums at home), it's not really just about sound quality.

Just finding an unscratched vinyl album -- perhaps to replace one I originally owned -- is a huge part of the attraction. Then there's reading the liner notes and the act of actually cueing up the needle on the turntable. If the album does have a few scratches, a few hisses and crackles aren't that much of a distraction. The quality and art of the album cover counts for collectors, too.

Somehow vinyl is making a comeback with sales of turntables on the rise. Many artists are now recording on vinyl for a deeper, fuller sound.

On my trip to Bart's I bought Shaved Fish, a controversial album by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. And I found a good used Cuban music CD in the International section.

As shoppers pack up the remaining bargains at Bart's, there's only one important question: What's happening to the three pinball machines?