GARDINER — When Reggie Manter left Niche Inc. early Saturday, he had scored a John Prine LP boxed set and two David Bowie reissues for his collection.

Manter is just one of thousands of people across the planet who were expected to shop at their local independent record store for the first of three scheduled events going by the name of RSD Drops 2020.

In a more ordinary year, the Litchfield man probably would have made his way to the record shop owned by Samantha Robinson and Jason Gaucher on April 18 for Record Store Day.

But this year,  Record Store Day — like state and county fairs, summer festivals, concerts and any event expected to draw more than a handful of people — fell victim to the global coronavirus pandemic that prompted stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders from Maine to New Zealand to slow the spread of the virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

Instead of one day in April, three RSD Drops 2020 have been organized. After Saturday, two more events have been scheduled, one on Sept. 26 and one on Oct. 24. On each of those days, specific albums on vinyl — re-releases, boxed sets, anniversary sets — will be available for sale only in the record shops.

In Waterville, the first RSD Drops 2020 was remarkable for another reason.

After nearly 40 years running the The Record Connection, Bob Richard was spending what is probably his last day in the Main Street store. On Friday, he sold the business to Rusty Damon, someone he’s known for more than 35 years, after talking about it for several years.

People streamed into the shop throughout the day, most to buy music, some to wish Richard well.

“I’ve been buying from Bob just about as long as I can remember,” Jason Caron said. “I’m 39 now, and I have been shopping there since I was about 11 or 12, buying CDs and everything.”

The store has always been a place for people to come in, look around and talk about music, Caron said, and Richard has welcomed them with open arms.

While the store has had a longtime loyal local following, he said, Record Store Day has drawn in new customers.

“Waterville is really a college town, so we have seen a lot of college kids coming in with the popularity of vinyl coming back,” he said. “Record Store Day has contributed to that in a big way, with new albums coming out and new pressings of old material.”

It has also drawn in people who used to collect records years ago and who have started to collect again, he said. And having a day dedicated to record stores and collecting is kind of a big deal.

Richard is philosophic about the changes the global pandemic has brought to business here and elsewhere.

“You gotta say the world is a different place than it was a year ago,” he said, noting that people were distressed enough about other things that they weren’t too worried about the cancellation of Record Store Day.

What brings people through the door on any day of the year, he said, is music.

“It’s the stuff that has driven culture for 500 years at least in Western society. It doesn’t matter if it’s Bach or if it’s, I don’t know, Taylor Swift,” he said. “Music is music, and each culture has different music that fits the culture. Someone said it, and it’s so true: Music is the soundtrack of your life.”

Record shops and other businesses across the state were closed for two months or more, and for Niche’s owner, that was hard even though they offered curbside pickup of orders.

“It kind of crushed us a little bit,” Robinson said.

Since 2016, Robinson and Gaucher have held their Record Store Day event in conjunction with the Gardiner Music Walk, for which they bring in local bands for live music along Water Street.

“We love doing the Music Walk,” Robinson said. “A lot of the businesses around here were really let down when they couldn’t be part if it, and they were really looking forward to it.”

“We shared it with the whole street,” Gaucher said. “That was our celebration. We try to make it a point to include everybody. And this year, we’re by ourselves. So it’s kind of lonely in a sense.”

He said he was happy to see people waiting and still wanting to participate.

“We weren’t sure if we were going to even be able to open, and I didn’t know what to expect,” Goucher said.

“But with help from the community and friends and family, we were able to keep it going and we still have a great following, and people came back are being awesome patrons,” he said.

In a way, the virus that has kept people apart has brought Goucher closer to his colleagues across the country via Zoom meetings about the event. Those connections, he said, have given him insight to how other independent record stores operate.

Manter, who had a record collection when he was a kid, said he started collecting records again earlier this year, while he was working from home.

The original collection is long gone. At the time, he listened to KISS, Blondie and David Bowie, and he’s been trying to replace those records, which aren’t always easy to find now.

When he started collecting again, he also had to buy a record player, which he got from Niche Inc.

“I wanted to support Jason and Niche,” he said. “All the downtown businesses have had a hard time with the quarantine, so I wanted to show them support.”

 

Kennebec Journal photographer Joe Phelan contributed to this report. 

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