MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Now, to the business of music, used music. Thanks to the recession and the popularity of Internet downloads, music retailers are suffering, but this next story is about an upside to the downturn.
California's Amoeba Records is the world's largest used music retailer, and the company is finding trade in used music can be a buffer in bad times, both for the store and for its customers who are selling old albums.
April Dembosky visited Amoeba's San Francisco store.
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APRIL DEMBOSKY: The checkout lines at Amoeba Records usually wind deep into the clearance aisles, but not lately. These days, the real action is across the way, at the counter where Amoeba buys used CDs. As cash gets tight, people seem to be scavenging their racks for something to sell
Mr. TONY GREEN (Manager, Amoeba Records, San Francisco): The dump is on, if you will.
DEMBOSKY: Tony Green manages the San Francisco Amoeba.
Mr. GREEN: We're getting people bringing in just bags and suitcases and just bulk. They're just selling everything.
DEMBOSKY: Gabriel Stricker came with 400 CDs. An Amoeba buyer offered him a surprising financial insight.
Mr. GABRIEL STRICKER: He's like, I could have told you months before any of the economists or anything that the economy was going into the dumps because, instead of the spare change from under the sofa, they basically are looking around their house for anything that they could convert into cash.
DEMBOSKY: People were selling so many albums, the store was becoming an ATM. Amoeba had to cut back on the amount of cash it could pay.
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DEMBOSKY: The used CD market is booming in the Northeast, too. CD sellers have been streaming in to Newbury Comics in Boston, unloading their Celine Dion and Red Hot Chili Peppers albums.
Ms. SARA FEE (Newbury's Faneuil Hall): We'll see 20, 30 people a day that will bring in, you know, five to 20 CDs or five to 20 DVDs.
DEMBOSKY: Sara Fee works at the Faneuil Hall store. She says about 75 percent of their sellers are motivated by the payout.
Ms. FEE: We hear a lot of sob stories, unfortunately, people that need money for bills or just need money to live. A lot of people are hurting and would like the money.
DEMBOSKY: Back in the Bay Area, Amoeba has been buying so many used CDs, the extras are piling up in its Oakland warehouse. Tony Green comes twice a month to drop off the surplus.
Mr. GREEN: And we're in.
DEMBOSKY: Boxes and boxes of CDs are stacked on pallets along the floor.
Mr. GREEN: I would say there's probably about 60 pallets.
DEMBOSKY: At 6,500 CDs per pallet, that's nearly 40,000 CDs. Amoeba will sell some of them during the summer tourist season. They'll ship the rest off to other stores in the U.S. and abroad.
Peter Wall came to Amoeba to sell some of his old punk CDs. He started feeling a cash crunch when the bookstore where he works cut his hours. Then, his car broke down.
Mr. PETER WALL: I mean, it was paycheck to paycheck at that point, and then that just put me under.
DEMBOSKY: He's looking for another job and selling books and CDs for extra cash. He saves it all in a cat food dish in his room until the first of the month.
Mr. WALL: Rent. Everything goes towards rent.
DEMBOSKY: For other sellers, parting with a collection that took a lifetime to curate can be quite emotional. Gabriel Stricker compares his CDs to grains in an hourglass.
Mr. STRICKER: And then you basically go into the store and turn it upside down, and it's just, like, evaporating away, and that was kind of my experience was just sort of like watching the sand of this hourglass just like going away, one - tick, tick, tick.
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DEMBOSKY: Amoeba's buyers are sort of like bartenders. They bear witness to the stories of each CD. Stricker sat for an hour and a half while the buyer catalogued his beloved collection, including the first CD he ever bought by James Brown.
Mr. STRICKER: Instead of just, like, dropping them off and have them be gone, I could actually sort of process it with them. It was just like slowly letting it go.
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DEMBOSKY: Stricker's not strapped for cash. He plans to spend his entire payout on more CDs.
For NPR News, I'm April Dembosky in San Francisco.
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Mr. JAMES BROWN (Singer): (Singing) (Unintelligible)
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