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The Vinyl Solution

Think 45s are a thing of the past? Think again.

The main floor of Mountain Coin, located in an industrial cube of a building on a lonely stretch of 62nd Avenue just west of Interstate 25, is packed with the latest in electronic games and diversions. There's "Wrestlemania," in which a beefy champion under your control tries to smear the face of a fearsome challenger into a virtual mat. (As the device waits to be activated, a voice from it occasionally declares, "What a moron!") There's "Magical Touch," a contraption that allows patrons to test themselves in assorted contests of skill, including "Joker Poker" and "Sex Trivia." There's also "Tournament Solitaire," "Super 6 Plus II," "3 on 3 Hoop It Up World Tour" and a Space Jam-themed pinball machine in which rivals launch metallic orbs painted to resemble miniature basketballs. It's a proud collection that can't keep quiet; even when no one's pushing their buttons or wiggling their joysticks, these oversized toys beep and blip like flashy robots whose sole purpose is to keep boredom and depression at bay two quarters at a time.

Most of the jukeboxes that are part of this assembly gleam just as brightly as the other sales items, embodying the kind of technical advances that tend to loosen the purse strings of Nineties consumers. "The Performer," a "hyperbeam" box manufactured by NSM, lacks a coin slot (the smallest monetary unit it will accept is a dollar bill), but it more than makes up for this deficiency with a sleek design that includes a display window in which a pair of CDs float and rotate a la flying saucers. A different music spinner, from Seeburg, has a V-shaped front section that makes it look like a coin-changer from beyond the stars. And while the exteriors of some jukes--particularly one that's lined with tubes of bubbling, colored fluid--recall previous eras, their insides are as modern as today. A case in point is a Rock-Ola disc player that sports antique lettering identifying it as a "laser phonograph." If someone had seen such a placard on a jukebox during the Fifties, he would have called the bomb squad to defuse it.

But such a person would have felt very much at home on Mountain Coin's second floor, where a small outfit dubbed Hear Here occupies a pair of rooms. Portions of the enterprise seem utterly up-to-date--especially those racks inside the main sales area that brim with CDs ranging from golden oldies to recent blockbusters. But what's most striking about the place are its walls, which are lined with 45 rpm vinyl singles. Thousands of them--more than sixty thousand of them. And these 45s aren't dusty, scratchy relics from days gone by. They're brand-new, never-before-played stacks of wax, their obsidian surfaces protected by crisp paper sleeves just as they had been during the period when similar platters could be found in every Woolworth and Budget Records location between the Pacific and the Atlantic. So crowded are Hear Here's shelves that the space seems less like a music store than a vault--or perhaps a time capsule containing the finest aural nuggets from the twentieth century.

"When people come in here, we see a lot of wide eyes," says Carolyn Quick, Hear Here's personable owner. "I can't tell you how many times we've had people stand here and say, 'I didn't even know they made these things anymore.'"

They do. Musicians looking to present their songs to the public in a cost-effective manner have discovered that 45s provide a viable alternative to cassettes and compact discs. Hence, vinyl continues to thrive along the fringes of the music industry, especially among fanciers of punk and indie rock. Meanwhile, many well-known acts (including Pearl Jam, whose song "Spin the Black Circle" pays tribute to the old-style single) tout the format for aesthetic reasons: They feel that music on vinyl sounds warmer and better than it does when digitized for CD. And that's not to mention the nostalgia factor. According to Carolyn, "A lot of people who remember how much fun jukeboxes are have gotten to the point in their lives where they can afford to put one in their basement or their rec room. And when they do, they need something to put in it."

Of course, Hear Here isn't the only place that Denverites can find 45s. Numerous specialty shops in the city continue to sell them, but most focus on new songs by up-and-coming underground combos; rare, imported or collectible singles that come complete with hefty price tags; or used singles purchased for a pittance from persons more interested in cleaning out their attics than in holding onto little slices of musical history. By contrast, Hear Here concentrates on what's left of the jukebox market. Carolyn and family sell a huge variety of popular ditties (from Fats Waller to the Beastie Boys) for around $1.50--and often less. Included for that price are pre-printed labels that fit jukebox slots--and clients who want extra title strips for singles they already own can have them custom-made for the princely sum of a nickel apiece. "We've got the printer right here," Carolyn points out. "It's no big deal."

Given these prices, Carolyn must sell a considerable volume of product in order to keep her doors open. She's been able to do so because there are only a handful of establishments like hers remaining in the United States. "I know there's one in Minnesota," she says. "And I think there's one in Arizona, too. But between here and there, we're pretty much it. So we ship all over the country."

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