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Mall Brands: Sam Goody

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The watering down of the chain strikes a dissonant chord with music fans.

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Somewhere between the window treatments at Linens 'n Things and Radio Shack's massive wall of transistors lay a music retailer where undiscerning teens could escape the harsh judgment of suburbia.

A youth sanctuary replete with everything from Jane Child cassingles to posters of Rachel Hunter. A haven where compact discs were sold in 12-inch longboxes. An idyllic paradise where one could find a VHS copy of Gleaming the Cube for the low, low retail price of $99.95.

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If you're between the ages of 25 and 45, you'll fondly recall the heyday of Sam Goody -- the "every mall" music. You knew that any album they didn't carry was probably worth listening to.

Sam Goody began its long history in mid-1930s New York. Founder Samuel Gutowitz, who went by the eponymous "Goody," owned a shop that specialized in toys and novelties. But after a customer inquired about those dandy records the kids were talking about, he established a music store in the heart of Manhattan. So popular was this store, that according to the New York Times, by the '50s it was responsible for 7% of all LP sales in the country.

The store spawned a chain that was unlike most music vendors of the time. Rather than limiting the stock to recent pop albums, Goody broadened the selection to feature rare and out-of-print recordings -- a huge draw for collectors and audiophiles alike.

But the 1978 sale to rival Musicland watered down the Sam Goody brand with a homogenized expansion. Stores lost the rarities and overall panache, more merchandise was squeezed into smaller locations, and the focus shifted from the decidedly offbeat to the relentlessly mainstream.
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And with that, Sam Goody became just another run-of-the-mill shop within a shopping mall.

By 1991, the chain hit 320 locations across the country. Each a cookie-cutter clone, Sam Goody became known for eye-catching racks of assistant-manager-mandated top sellers. Because their sticker prices often reached the upper limit of what customers were willing to spend on the latest Color Me Badd album, the mantra "Goody Got It" fell flat.

In the years ahead, parent company Musicland floundered -- not just in the face of increased competition, but with the rise of the digital MP3 format. To stave off losses, it shuttered hundreds of Sam Goody stores, and eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2006. Musicland was acquired by Trans World Entertainment Corporation (TWMC), which changed all the locations to FYEs -- stores that make Sam Goody look like Vintage Vinyl.

While you won't find a Sam Goody tucked next to a Waldenbooks or Calendar Kiosk today, a cassette suitcase or Sony Discman might conjure a fond memory or 2.

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