The 50 Best Record Stores In America is an essay series where we attempt to find the best record store in every state. These aren’t necessarily the record stores with the best prices or the deepest selection; you can use Yelp for that. Each record store featured has a story that goes beyond what’s on its shelves; these stores have history, foster a sense of community and mean something to the people who frequent them.
In the mile stretch of Rehoboth Avenue, you can buy fudge from six different shops. If you’re looking to buy a personalized T-shirt, or maybe one that has “DTF” emblazoned across the front, you have a minimum of 10 options on the strip (not even counting the boardwalk). If you want to buy vinyl in the 1,196 square miles that is Sussex County, Delaware, you have one option: Gidget’s Gadgets.
As a child, I eagerly read the Sunday paper for the entertainment section. In a tiny box in the left hand corner of the second page was “THIS WEEK’S TOP RECORD BUYS.” I wanted to know what other people listened to, people who were allowed to play their dad’s Iron Maiden records and didn’t have a secret Hit Clip stash. I was obsessed with the sheen of vinyl, the hypnotizing spin of record players and the little red static reducing gun my dad had in the den. By the time I hit my teen years though, the column was gone from the paper and vinyl had largely faded from my (and the collective public’s) memory, replaced by burgeoning MP3 technology.
It wasn’t until I got my driver’s license and could go to the beach with friends that I discovered Gidget’s Gadgets. Nestled among shops that sell every possible decoration that can contain seashells and Christmas ornaments consisting of half-naked “mermen,” I found a nostalgic haven dressed in tones of yellow and the Replacements.
If you comb through records at a local thrift shop in southern Delaware, you pretty much exclusively find dusty Perry Como records sprinkled with a generous dose of gospel music. That’s a microcosm of the area. It’s a retiree magnet; if you’re under 55, fuck off, and serve at a chain restaurant until you die or move, whichever comes fastest. Gidget’s Gadgets was the first place I experienced a curated, organized selection of music I liked, and even more music I didn’t yet know I liked. I could find Alice Cooper records I had been clamoring for since age five, pop punk 45s I loved in high school and pristine Tom Waits records I fell in love with at 22. As one of the only consistently open shops in an area that slows to a crawl nine months of the year, Gidget’s is like a little home in both the cold, empty streets of winter and the crowded dog days of summer. I went to Gidget’s the night after I graduated high school and bought George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. I went to Gidget’s in the pitch black dark of a winter 6 p.m. and bought Bleachers’ Strange Desire. In the summer, Gidget’s might just be the only store on the avenue I’m willing to brave the hordes of tourists for, all of whom seem to be holding a dripping chocolate ice cream cone.
Gidget’s started selling vinyl just eight years ago, beginning with a humble section in the back selling the personal collection of owner Steve Fallon. Fallon, former owner of Maxwell’s, the club where the the Replacements recorded the famous 29-song Live at Maxwell’s, chose to expand the store to include vinyl on a whim to get back to his roots. It proved to be perfect timing. Vinyl would soon experience a popularity resurgence with young people clamoring for what Fallon calls a “more organic approach to life.” Unbeknownst to him at the time, Fallon would soon receive a boost from an unexpected source.
Dogfish Head Brewery is in Milton, Delaware. Milton, just a few miles outside of Rehoboth, is where people move when they can’t afford to live at the beaches and where visitors go to get eight free beer samples at Dogfish. Nationally renowned for their IPAs, they have supported Gidget’s last three Record Store Day events. They even came out with their own “Music To Drink Beer To” vinyl, which is, of course, sold at Gidget’s. On Record Store Day, the line for Gidget’s stretches down the block as people eagerly await their shot at limited releases and brews served up by Dogfish to numb the pain if they weren’t quite quick enough.
Nowadays, just across the street from Gidget’s Gadgets is the new Dogfish Head Brewpub that hosts weekly free shows, including a variety of bands from “dad rock” to up-and-coming indie artists like Philly-based Waxahatchee. After you nurse your hangover the morning after a show, you can head over to Gidget’s and look for that indie band you just heard. Or if you’re anything like me, you might just grab a few of those Iron Maiden albums mom never let you listen to. Gidget’s will welcome any of your tastes and all of your guilty pleasures with open arms and vintage lighting.
Up next, we travel to a record store in Washington state.