The Rack Jobber Rumble

RACKFrom Business Dictionary:

Rack Jobber: Wholesaler that provides racks of merchandise for retail locations and split the profits obtained from sales between the two parties.

Many of the smaller stores I frequented as a child and teenager had record bins serviced by “rack jobbers”. The store wanted to sell records but didn’t want the hassle of doing the ordering and inventory themselves, so they hired a third party vendor to do it.

When I was a grade schooler, we lived in the small berg of Utica, Ohio, population about 2000. It was situated at the intersection of US Route 62 and State Route 13, near the Licking/Knox county line, exactly 13 miles away from the two local mid-sized cities and county seats – Newark (county seat of Licking County) was 13 miles south, Mount Vernon (county seat of Knox county) 13 miles north. We were 33 miles east of Reynoldsburg and Whitehall, then the easternmost suburbs of Columbus, the state capital.  Two places in Utica sold records: the local Ben Franklin store had a bin for a few albums and 45s; Ritchie’s Ice Cream Shop, which was a grungy but family friendly old-fashioned malt shop-type of place, had a few 45s and a selection of children’s’ records (yeah, I know…it’s weird). They even had old-fashioned “listening booths” in the back that had been closed and used for storage by 1970, so they obviously had at one time sold far more records than you would think.

When I was a teenager, home was Harrington, Washington, population 579 (it has since dropped below the 500 mark). No one in the town sold “real” records, though the drug store had a small selection of K-Tel compilation albums and a few 8-Track tapes (what’s THAT, daddy?) from about 1977 on. To get current stuff, you had to hit the small rack-jobber units at the drug store in Davenport (13 miles north…what is it with this 13 mile shit, anyway?) or one of the drug stores in Ritzville, 28 miles south.

And the Variety Mart.  Ye gods, the Variety Mart.

The Variety Mart in Ritzville was this odd little store right downtown that sold…well, a variety of things, hence the term “variety store”. They were a “general store” type of place. Garden seeds? They had it. Lawn furniture? Sure, right out back. Knick knacks for your living room tableau? In the glass case over there. Toys for your tot? In the ‘toy city’ aisle.  Ceramic garden gnomes? Try out with the lawn chairs. A hot plate? Definitely. over with the kitchen appliances.

And records. They had one small bin. But they kept it stocked with the latest singles and most of the current albums as well. It was right next to the checkout counter. And I gave them a lot of my record business – at least for 45s –  from the time I was a freshman until junior year, after our car broke down.

But it wasn’t necessarily the selection at these two places that always intrigued me. It was the labeling.

Rack Jobbers usually put a cardboard or plastic divider behind each 45 with a name and artist so you knew what you were buying. And presumably so they could keep track of what they were putting in each store. But not all of them were perfect, and some of them obviously weren’t paying the closest of attention, leading to title cards like these (ALL of these were actual title cards, I SWEAR…complete with their goofs…and if you can’t figure these out, shame shame SHAME on you, heh heh):

If I Were Your Wowman” by Gladys Night and the Pipes

The Rapture” by Blondie (and conversely, “Blondie” by The Rapture)

Samantha Sang” by The Emotions (more on this one in a mo…)

Boogier Wonderland” by Earth Wine And Fire

The Bells” By Stay Awhile

Escape the Pina Colada” by Ruben Homes

I could go on and on but you get the idea, I’m sure… half the fun shopping these places was finding these gems. Even as a small budding record collector, I knew my stuff – and this kind of error, well it WAS sort of annoying as hell to me, your average 8 and 15 year old respectively.

But….They were also FUNNY AS HELL.

Sometimes it was made worse  by the fact that the rack jobber had printed labels with mistakes on them, usually printed on the kind of label placed in jukeboxes of the day. Handwritten errors (“If I Were Your Wowman“) were forgivable, and probably only in that one location; printed ones, like “Samantha Sang” by The Emotions, were UNFORGIVABLE. Because it meant that the jobber had placed the same wrong pre-printed card in all of his accounts. I saw that one at Ritzville’s Variety Mart, and even in the large Pay N Save stores in two completely opposite locations – Spokane (where I usually shopped) and Bellevue (a suburb of Seattle where I was visiting my aunt).

Hey Mr. Rack Jobber…I know your job probably drives you nuts. But the song in question wasn’t some obscure title – it was a friggin’ top 5 hit written by Barry Gibb, for pete’s sake. And all over the radio, played so much I heard it at least 8-10 times a day. It was “Emotion” by Samantha Sang, not the other way around. For pete’s sake, PAY ATTENTION. Dumbass.

The job of the rack jobber these days is to keep places like your local CVS stocked in current cheap CD compilations and low priced hit DVDs. But back in the day, they helped supply me with some much needed music. And quite a few chuckles along the way…”Samantha Sang” by “The Emotions”….REALLY?  Harf HARF HARF!!