Rainbow Records on Main Street, in Fall 2006If people say that, “Popular music is the soundtrack of your life,” then the timing of my college career couldn’t have been better. My years at Delaware perfectly coincided with the rock movement we all know as “Grunge.” I remember during my first semester in the Fall of '91, hearing about some band called “Nirvana,” and then by the time I got back to UD in February '92 -- after a seven week winter break -- Seattle had fully invaded Delaware, as it did everywhere else. The stuff that had been considered “college music” went mainstream when I was actually in college.
Others have reminisced about and analyzed the Grunge era to death, but since I closely associate the whole thing with my college years, I’m particularly nostalgic about that time, those bands, and those songs. At the risk of sounding like an old man: What the fuck do you kids listen to these days?! They don’t make ‘em like they used to.
Well, Nirvana’s Nevermind was of course the album credited with opening the floodgates, but I think hands down the most played CD during my college years was Pearl Jam’s Ten. I was one of the few that didn’t own it. Why would I? Everyone else had it, and in any given dorm room or at any given party, you’d hear it from start to finish. And if I wanted to, I could’ve just borrowed the CD and copied it. Onto tape, that is.
See, that’s the other thing about the Grunge era. It prompted the last real growth in the music industry (the country was also emerging from an economic recession, that partly fueled the themes in the music), and it was still the romantic days of good ole’ fashioned, “Can I borrow that CD to make a mixtape?” Imagine that, buying blank tapes?!
For my high school graduation my parents gave me a Sony CD player with a dual tape deck. I used it all through college, and I knew at least five other people with the exact same Sony, having also received it for high school graduation. Yes, that thing churned out a mixtape or three for an old girlfriend. You’re as guilty as I am.
The whole Napster thing came in about five years after I graduated. And with it, the beginning of the slow death of the college record store. Hopefully that previous sentence won’t prove to be 100% accurate. Nope, I’m not so old that I find downloading offensively simple. Hey, I probably would’ve used those fast UD dorm room connections to download and trade thousands of songs, too. It’d be too tempting not to.
But I’m the collector type. I do like product on my shelves; seeing those CDs lined-up, having the artwork. There’s no saying you can’t do both -- collect the stuff you’re really into and then download the “whatever” stuff -- but I really hope that on Main Street, Newark, the digital age won’t totally kill off the bohemian energy known as the college record store. But keep reading, it’s almost come to that…
Rainbow Records in September 2006Rainbow Records originally existed in the Grainery Station (now gone) on Elkton Road, and then moved to Main Street in the late '80s. The business quickly expanded, and soon thereafter added their Jazz Annex next door, and then a card and gift store across the street.
Rainbow’s “Key-Tag” program in the early '90s was quite successful; it was where you’d get $10 in store credit, after every $150 purchase. Their used CD business was big. Mind you when I was at UD, the CD format itself was really just overtaking tapes, so buying used CDs was sort of new territory. At the time I was hesitant to buy used CDs, but I remember Chubbs telling me -- at the then Roy Rogers across from Rainbow -- that, “CDs are indestructible…used is fine.” Which isn’t completely true, but close eneough.
Anyway, in the wake of Nevermind, everyone was after Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, and I vaguely recall a rush for it at Rainbow…and a temporary shortage. I guess it was one of those things where if you got your hands on it, you could front, “See, I have Bleach. I was cool before everyone knew about this stuff.” Even though you bought it after the fact.
Possibly the coolest album ever sold at Rainbow, though, was the one with their name on it: 1993’s Rainbow Covers the Holidays (cover scans at the bottom of this page). A charity album produced by Monika Kottenhahn, it featured a who’s who of local Newark bands, covering classic holidays songs. All profits went to the Delaware Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
When I attended Delaware, Rainbow Records was at 54 East Main Street, the location they’re most associated with. But their considerable growth in the '90s prompted them to move into the newly renovated 58 East Main Street (formerly the Newark Mini-Mall), where they became a more Borders-esque style books and music establishment. However, they then got hit hard when mp3s and digital sharing came in, and subsequently downsized and returned to their former 54 East location. The early to mid '90s was really their last upswing…
…and then as another fifteen or so years went by, it was time to downsize again in the Fall of 2010. Rainbow owner Chris Avino decided to lease the Main Street-facing portion of the space to Switch Snow and Skate, which had been in that small blue building at 16 Haines Street since the mid ‘90s. Rainbow itself then moved to the alleyway along the right side of the building. As Chris told The Review, "It's just going to be more of a boutique, spending a lot more effort on the vinyl section."
Then in April 2013, Chris -- who understandably was burning out after operating Rainbow seven days a week for eight years -- looked to sell the business, otherwise it would probably close. Fortunately there were several interested buyers, with local “rocker mom” Miranda Brewer taking over Rainbow in June 2013.
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