Record Store Review: Viva La Vortex

Nestled in the heart of Midtown (2309 Yonge Street, 2nd floor), Vortex Records and its owner, Bert Myers, have been supplying Torontonians with second-hand CDs and vinyl for almost 30 years. The store carries all kinds of music but specializes in rock and pop and is currently building up its jazz and country stock. They keep an ample A-Z soul section and rows of DVDs and Blu-Rays line the walls overhead.

The space is refreshingly free of impulse buys. Racks of already faded T-shirts, lunch boxes and additional novelty items are absent, leaving room for music, other people, and you, rendering the browsing experience a reprieve from what Myers playfully calls the “isolated beings and tall towers” of Yonge Street and Eglinton.

Display cases, shelves and stands are nude finished, unpainted wood, and a small percentage of dividers are of the handwritten and cardboard rectangle variety; behind the Jazz section, the lone window turns Eglinton Centre into a silent film of bustling suits and ties. Functionality outweighs image at Vortex, and that imbalance means there’s no room for self-consciousness, provoked or pre-existing, once you step in the door.

In terms of stock, Folk and International music stand out for their variety, while Blues boasts a sizeable selection of  artists including Bessie Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson. On DVD, mainstream features and documentaries have a strong presence, as does TV drama (particularly in the foulmouthed and devious departments of cops, lawyers, and villains).

Diggers at heart can expect plenty of crates and boxes strewn about with contents for the taking. According to Myers, “things have gone from being hard to get good records to being inundated by product these days. It used to be hard to get people to part with their collections. Now they do it 16 times a day.”

The store’s main demographic is 40-plus: just the right age to have followed Vortex since its inception. An avid listener of “cowboys and jazz singers,” Myers is realistic about why his customers keep coming back. “It’s force of habit,” he says. “The oldsters who grew up with CDs and records like the tactile element to them, whereas young people truly don’t show up here, unless they manage to buy a new turntable. Generally, they prefer to download.”

Vortex’s stripped-down layout can lead to reminiscing. Richard Picard (like the Star Trek captain), a store regular, recounted how Myers once purchased a rare vinyl copy of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968, the father of all garage rock compilations. Rosy-cheeked, Picard spoke fast, enveloped in the memory; it happened in Halifax. “I remember because I was there,” he said. Myers added that he sold the same title (a 5-disc set) in late August.

Check out Vortex’s website for new arrivals and an FAQ page that reads like a sequel to The Catcher In The Rye.