They began arriving shortly after dawn yesterday, in cars, trucks and vans from as far away as Michigan and Maine and as near as Kensington and College Park.
They carried with them records -- thousands of records, some neatly stacked in boxes, crates and trunks; others falling out of overworked cartons and paper bags. And they all came to Silver Spring Holiday Inn in search of -- more records.
It was a familiar scene to Stuart Shapiro, who has staged nearly 200 record conventions in the last few years and for whom they are as much a livelihood as an avocation. At 20, he is already considered by some to be the "granddaddy" of a burgeoning business in which the expression in which the expression "golden oldie" has come to mean cold, hard cash.
"It's funny how I got into this," Shapiro said as dealers wheeled their handcarts past. "About four years ago, I was rummaging around a comic book convention when it struck me that I could do the same thing for record collectors. It's been growing ever since."
The same could be he said of the price tags on rare or out-of-print records.
Yesterday, for example, you could have picked up a monaural copy of a late-'50s album by Elvis Presley for $50. A Todd Rundgren EP (extended play) cost $30, and a picture disc of Elvis Costello's "My Aim Is True" was going for $150.
Prices are dictated as much by changing tastes as by availablity. "I remember when picture discs were a hit a few years back," Shaperio recalled. "Now, except for Costello and a few others, you can't give them away. To some people it's even embarrassing being seen with them."
Gary Bernstein, a vetern collector from Chicago, agreed. "It's hard to speculate on what's going to be popular tomorrow," he said. "Part of the problem is bootlegs -- unauthorized or pirated recordings. "If you had 10 collectors at a typical convention, generally half of them would be selling at least some bootleg. That drives the price of the real thing down. Meanwhile, the artists responsible for those records don't see zilch."
Not far away in the middle of the ballroom, where more than 60 tables had been set up for dealers, what appeared to be an assortment of bootleg by the Beatles, Bruce Springstein and the Grateful Dead was on display. But most of the discs on sale were the real thing, and the selection was limitless. mDoo-wop and rockabilly records were stacked side by side with jazz and country albums. Broadway show recordings were interspersed with those of almost every artist popular in the '60s, and even disco divas like Donna Summer found their way into some collections.
For the most part, each of the discs had been hand-picked over the years from countless bargain bins, flea markets and garage sales.
"Gone are the days when you could find a collector's item at Woolco for 49 cents," said Ed Cox, a 20-year collector from Kensington, Md. "Occasionally you might stumble upon something at a garage sale, but now collectors have other sources like publications, price guides and conventions. It's a network now."
Despite rising prices and the relative sophistication of the collecting market, most oldies remain under $10 -- the ones priced higher than $300 being rare and much-publicized exceptions. Into that category fall such celebrated cases as the Beatles' original "Yesterday . . . and Today," which was recalled by the Capitol recording company because of a rather grotesque piece of cover artwork. A sealed copy reportedly was sold recently for more than $1,000.
For many collectors, the search for a coveted disc is as much fun as the discovery.
"If it weren't for the cost of my record collection," Brian Mazullo, "I wouldn't still be driving my mother's car." Mazullo, who works in a record store in Reston, has been collecting "ever since I can remember" -- and there is still no end to his want list.
"I guess 'vinyl junkie' pretty well describes me. My tastes are eclectic, ranging from James Brown to classical pieces. But when you finally track down that fugitive record, I tell you -- the feeling is great."
By early afternoon, Stuart Shapiro shared Mazullo's enthusiasm. The largely male, college-age crowd had grown to about 400 -- a suprisingly strong turnout given the scant promotion.
"We try to stimulate word-of-mouth, and apparently it worked great here," he said, surveying the crowd. "Certainly much better than it did last night in Philadelphia. Don't worry -- we'll be back in December."