Vinyl Jeopardy: The disappearance of the on-campus record store

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

Ten years ago, Claudia McPete's brother, then a student at Ohio State University, gifted the youngster with a T-shirt from Used Kids Records.

"I had no clue what Used Kids was. I just thought [the shirt] was sweet looking, so I wore it all the time," said the Yellow Springs-raised McPete, now a first-year student at OSU. "Then when I was 16 or 17 I was hanging out in Columbus with family and it was like, 'Oh, there's the store I had that shirt from.' Now it's my go-to [for record shopping]."

Beginning sometime in May, however, McPete and her fellow students will have a little bit farther to travel to visit the local institution.

With development on the High Street corridor in the university district shifting into high gear, Used Kids, which has operated out of a N. High Street address for more than 30 years, is set to move into a new location northeast of its current digs. Though the new space rests a mere mile and a half from the High Street shop - at 2500 Summit St. in the rapidly evolving North Campus/Washington Beach/SoHud 'hood - it's a fairly seismic development, leaving campus bereft of record stores for the first time in modern history.

"I was definitely bummed to see there's going to be no CD store on campus [because] I grew up in those stores," said Lost Weekend owner Kyle Siegrist, who received his primary education browsing the stacks at now-shuttered campus shops like School Kids, Capitol City, Mole's, Discount Records and more (Siegrist's Clintonville shop doubles as a living museum of local record retail, incorporating LP racks inherited from Mole's and National Record Mart, among others). "I think it'll be good for Used Kids in the long run, but it's just sad. There are what, 50,000 kids on campus? And they don't find us or Magnolia [Thunderpussy] or Spoonful right away. When they get dropped on campus, where do those kids go to get records? Urban Outfitters?"

It's a point echoed by McPete, who said she started to gain an interest in vinyl in more recent years, drawn in part by the design and presentation of the gatefold packaging, as well as the feelings of nostalgia inspired by the format.

"Not having easy access to a vinyl place nearby will make it less likely for a lot of students who might potentially be into it to really get into vinyl," said McPete, who pointed to a $5 cassette featuring psychedelic rock songs by Ohio garage bands as one of her more unique recent Used Kids discoveries. "High Street is such a magnet for students, and for prospective students and families who are visiting. Used Kids, whether you're into vinyl or not, it's interesting to go in there and check it out. Also, the people are super knowledgeable. It's different from walking into a place like FYE where you're like, 'Yo, what's the best format for this?' And they're like, 'Let me call my manager.'"

Used Kids owner Greg Hall understands all of this, which is why he's already hatched loose plans to establish a boutique outlet somewhere on campus in the future.

"I recognize I still need a slice. I still need to be able to stick a hand out here and say, 'Here's a taste. Now if you want more go to our main store,'" Hall said during an early April interview at Used Kids. "I do have concerns about losing touch with this right here. That's why I want to come back in with a more boutique store. I also have plans with one business on campus - we don't have plans finalized, so I can't say who - where we can put in a rack of records … which would give us some connection back to the students."

Hall, who purchased the store in 2014 (he also worked as a clerk at School Kids from 1979 through 1986), opted to make the move now before development forced his hand, as it did with Johnny Go's House of Music, which closed in late December after its N. High Street block was pegged for redevelopment.

"I want a home I don't have to worry about being impacted negatively by construction," Hall said. "And it's not even about the question of tearing this block down; it's about being stuck in the middle of the chaos."

"Campus is changing a lot, and it's probably better they're doing it on their terms," Siegrist said. "I went and visited Johnny Go [owner John Petric] ... to offer my condolences [before the shop closed] and he was like, 'I've been here forever, and I'm being forced out.' And it sucks because right now everybody is doing better."

Indeed, the vinyl industry as a whole is in the midst of a massive uptick, with sales of vinyl LPs increasing to 11.9 million records in 2015, up from 9.2 million in 2014, according to Nielsen Music. It's a relatively recent phenomenon, too. By comparison, Nielsen only registered 1 million vinyl records sold in 2007.

"Streaming is kind of complicated, and you get such an inferior sound compared with a record," said Abe Bogere, a sophomore at OSU who is also part of the Vinyl Club, a campus-area group that meets twice a month to discuss music and listen to records (meetings regularly take place at Used Kids due in part to its proximity to the university). "With a record you have that warm, analog feel. I've bought albums in many formats, and of course vinyl always wins. It's like we went backwards in sound quality, but I don't know if people are aware of it."

"There's something sexy about the needle down in the groove. I mean, that even sounds sexy," Siegrist said. "It's vibrating. It's making that music. A laser beam bouncing off a piece of plastic, while still kind of magical, it doesn't seem as sexy as a record."

In addition to a street-level storefront (Used Kids has operated in a second-floor space since 2001), the Summit Street location offers a wealth of benefits, Hall said. These include ample free parking - both in a private lot behind the building and on the street in front of the store - a slightly larger retail space (the site, in the former home of Young's Food Market, registers at 2,580 square feet) and a neighborhood heavy on independent and arts-leaning businesses, including tattoo parlor Evolved Body Art, music venue Rumba Café and Wild Goose Creative, a mixed-used arts space.

Collectively these neighboring businesses should make Used Kids' new 'hood feel a bit like, well, its old one - or at least a bit like the more independent-minded High Street of years past.

"My first week in Columbus I walked up the stairs [at Used Kids] with a group of people I'd just met that seemed like they liked punk ... and it was like magic. It was like we found a place we could go - a place to feel connected to Columbus," said Ryan Eilbeck, who moved to the city in 2003 to attend OSU and has been employed at Used Kids for three-and-a-half years. "I was lucky to have a High Street with more character and diversity when I was going to school. Out of boredom or curiosity I could stumble into a place and the city would expand with possibility. Now it's like you're going to walk into the Wendy's Super Loft, and what are you going to get out of it?"

Hall said development and rising High Street rents have played a major role in the ongoing turnover, which has seen smaller mom-and-pop shops move out only to be replaced by mass retailers and chain stores.

"When you put $40-a-square-foot property facing High Street, it's going to force all the cool stuff out," he said. "How many cell phone stores and Wendy's can you have running up and down the street? There's only room for so many before they start cannibalizing each other."

At the same time, Hall understands change is inevitable, and he stressed many of these independent businesses have simply moved to other parts of the city, comparing it with the townsfolk scattering as a giant prepares to bring its foot down in the middle of a fairytale burgh.

"It's like, 'I'm getting out of the way and going somewhere else," he said, and laughed. "And if you look at what's going on up and down Summit, and on Fourth all the way from Italian Village up to Hudson, you can see that ripple effect. That's where all the cool stuff went."

Ron House and Dan Dow founded Used Kids on High Street in 1986. Initially, the store operated in tandem with School Kids, stocking used LPs, tapes and CDs in a basement space while the above-ground School Kids featured new product - an arrangement echoed in the shops' given monikers.

This lengthy history can still be traced in the stairwell leading up to the second-story shop, which is papered with flyers advertising concerts stretching back decades - another detail that will carry over into the new space (Hall said there are even more show posters in storage that can be displayed in the Summit Street digs) - as well as in the countless relationships formed within its four walls.

"Friendships are made here; bands are formed here," Siegrist said. "I was an awkward kid from the suburbs, and I needed a place where other awkward kids from the suburbs hung out."

"People from out of town will ask, 'Why does Columbus have so many record stores?' And the idea that keeps coming back to us is the social aspect of it, and the connection," said Hall, who met his wife while working as a clerk at School Kids (the two now have three children). "Ryan [Eilbeck] mentioned he found an audience here where he felt at home ... and I remember that same experience when I came to Columbus [from Coshocton]. I didn't know what to expect, but I do very distinctly remember stumbling into School Kids, and it was like, 'Ah, this is really cool.'

"I love the store. I love the tradition of the store. And I want to keep building it to be what people expect - and more."