A True Risk-Taker: Opening a Record Store in Downtown Columbus

Early yesterday afternoon, Susie and I ventured downtown for the grand opening of Spoonful Records at 116 E. Long St. (around the corner from the A.T.&T. building).  As part of molding Susie into a well rounded and erudite individual, I have insisted that she know what long-playing records were are, and that she know about such things as phonographs, turntables, etc.  I have taken her to record stores in Columbus and Cincinnati, and made a point of buying LPs whenever we’ve gone to the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention.

With the economy in free-fall, and downtown Columbus businesses dwindling almost daily, starting a business–any business–requires a leap of faith that I cannot even comprehend.  So, I was quite surprised to see that a new record store would be opening in downtown Columbus.

I first noticed it when I was walking up E. Long St., en route from work at lunchtime to the credit union to cash a check.  A long-abandoned former furniture store suddenly had butcher paper over the windows, and an OPENING SOON! sign hung in the windows, along with the name and telephone number of the business soon to open–Spoonful Records.

Yesterday was the big day.  I had spoken to the owner, Brett Ruland, on the phone earlier in the week, and it turned out we had some mutual friends and acquaintances through the used-LP grapevine.  He worked part-time at Lost Weekend, a record store a few blocks from my house, and had seen Susie and me in there.

Susie bought Everything’s Archie, the Archies album which premiered “Sugar, Sugar,” their most popular hit.  (She searched for but couldn’t find any Archie comics for sale.)  She was impressed by the spiral-bound sketchbooks and journals for sale, with covers made from LPs.

Susie fell in love, however, with the two pinball machines in the back.  (She was discouraged by her lackluster performance on Bally Wizard, but did quite well once she tried the other Bally machine, Four Million B.C.)  I had to remind her that 20 or 30 thousand for a pinball game was quite a respectable score when I was a teenager, and if she broke 100 thousand, the machine would either reset and she would lose all her points, or it would go totally nuts with all kinds of alarms and lights.  Once she learned how to work flippers and the fine art of gently jostling the machine (I have to explain the concept of “tilting” to her, but I’m happy she didn’t learn it the hard way) to guide the ball, she spent a lot of time at Four Million B.C., and beat the high score by a very decent margin.  “Damn!  I gotta start practicing!” the previous record-holder said when I told him.

Susie poses between games of Four Million B.C.
Several record stores opened and closed during the first 20 years of my life in Marietta.  I received my first phonograph–a portable orange and white plastic General Electric–for Christmas when I was about four, and bought a cheap stereo from Sears with newspaper-route money when I was 15.  At the time, the best places to buy records were at Hart’s Department Store or the Marietta College bookstore.  (There was a store called Scents ‘n’ Sounds in downtown Marietta, but my parents didn’t let me go there because–they said–it was also a head shop.)  In high school, Side One Records and Tapes opened, and I remember that was where I bought Q: Are We Not Men?  A: We are Devo, the only Devo album I ever owned.
One of my many country-mouse-becomes-city-mouse moments when I moved to Boston was turning to the Yellow Pages and seeing columns and columns of record store entries.  At that time, however, I relied exclusively on my tape recorder for music, since I had left my turntable in Ohio.  This limited my choices of things I could buy.  (I remember the first album I bought in Boston–on cassette–was Toto IV, because I had become quite fond of the song “Africa.”)  I was surprised to see the price for which 78 RPM records sold in Boston.  On one of my trips home, I brought back a stack of 78s that an old lady had given me when she paid me to clean out her attic.  (Her husband had died and she didn’t want to stay alone in a 10-room house.  She was moving to a condo, and she hired me to clean out her attic.  I had right of salvage for anything other than family personal effects–letters, albums, etc.)  They didn’t fetch much, but it was a little extra folding money for me.
I have long supported the merger of bookstores and record stores.  Spoonful had a few books for sale, and record stores in Cincinnati included rock memoirs along with some token Bukowski books and Beat authors, and shrink-wrapped editions of The Andy Warhol Diaries and Madonna’s Sex, but that was about it.  My ideal was Rooks and Becords, a store on Polk St. in San Francisco which I visited on my cross-country Greyhound trip in 1987.  I marveled at how well the two co-existed.  I bought books and I bought records, and gingerly transported them in my knapsack on the return trip to Ohio.  Half-Price Books has made the effort as well, but with the corporate look of the place comes a lack of intimacy.
Spoonful will be featuring listening stations, much like the record stores of New York (and other cities, I’m sure).  They’re not ready yet, but Brett holds out hope, as evidenced by this picture:
I’m sure Brett will have to post step-by-step instructions
once his equipment is ready to use.  Some of us
still remember how to do it; it’s like riding a bicycle.
I don’t remember ever being in a record store that had the small listening booths.  I remember a passing reference to them in William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice, and I saw allusions to them here and there in New Yorker anthologies, but I had never seen one.  The closest I’ve come is using the wall-mounted CD players at Used Kids Records on High Street, but standing there just isn’t the same.  (These players were in Used Kids’ newer location, opened after the fire in 2001 which destroyed their old location, along with some 70 thousand albums.  Lost forever was one of the best collections of spoken-word albums I had ever seen.  I had bought a record of Howard Hughes’ 1972 telephone press conference there.)
So, we have a new record store in downtown Columbus, and another one has opened in Clintonville, just south of W. North Broadway.  It’s called Dreadful Sounds, and it specializes in punk and metal.  I have yet to visit it, but I have passed it on the bus and on foot.  I learned about it from Columbus DIY’s Message Board, and plan to stop in soon to pay my respects.
Vinyl may be coming back into fashion.  My hope is that people won’t look at me quite so funny when I speak of my love for typewriters.