This article originally was published in Issue 24 of Ghettoblaster Magazine, Thanks to Ghettoblaster and David Obenour for allowing us to republish this. This is the first in a series profiling Ohio’s record stores. If you are interested in writing about your favorite drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1980 N. High Street. Columbus, OH
Words: David C. Obenour
Full disclosure, I’ve been going to Used Kids since my days of rabidly hunting down imported Oasis singles. Not too long ago in the greater scheme of things, but in my musical upbringing (and arguably fledgling addiction), they were a both a dealer and facilitator. $2.50, $5 and $7-$9 bins, you could easily come out with a messenger bag full of great new music for under $50. My friends and I would load up the car and make the two-hour drive south, parking in the nearby rough (though now gentrified) neighborhood to miss out on the city’s parking meters.
What I didn’t realize then was all the history behind my favorite record store. Started by Dan Dow and Ron House, like most record store clerks, the two spent their nights playing in bands and running D-I-Y record labels. Ron House played in Great Plains and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and Dan Dow played in The Gibson Bros. and ran OKra Records. Granted, all of these names are restricted to enthusiasm from a very select group, but were none-the-less regionally crucial in the establishment of the Columbus “scene” of the late 80’s and early 90’s. A few years later came another owner and cornerstone of Columbus’ musical past, Bela Koe-Krompecher, who ran Anyway Records and was man of the hour for Guided By Voices’ incredibly drunk from start to finish live release, Crying Your Knife Away.
“I started up Used Kids in 1986,” remembers sole remaining owner Dan Dow. “Ron and I both worked for another record store called Mole’s… I could actually briefly explain why it’s called Used Kids.” True to his word, Dan goes into a short explanation of Mole’s relationship with a record store down the block specializing in new releases, School Kids, where customers could take credit from for trading in old records at their shop. “Anyway, School Kids moved into an upstairs level spot and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you guys move downstairs for Moles and then people will get this concept better?’ Fortunately for me, the guy who owned Moles didn’t want to, but I did and Ron was working there too, so we both went down and literally overnight set it up and started.”
A lot’s changed since then. New buildings, new clerks, the new bands the new clerks are in, but perhaps most notably, with nearly 50,000 students coming and going every year, changing neighborhoods (again with the gentrification) and new clientele. “There’s been such a dramatic change that’s happened on campus in general over the past couple of years,” says Dow. “When I was a kid, High Street was the place to go. You could start at one end and visit all of the record stores and the restaurants and bars, but I think now a days kids will just hop on the bus and go down to the Target or the movie theater. What I tell people, and they kind of scratch their heads, but students to me are almost a detriment. I do better or just as well during the summer when they’re gone… the people who come in mostly want to avoid those people. They don’t want to get their shoes puked on at a football game. (laughs)”
Currently located across the street from the heart of OSU’s campus, why bother fighting rent battles, lack of parking (or at least the illusion of a lack of parking) and a largely unmindful neighborhood. “I’m kind of old fashioned and stuck in my ways. That might be something in the future, but I’m just so against change,” Dan replies. “I also kind of think that the minute I move off campus, suddenly those 50,000 students will decide it’s time to come back to High Street.”
Of course, a shift like that most likely won’t happen on it’s own. All of the chain stores and the kids frequenting them are strangling the life out of what High Street once was and what I was willing to drive two hours for. A handful of good record shops along with Stache’s/Little Brothers (the very venue Crying Your Knife Away was recorded at) have all recently closed. “You just got to think of new things to get people off their butt and up the stairs,” Dan says. “I’d like to stay there and make it a place to go to for other things, like live music and I don’t know… art shows? When they started doing that Record Store Day a couple of years ago we built a stage and it’s all local bands that we get for that day. Super Desserts just had their record release show here a couple of weeks ago, so yeah, I think we are as much as anybody… well probably more then anybody because there aren’t any other stores left. (laughs)”
That’s right, because reviving old haunts isn’t the only challenge facing independent record stores these days, in case you hadn’t heard. “Yeah, it’s been touch and go for the last few years but I think a couple of things, like the resurgence of vinyl and the internet, have helped immensely,” says Dan. “I think the internet stuff, particularly Amazon, is amazing. Just because there are so many places in America that don’t have record stores anymore. We aren’t selling popular items either. We’re selling world beat and classical, stuff that doesn’t actually sell in the store, so I’m not taking away from it. I have a fifteen-year-old niece that comes in one day a week and puts albums up for six hours and that’s enough.” It sure is nice to hear a good story from a mom and pop, or in this case an uncle and niece record shop these days.