Friday, November 27, 2009

Cheapo Records Thrives in the Age of Digital Downloads

It's always nice to read that there are still record stores that are doing well, long live vinyl!

By Kate Spalla

CAMBRIDGE –Cheapo Records sits on Massachusetts Ave in a sea of chain stores such as Payless Shoe Source and Blockbuster Video, which tower over the 55-year-old record shop, but Cheapo has been there since 1954.

At a time when CD sales are struggling and digital music is increasingly popular, Cheapo Records in Central Square survives in a long and narrow shop front filled with handwritten signs and endless aisles of cardboard boxes stuffed with dust covered vinyl records.

“We try to keep everything cheap, that’s why we’re called cheap-o!” an employee, Mark, told a customer. Even so, it’s atypical that such a store could survive among an era where digital downloads are so accessible and record players are increasingly obsolete.

“We’re fortunate a lot of our customers come here for the vinyl records,” said Rob Thomas, manager of Cheapo Records. Thomas said in recent years, DVD and CD sales have dropped. Thomas attributes the drop to modern technology such as CD burning.

“Music has become so disposable with things like the internet and illegal downloading,” said Allison Fogel, a sophomore at Tufts University and Cheapo customer. “Buying something as solid and sometimes beautiful as a record is acknowledging that music really means something.”

Records may be archaic to most teenagers, but there has been an up rise in the number of college students who prefer to buy record players and collect records because music has been diluted by the digital age, Thomas said.

“We get a good mix of old die-hards who have been coming here every week for years, and now new kids who are really into punk and hard core,” Thomas said.

Still, Thomas observes more and more buyers who choose to support their favorite artists with a bulky vinyl over iTunes and CDs which have the same artwork.
“I think old records still have a different sound, and maybe it’s a little scratchier, but there’s culture that’s passed on through records,” said Trey Walton, a 27-year-old Cheapo customer who came to visit from Atlanta, Ga.

The customers and the employees in the store share a mutual love for record collecting. The employees chat among each other with respect for the records.

The environment Cheapo Records encompasses is part of the neighborhood. The Middle East Club across the street brings more customers into Cheapo and they stay open late after shows on occasion.

The demographic in Central Square has changed since Cheapo first opened, and Thomas said that many customers who can’t afford to live there anymore still come by. A newfound love for records in the wake of dissent with the digital age has kept Cheapo Record alive.

“We have such a good community,and we have for years,” Thomas said.


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