An Interview with ElWray Art + Music Owner Ian Witt
words and photographs by Ted Zep
Ian Witt’s eyes light up and dance with excitement as he references one of the hundreds of records that surround him at his shop ElWray Art + Music. Located in Barberton, the space is every bit as unassuming and unpretentious as you’d expect it to be. Part record store and part art/vintage retail space, ElWray’s is a veritable honey hole of retro pop culture.
Witt, 41, developed a relationship with music early on.
“A lot of my original taste had to do with my dad,” he explained. When I was a boy we would sit around and play records. He would DJ for the night. It was through him that I discovered ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel.”
Around the age of 13, Witt happened upon Elton John’s 1973 classic “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” The work of John’s long-time drummer Nigel Olsson impacted him in a profound way, inspiring him to take up the drums.
Fast-forward to 2011. Witt and his wife Stefanie are looking for a retail space to house a drum company that they own. The Hudson-native quickly discovered that rent around his hometown was rather pricey.
“I needed a place and buildings in Barberton are really cheap. I could get 4,000 sq. ft. building for half the price of anywhere else.”
The space, which dates back to 1906, is tucked between a pet store and a gaming room. After the drum company, the couple outfitted it as an antique/secondhand shop. When it became apparent that a repurposing was in order, they decided to make it a record store. It was dubbed ElWray’s as a nod to their children’s names.
They set up tables filled with milk crates chock full of vinyl, glorious, vinyl. The original tin ceiling is still intact, giving the newly minted sound shack a sense of authenticity and character.
Witt has no patience for the stereotypical affected record store filled with re-releases of albums cut on 200 gram vinyl and anchored down by ridiculously hefty price tags.
“I don’t want a remastered album,” reveals Witt. “In that aspect, I’m a purist. I view that stuff in the same way that I look at the Franklin Mint commemorative dinner plates. I want to hear it the way it was originally intended.”
He smiles mischievously.
“A record shop should be fun and exciting to dig through,” he continues. “90 percent of the records here are priced at $1. We buy collections and take trade-ins. I’m easier on the condition (of the albums I buy) than most (stores) would be. When you offer something cheaper, people tend to take a chance and buy it. If they discover some music they like, it can enhance their lives.”
However, the shop does carry a small amount of new vinyl. But what Witt is really looking to expand is the stock of local music. He is a staunch supporter of local original artists, going so far as to book monthly in-store concerts in conjunction with the city’s “Fourth Friday” arts and culture events.
“The most important part of the shows is the networking that takes place,” states Witt. “Every time, different acts meet and hook up with each other.”
In addition to music, ElWray’s carries ceramics made by Witt’s wife, who co-owns the space. ElWray’s also sells jewelry on consignment and various odds and ends. Witt even has a tech he is affiliated with who services turntables for customers.
Conversation soon returns to vinyl.
“It’s the soul,” says Witt. “With a record you get the full experience of what an album is supposed to be. There is the cover, the pictures and the insert. If you really want to absorb an album, it’s the only way.”