A recent visit to Square Records reminded me why streaming, though convenient, can never replace the record store experience. Aimee Mann’s “I’m With Stupid” was playing over the house sound system. Mann’s low-key vocals matched the energy of the room. The front window and walls are covered with brightly colored album art and concert fliers.
Inside the 15-year-old Highland Square record shop, crates of new and used records take up most of the space. They are chock-full of goodness: Rudy Ray Moore “party” records, King Tuff, The Murder City Devils. There is a section of CDs, but they are far outnumbered by their analog counterparts.
Co-owner Dave Ignizio is behind the counter. His dark hair is cropped short and his face is covered with light stubble. Wearing a T-shirt with the logo of Sub Pop Records post-hardcore act “Hot Snakes,” Dave amiably chats with customers. If he didn’t own the shop, he would surely be mistaken for a patron.
Noticeably absent is the stuffy, pretentious attitude often associated with independent music stores. The shop is rife with charm and character.
“There are all kinds of ways to listen to music in 2018,” Dave says, “but vinyl is the one that keeps you most connected to the music. You make a conscious choice to pull that record off of the shelf. In most cases with vinyl, you’ll be listening to an entire LP so you’re entering a world that the artist has carefully laid out. You can sit back and check out the cover and liner notes. You take in the whole experience of that album. It forces you to pay attention to the music and what the artist is trying to convey.”
It’s no easy feat to merge taste, quality and integrity into a successful business. But Square Records has done just that during the last 15 years, on its way to becoming a central hub of the Akron music scene.
Started in the summer of 2003 by Dave Ignizio, Juniper Sage and Geoff Crowe, Square Records sought to bring the selection and feel of a big-city record store to Akron. The trio employed a DIY ethic similar to that of their favorite musicians to create a space where music lovers could find albums by harder-to-find bands. Also, as fans of vinyl, they wanted to include the popular format as part of regular inventory.
The young entrepreneurs lucked out when a storefront at 824 W. Market St., just next to the then-vacant Highland Square Theatre, became available. Narrow but deep, the shop was in a perfect location.
Still, their business proposition wasn’t an easy one: Album sales in the country were dropping in 2003. iPods and mp3 players were encouraging single-song downloads and music streaming was emerging. Selling vinyl was a huge challenge.
Plus, Square Records went through a few staff changes.
“Geoff moved on a couple years [after opening],” Dave recalls. “Juniper and I continue to co-own the shop. And although Juniper is not involved in the day-to-day running of the store, her contributions over the years have been absolutely vital.”
Square Records soldiered through its first five years. By 2008, sagging industry vinyl sales began to blossom, peaking at 1.9 million units yearly. And now, 15 years into the store’s run, vinyl moves at a whopping 13.1 million units annually.
With a center location in the hip and eclectic Highland Square, the shop found itself in an enviable position.
“The store has gone through a lot of changes in 15 years,” Dave recalls, “but at the core we still have the same principles we had when it opened. We try to keep our prices as reasonable as we can despite the fact that the cost of new vinyl has nearly doubled since we opened. We try to be a part of our community via art openings and other events that we regularly host in the shop.”
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of Square Records, Dave and Juniper are throwing a blowout at Musica on Saturday, Sept. 15. The show includes Party of Helicopters, Cleveland’s This Moment in Black History, punk torchbearers Kill the Hippies and G.S. Schray.