Back in 2003, a husband and wife had what seemed like a crazy dream. During the midst of an economic recession and in the face of the rise of digital downloading, both legal and illegal, the couple decided to open an independent record store in Akron’s Highland Square simply called Square Records.
A decade later, the country is teetering on the edge of the economic cliff, overall music sales are still trending downward and Square Records is still going strong.
Owners Dave and Juniper Ignizio opened Square with some helpful advice from the folks at Cleveland’s Music Saves, Square’s spiritual sister store. Since you can buy Taylor Swift’s latest ex-boyfriend burn set to music anywhere, Square’s stock leans on indie and alternative rock, classic and obscure soul, rock and jazz reissues and a wide variety of vinyl.
Looking for Leonard Nimoy’s 1968 magnum opus The Way I Feel? on vinyl? Square Records either has it or can get it for you at a reasonable noncollector price.
Square has been a go-to music store for Highland Square denizens and an active part of the community with monthly gallery shows of local artists and periodic in-store and off-site concerts featuring local and national bands.
But despite their frankly unlikely success, the low-key Ignizios don’t sit around the store being impressed with their own success.
“I’m impressed with the support that people around here have given us that’s for sure,” Dave Ignizio said from behind the counter at Square. “I didn’t know what to expect when we opened it up, it was just an experiment more or less to see if it would work out, and it’s worked out. It’s able to sustain me at least as full-time employee and a couple of other people that help out, and we’ve managed to achieve some things in 10 years.
I’m pretty proud of it, but we’re able to do it because people keep coming in and defying the popular theory that people don’t buy physical music anymore,” he said.
While overall music sales are down, for the past few years, vinyl sales have been trending upward with 2013 sales already showing a 33 percent jump from 2012. Though the total sales of vinyl only comprise a very small portion of overall music sales, just under 3 million, it’s the mix of older music listeners raised on vinyl and younger listeners who appreciate the sound, look and feel of a physical record that keeps the technologically obsolete format relevant.
Ignizio, who also carries used and new CDs and music magazines, has noticed the change in the store’s sales.
“At this point, it’s vinyl for sure. When we first opened, I’d say we were 55 to 70 percent CDs and in 10 years it’s made a complete 180 where it’s 70 percent vinyl and 30 percent CD, but we still try to have most of the new releases on CD that are specific to what we normally carry … but the majority of people have shifted to vinyl now.”
This Saturday, Square Records will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a concert at Musica in downtown Akron featuring relatively new trio Ultrasphinx (guitarist/singer Joe Dennis formerly of the Party of Helicopters and the Man I Fell in Love With, bassist Aaron Rogers and drummer Ian Cummins) along with serene, ambient duo Trouble Books (recent parents Keith Freund and Linda Lejsovka) and a headlining reunion show by local indie-rock band Houseguest.
Houseguest (Steve Clements, Ted Mallison, David Rich, Gabe Schray and Dave Whited) hasn’t played a show in five to seven years (depending on which band member you ask), but during their mid-2000s heyday, they put out a couple of good records and were a local favorite whose sets usually ended in drunken, shirtless frivolity both off and onstage.
These days, the band members are a bit older with day jobs, mortgages and responsibilities and such, so the shirtless, drunken frivolity will have to come from the crowd, which is still likely to happen.
The Akron quintet released a few good, tuneful indie pop records, featuring the intertwining dual guitar attack of Rich and Whited, Mallison’s stately baritone and a kinetic rhythm section that highlighted albums such as High Strangeness and Welcome, All That’s Difficult released on Pat Carney’s defunct Audio Eagle label.
A few years back, Ignizio floated the idea of the 10th anniversary show past the various band members, who all still play music in various forms. With co-founding member Whited living in California, one of the reasons the band broke up, it took quite a bit of sweet talk from Ignizio to get the band to consider re-forming, but a mutual friend’s health crisis solidified the band’s resolve.
“He [Ingnizio] originally offered to even pay for Dave Whited’s plane ticket, which was super nice of him, but we were going back and forth about doing it,” Rich said.
“Then our dear friend Dan Van Auken was unfortunately a few months ago diagnosed with brain cancer. And that kind of kicked our asses into gear, so not only is it awesome that we’re playing the Square Records anniversary but Dave and both of the other bands have been really nice enough to say that all the money from the show is going to go to Dan’s recovery,” Rich said.
Van Auken, an elementary school teacher who despite having recently gone through chemo and radiation is preparing to work during the upcoming school year, is a longtime Houseguest fan.
“He came to so many Houseguest shows and he was always our biggest critic, so we let him pick all the songs that we’re going to play and he put them in order for us, which really cut down on us arguing,” Rich said laughing.
Rich, who has worked at Square and whose other band, power popsters the May Company, used to rehearse at the store, readily acknowledges Ignizio’s feat as a record store owner and appreciates him asking Houseguest to play the big show.
“I’m really exited. The fact that Dave asked us means a lot to me; there are a lot of bands that he could have asked to regroup,” he said. “And the fact that Dave Ignizio has kept Square Records open for 10 years is insane.
“He’s a testament to not being elitist. People come in and special order whatever they special order and he never gives them a weird look or makes fun of them. That’s just the kind of guy he is, it’s an independent record store that nobody is nervous to go into,” Rich said recalling going to indie record shops in Cleveland and worrying if the person behind the counter was going to judge his musical tastes.
With a decade of business under their belt, the Ignizios aren’t looking too far ahead, but Dave Ignizio said he can see himself joining another local record store owner, Scott Shepard, whose Time Traveler has been servicing music lovers for more than three decades.
“We’ll see. I’d be up for it. I think I’ve got myself too deep in this now to get a real job,” he said.
“You can bring yourself out [of the business] in two or three years, but then you got to realize that it could be a whole lot worse than owning your own business and working exclusively around music and listening to whatever you want all day and meeting mostly really cool people who are into the same stuff you’re into.”
What: Square Records 10th Anniversary Show with Houseguest, Trouble Books and Ultrasphinx
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Musica, 51 E. Market St., Akron
Tickets: $4.99 21 and up, $6.99 under 21