Thoughts on Cleveland's Vital Music Stores: The Past. The Present. The Future? 

There was a music store in Westlake that was, for a time, the most important place in Northeast Ohio.

Now, that's just one person's recollection of the beauty of this place. Everyone in the region surely had his or her own oasis—a spot of musical refuge safe from the outside world. But for this one person, the sanctity of music and jewel cases and album art and posters and these monumental employees who just seem to know every goddam thing there is to know about music—oh, look, you can even listen to new albums with these cool headphones in the corner—cannot be overstated. The place was called My Generation, and its untimely end in 2004 dealt a blow to the community.

"Our aim is to sell and leave the business in the hands of someone who will carry on in our style of eclectic selection at reasonably low prices; it would also be great if they kept all or most of the crew intact." That was the nut graph of the email owners Tom, Sue and Bob Kiss sent out to their feverishly loyal customer base. But no one came calling (except to express their heartfelt thanks for being there over the years). No one bought the place, and another gem sunk into the quicksand.

Back when the Kiss family shuttered the store, the talk centered obviously around the rise of digital music. Things like Napster and Kazaa were still major names. iTunes hadn't even become the household term it is today. But the tea leaves signified nothing but hard times for those still selling things like records, CDs and cassette tapes.

These days, there's a bit of a cultural pushback against the digital tides. And here in Cleveland, we're fortunate enough to still boast some fantastic little joints.

My Mind's Eye in Lakewood, Record Revolution in Cleveland Heights, Bent Crayon in Detroit-Shoreway, Music Saves in Collinwood, The Loop in Tremont, Record Den in Mentor and the litany of Exchange outlets: All of these places still hold true to the notions of browsing, talking shop, and offering a selection that rivals what you can dig up on Spotify. A big difference is that at these places, you can hold the music in your hands and feel it leave a mark on your soul.

There's an elegant and quite personal method to the music store experience, of course. Upon entering of these little sanctuaries, there's no telling what treasures you will encounter. There may be specific albums you're eyeing, but the gist of the experience, especially here in Cleveland, is to gather a respite from the bleak environs outside and gently wander up and down the aisles for, what? Hours? Days? Years?

Better yet, Cleveland's music stores boast knowledgeable owners who care about the history and legacy of pressing music to vinyl (or, you know, other media). Hell, Cleveland is home to Gotta Groove Records, one of the most prominent vinyl-pressing plants around.

By and large, Cleveland's music-buying and -browsing fanbase has been vigorous enough to keep our core outlets open, if not thriving at times. No matter whether you're looking for Michael Stanley's complete catalog or obscure Phish bootlegs, take a break from reality and drop into Cleveland's essence. You'll be glad you did.

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