Eastside Records comeback a welcome surprise

Like “purchases of typewriters surge” or “film cameras selling well among crucial non-hipster demographics,” one just doesn’t expect the phrase “record store opening” in the year 2012. With vinyl records and even CDs looking increasingly obsolete in a world of mp3 players and smart phones and Spotify, an awful lot of signs point to the decline of independent music shops.

And yet, Tempe’s Eastside Records, at 707 S. Forest Ave., recently reopened after nearly two years without a home. The small store held its grand reopening Oct. 5, riding the wave of vinyl revivalism to buck the long nationwide trend of record store closures. Eastside owner Michael Pawlicki said that there is reason to believe that the style of his store is the new face of record stores.

“They’re definitely coming around and they’re more in this form,” Pawlicki said. “You carry some new things and locate enough old records, it’s got a more boutique kinda feel to it, but it works on that level.”

Eastside first opened in 1987 at its original location near Mill Avenue, founded by Pawlicki and two partners. The store closed its doors in 2010, but returned as The Ghost of Eastside Records from December 2011 to May 2012. During the downtime, Pawlicki was scouting for a potential location in the Los Angeles area and continued to hunt down records for the store’s collection.

Pawlicki said the current location is ideal for its proximity to the ASU Tempe campus, as well as attracting older connoisseurs as a hub for record collecting.

“I’m sitting almost right on the campus now, that’s not accidental,” Pawlicki said. “Curious kids did start walking in, which is great. That’s what has to happen for this to work. We have to find, out of a huge population, the five hundred crazy kids who are into this stuff.”

The current collection boasts over 10,000 vinyl records, an impressive collection of 45rpm singles and stacks on stacks on stacks of CDs. There’s even a modest but robust library of books slanted toward modern literature, art history and, inevitably, music criticism.

About one in five records is either new or a reissue, but the meticulously organized and impressively curated section of used records is the real treat. Virtually any important artist one could dream of in rock, punk, jazz, reggae, R&B and beyond can be found here. For the depth and diversity of its selection, not to mention the stellar condition of many early editions, Eastside is nearly unmatched in the Phoenix area.

“The best bulk of things in here I actually at least like, if not outright love. Every store has its own angle on things, its own approach to things.”

Particularly noteworthy is its section of noise, experimental and esoteric records, which Pawlicki expects to evaporate as collectors snap up the difficult rarities.

“That stuff used isn’t so easy to come by,” Pawlicki said. “You get one chance at buying things that crazy. I’d love to keep that as a happening area, but chances are it’ll largely sell off and it’s hard to replace.”

The wall behind the counter is decorated with records by the Sun City Girls, a legendary Phoenix-based band that conjured a bizarre alternate universe of sound that fused avant-garde rock and world music. In 1987, the Sun City Girls were the first band to play at Eastside. Also on the wall are equally celebrated Phoenix punks Meat Puppets, who discovered the psychedelic midpoint between hardcore and country.

“I went and saw every one of [Sun City Girls'] shows. I walked in and saw that band when I was about your age and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The early Meat Puppets were like that in their thrash phase. It was a crazy era of music that is now very hailed, and I just happened to be that age when it was happening.”

Eastside had live music on its first night back, and space has been set aside for regular performances.

The store makes great use of its compact space. Colorful handmade labels line the aisles to indicate artist and genre, a touch that lends the store some extra character. To pick a few examples, the reggae section is appropriately adorned in Rastafarian red, green and yellow, a caricature of Bill Cosby hovers over the “comedy, celebrities and superbeings” records, and the punk section is labeled in no uncertain terms.

  

“It’s something you just have to have a passion for,” Pawlicki said. “I know if I can make enough money to pay everyone and pay the bills, it’s all good. It’s still great to be around the music all the time and it really is still fun for me after all this time.”

Like the sign out front says, Eastside is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Really, if there’s a certain rare record you’ve been pining for, this is the place to check.

Photos by Brandon Kutzler/DD