September 27, 2006

Ithaca, (Indepedant) Rock City

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Last month marked the opening of No Radio Records, the second of two new independent record stores in the Ithaca area. Although Ithaca is quite a cultured city, it has been void of a dominant music culture for many years. But now, Volume Records and No Radio Records are supplying Ithaca with “better places to buy better music,” according to Pete Wolfanger, one of the co-owners of Volume Records, which opened last May. The result of these openings is that in less than six months, a new and delightful music front has emerged in Ithaca.
Even though independent record stores are in steep decline around the country, Volume Records and No Radio Records are helping indie stores make a comeback. Volume Records is directly inside The Commons (148 East 8th Street, next to Juna’s café), and No Radio Records is just blocks away (312 East Seneca Street, near CTB). No Radio Records, a store whose name developed from owner Bob Proehl and friends complaining about the lack of a music scene in Ithaca, has been getting an exceptional response in its first month of business. “I’ve been really happy with the number of Cornell students that find their way down here,” Proehl said. This is no surprise, since No Radio Records isn’t just a record store. When creating the shop, Proehl kept in mind the high increase in the online purchase of music. “What can the shop be that a website can’t,” Proehl wondered before the store opened. It turns out that a music shop can be an art gallery, a coffee house, a performance space, a retail locale and a community as well. Even though the ambiance of a music store is unlike anything a computer screen can offer, some people, like freshman Caitie Clark feel that “Downloading music is so much easier than going to a store when there’s work to do and it takes time to get off campus. It’s simply more convenient.”
Others feel that it’s worth the trip. Cornell’s own Fanclub Collective, a group that brings many smaller concerts to campus, has been “really supportive of the shop,” said Proehl. In the spirit of community, Proehl is looking to help support others. Every month he will be rotating the art display, and Cornell students are welcome to come down and hang their own work. Proehl is also “trying to set up an Ithaca College and Cornell showcase.” Three shows have taken place so far inside of No Radio’s doors and Proehl has plans for more. This coming Thursday Gunshy from Chicago will be taking the No Radio stage.
Supporting local artists is also a vital part of the Volume Records philosophy. “Carrying local and regional CD selections is really important to us,” said Wolfanger. Volume Records, which is completely retail, is co-owned by three music lovers of different persuasions, and as a result has a variety of choices ranging from indie rock, to alternative country, funk, soul and R & B. “We specialize in music that’s harder to find.” Although both Volume and No Radio look to cover many genres, both shops are rather small, so the selection is carefully managed to ensure space doesn’t become a problem. At No Radio, the selection consists of mostly CDs, with a few vinyl, while at Volume the store is evenly split between vinyl and CDs.
As far as pricing goes, both stores are quite reasonable. At No Radio Records, Preohl said, “We try to keep prices fairly low and under $15 whenever possible.” Used CDs range from $7 to $9. At Volume Records it’s about the same. A used CD goes for $6.99 on average, and the prices of the vinyl vary depending on their condition.
So what do these newly opened record storeowners have to say about file sharing and programs like DC++? While he’s not 100 percent against it, Proehl said, “I’d like to think people who are really into music have a sense in the ethics of that.” Wolfanger too is not completely against DC++. “It’s a great way to learn about music, but the online recordings are not fidelity. Vinyl records give you a high fidelity recording and by buying music you are supporting the artists and you get liner notes and other information that you can’t get illegally.” Freshman Steve Matthews agrees with the storeowners, saying, “I definitely download a lot, but there’s something cool about going out and buying the real thing from artists you support.”
While the media constantly declares there is no longer a place for independent record stores in society, two shops have found niches here in Ithaca. As far as Proehl is concerned, “A lot of it [the closings of stores] isn’t the market; some of the people that opened the stores are just done; their hearts aren’t in it anymore.” With No Radio Records and Volume Records, this is far from the case. If the passion of Bob Proehl and Pete Wolfanger can predict the future of No Radio Records and Volume Records, then these two stores are sure to fill the music void in Ithaca for many years to come.