Eastside Records to Close By Year's End

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There's something of an unwritten law here in the Valley that dictates the following: Anything remotely cool will eventually either die or start to suck.

Don't believe me? Try tuning into KUKQ on your car radio while heading over to the Mason Jar or Jugheads to catch a show, followed by a trip to the Counterculture Cafe for a late night latte.

Come New Year's Day you can add Eastside Records to that list, as the renowned Tempe music emporium will be closed by December 31. Co-owners Ben Wood, Michael Pawlicki, and Steven Gastellum have decided to pull the plug on the long-running record shop after almost 25 years of existence.

Pawlicki told me that while they're still doing "a respectable amount of business," he and the other proprietors have grown weary of keeping the shop afloat amidst the perils of running a record store in this day and age.

"We've been working harder at keeping the place open for a little less return each year," he says. 

Pawlicki, who's pretty much worked at Eastside since it opened in 1987, also cites a desire to ditch the Arizona heat and experience living somewhere else.

"I've lived here my whole adult life," he says. "And I would like to go where the summer's are a little less brutal."

Eastside's proprietors state it will remain open through the Christmas rush; a decision that Pawlicki says has both its pros and cons.

"There's gonna be more business because of Christmas," he says. "But we're gonna see all these people that we don't see so often."

Eastside's end is a major bummer for anyone (myself included) who's been a customer of the establishment over the past quarter century. Along with Stinkweeds (which also launched in 1987) it was a retailer for indie, punk, ska, and jazz acts that music fans couldn't find elsewhere, providing an alternative to such Reagan-era retailers stores as Tower and even local chain Zia Records.

(Curiously enough, both Eastside's proprietors and Stinkweeds owner Kimber Lanning managed various Zia locations in the mid '80s before quitting the local chain at roughly the same time to open their respective record shops within months of one another.)

To call Eastside an institution would be a major understatement. In many ways, it was the Valley's version of Championship Vinyl, the fictional record store from Nick Hornsby's High Fidelity, with Wood, Pawlicki, and the rest of the staff serving as the real world embodiments of music snob protagonist Rob Fleming

Personally, I've been visiting the store since a high school friend introduced Eastside to me in 1993. I bought my first copy of Maximumrocknroll at the store, sold copies of my old fanzines on consignment, pasted up fliers for a few punk projects, and also spent more money than I'd care to remember on CDs and records.

I'm nowhere near the only soul who's gonna be mourning Eastside's end. Over on The Shizz and other Valley music-oriented web-boards, local fans of the store have been expressing sorrow in response to the news of its closure.

"I honestly want to cry," posted Joe Distort on The Shizz. "I don't know what to say at all. My homebase for music, my friends, community etc., etc., since I was like 14."

Pawlicki's been getting similar responses in person from Eastside regulars since rumors of the stores closing began circulating.

"We're very much aware of the role we've played, and we totally appreciate that," Pawlicki says. "People have come in here and been good with us for a really long time. We have running relationships with a lot of people for many, many years. So that's the really tough part of closing."

They've made a lot of changes to survive the shaky seas of running a record store, including downsizing the floorspace in 2004 and expanding their wares to include secondhand stereo equipment and turntables, as well as a small selection of shabby chic furnishings. Eastside managed to remain afloat in the era of downloadable music partially due to its longstanding focus on new and used vinyl, particularly vintage and hard-to-find records.

Pawlicki says he and the other owners have been resistant to making any other changes to keep the store open and ultimately decided to close the store.

"We've changed the store so much, to keep it open, we would have to change it into things we just don't want to be," he says. "Like sell things we're uninterested in or music we're uninterested in. In general, selling things that we just don't have any passion for or doing business in ways we don't want to do."

If some of the Valley music nerds had the run of things, Eastside would also have to make other alterations to improve its business. One poster named "Necronomidom" on the Blatant Localism message-board had a few suggestions for the cramped (and often disorganized) record store.

"For example, if they would follow standard practice and separate new arrivals from the rest of the stock as well as separate used vinyl into subgenres (i.e., used punk in a separate bin), etc. then I would be more apt to drop in much more often," they wrote. "The current system sucks to the point where I just skip going in unless I have a lot of time because it is too daunting/time consuming to dig through all the rock/pop LPs to see if they have any worth picking up used."

Necronomidom better get down there before Pawlicki and the other proprietors snatch up all the hard-to-find gems, as he's planning on squirreling away "a bunch of stuff I know I can sell for more" at the record store he's planning on possibly opening in L.A. or another city.

Pawlicki explains that he has "the money and the means" to buy out his partners and run the store himself, but would rather seek opportunities elsewhere.

"I just don't see [owning a record store] as a fruitful enterprise here," he says. "I could actually buy it, but I'm looking to go elsewhere, so I may be taking some of what's here elsewhere and do a better job."

If that plan doesn't pan out, he says there's a slight chance of reviving Eastside sometime in the future.

"It's not impossible. If I go elsewhere and I don't like it for whatever reason, I could come back and re-open. I own a house here and there's reasons for me to stay here, but I really fear doing business here in the summers anymore.

"This is as hard on me as anyone else, which is robably why we've stayed open against our better judgment the last few years. You just don't want to end it, but there's a time when it just comes and you have to pull the trigger."

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