With Fishtown’s booming arts scene came the call for more record stores.
“[Fishtown] is much better for us,” said Tom Lax, owner of Philadelphia Records Exchange. “We were on 5th and South [streets], which in the ’80s was sort of the epicenter for that demographic and then slowly it just kind of eroded. So coming up here we lost a lot of what were the detrimental parts of the business, which was basically just drifters and people like that. Here I actually have people coming in early in the day to just buy and sort of shake me down for money.”
Lax’s store, now located at 1524 Frankford Ave., was a South Street mainstay for roughly 28 years. With the arrival of more and more big businesses, however, a small record shop no longer seemed to fit the demographic.
Borderline Records, which has called 525 Girard Ave. home for almost eight years, seemed to be ahead of the curve.
“South Street is driving a lot of people out,” said owner Mike Couper. “It’s not like it was. It’s like an open-air strip mall down there now [with] the big chains.”
Couper, who was born and raised in Kensington, spent some years in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, before relocating back. He does roof work during the day, and said Fishtown has been gradually up-and-coming for some time now.
“I remember when there was nothing on Frankford Avenue,” Couper said. “It was all abandoned buildings. Now look at it, you have high-end martini bars. Fishtown was just typical businesses and now you have boutiques and comfort food joints.”
For Creep Records, which sits just outside of Fishtown in the soaring neighborhood of Northern Liberties, the decision to relocate came easy when they were offered a shop attached to the Piazza at Schmidt’s.
“[Creep Records] is one of the original things, as far as the Piazza went,” said manager Will Angelos. “They offered us a really good deal and we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to be in the best single spot in Northern Liberties.”
Angelos said the artsy vibe surrounding both Fishtown and Northern Liberties is no accident.
“I think that’s an intentional thing,” Angelos said. “I think it started organically because of what usually happens with lower rent areas. People with art tend to usually go [to these areas]. And the area sort of embraced it. Even when the Piazza was conceived, it was conceived as a place for artists and art-related projects by [the Piazza] owners.”
Creep Records, which originally stems from West Chester and whose address is now 1050 Hancock St., Suite 76, sells glassware as part of a larger company called Frolic in addition to selling records. While technically situated in Northern Liberties, the shop is no stranger to Fishtown.
“We have a [recording] studio in Fishtown that we’re actually remodeling right now, which goes hand in hand with the label stuff,” Angelos said. “We’re just kind of [involved] in every facet of music.”
With several record stores all of a sudden jammed into two prospering neighborhoods, there is bound to be some friendly (or not-so-friendly) competition. However, considering record stores in general are perhaps arguably a dying breed, some of it has to do with just spreading quality-sounding music. The demographic, they said, ranges anywhere between the ages of 18 and 60.
“A lot of people are just buying good classic rock,” Couper said. “If you put on rock radio you can see why. It’s horrible. That’s why people are buying [Bruce] Springsteen, [Bob] Dylan, Pink Floyd.”
“Everybody loves Led Zeppelin and the Beatles,” Lax said.
Despite their close proximity to one another, their biggest competition is undoubtedly a much more powerful force.
“People have been selling stuff on the Internet for years,” Couper said. “I actually never heard of the Internet until somebody said they were selling records. I’m talking back in the ’90s. We’re going to have to work on different areas as far as promotion and outlets as far as utilizing the Internet. The times are changing, as I quote Mr. [Bob] Dylan.”
While Fishtown and Northern Liberties are appealing more and more to people of the arts, Lax said Philadelphia in general appears to be continuously growing and prospering. The next such art-oriented neighborhood could be anywhere, he said.
“I think the whole city seems like it’s blowing up everywhere,” Lax said. “Houses are going for way more than what they used to and it’s getting way more developed. You have people living in parts of Kensington where, five years ago, people wouldn’t be willing to move there.”
Text, images and video by Tyler Sablich and Maxwell Reil