There is still one more record store left in Harvard Square that I haven’t featured (I’ll wrap up my exploration of the area in the next column) but for today, to shake things up a bit, I ventured over to Central Square in Cambridge to check out the longstanding Cheapo Records.
I’m definitely not exaggerating when I say longstanding. According to the store’s website, Cheapo has been buying and selling vinyl from its abode in Central Square since 1954. This impressive lifespan of almost six decades makes Cheapo one of the oldest — if not the oldest — record retailers in Boston. Having endured the ups and downs of the business, it’s probably more steeped in music history than any other record shop in the city. From the tumultuous yet fascinating ‘60s to the digitally crazed ‘80s, Cheapo has truly seen it all.
But even when the media proclaimed the “death of vinyl” at the hands of the CD, Cheapo rode out the panic and kept doing what it first set out to do: help record enthusiasts in Boston (and beyond) bolster their collections. You can’t help but think that Cheapo must be doing something right to have survived for all these years. So, what’s their secret sauce?
I think the answer lies in the breadth of its genre offerings, the most striking variety I’ve seen in Boston so far. Although the store was admittedly heavy on ‘70s and ‘80s rock when I stopped by, Cheapo takes extra care to stock up on country, bluegrass, folk, soul, classical, rap, dance, soundtracks, and much more. There are even a few unexpected genres thrown into the mix (Celtic/Irish records, anyone?), as well as multiple sections dedicated to local artists. If you do a little foraging, you might even get your hands on the output of some of our generation’s biggest pop culture icons — pretty rare amongst independent shops that mostly deal in old and used LPs. So in case you’re craving some Kanye or Gaga on vinyl, Cheapo would be a good bet.
I should probably add, though, that this Mass. Ave. record retailer is not quite as cheap as its name suggests. You’d be better off heading to Stereo Jack’s or In Your Ear for selections under $10. The prices aren’t steep by any means, but it wasn’t the paradise of $1 and $5 records that you would expect from a place that has not so subtly dubbed itself “Cheapo.”
An organized and spacious shop, however, Cheapo is well kept with just enough clutter to give any record collector the satisfying feeling of having “worked” to snag the gold. And Cheapo definitely scores an A+ for holiday spirit: With Christmas tunes blasting from the storefront, the guy at the counter ocassionally (and unapologetically) singing along, and a crop of Christmas records up for sale, I wouldn’t take holiday shopping for the music lover elsewhere.