The Sound Exchange Celebrates 30 Years in Business

The late 1980s were an incredible time for music, in performance, production, and distribution. Throw in a little inspiration from bigger city buying options and a small-town desire to succeed and The Sound Exchange was born. First opening in 1990 at a location on Blizzard Drive, South Parkersburg, WV, The Sound Exchange specialized in both new and preowned music in a time when vinyl was on its way out, cassettes were a comfortable standard and compact discs were all the new rage for music lovers. 30 years later and Parkersburg’s small independent record/cd/cassette and more store is still going strong.

It all began in a dorm room at Ohio State University when childhood friends Joe Davis and Todd Stubbe hatched a plan to open a music store back home in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Within five years that dream had grown to two locations in Parkersburg with a third store in Lancaster. Eventually, the partners decided to focus on their own outside ventures leaving the Lancaster shop in Todd’s hands, while Joe maintained the local stores. In 2001, the original Blizzard Drive location closed in favor of remaining in the larger, more centralized Murdoch Avenue location. In 1999, The Sound Exchange expanded upriver to Marietta with a prime location on front street. That location remained open until 2004 when the town flooded and took out a number of businesses. When rebuilding was determined to be not feasible, Davis opted to focus on making the store on Murdoch the primary destination for music enthusiasts in the area.

Part of the reward for being an independent store is the ability to participate in a national event designed to help bring awareness and business to local music stores. Record Store Day began in 2008 as a way to celebrate independent record stores and The Sound Exchange has been participating for about the last 7 years. Record Store Day is usually held in April of each year and followed up with a smaller “Black Friday” type release in November. Participating shops, like this one, often have a set-up for live music events, sometimes food and of course the special items for sale. Consider it almost a downtown block party for music enthusiasts. Each year artists and companies curate and release special “Record Store Day” editions of albums. Some of those are re-released from prior collections and some are brand new, but all of them are specific to this event and are only released at that time.

Like with most events this year, Record Store Day was directly impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions countrywide. Fortunately, the event was not canceled altogether, only adjusted to provide the stores with the ability to adhere to distancing restrictions. Instead of the one Saturday in April, Record Store Day has been held over three weekends plus the previously scheduled Black Friday releases. The final Saturday to shop these exclusive deals is this week, October 24th.

In the past there was always a special rack of items that were specific to the day; However, in order to promote safety for the customers, employee Elmer Gourley devised an alternate shopping method. All of the Record Store Day releases have been scattered throughout the store, in the racks with the cds. Referring to it as an “Easter Egg Hunt” of sorts, Elmer hopes to give all customers a fair chance to find the albums they are hoping to take home. Though not all albums are available at The Sound Exchange, they do their best to get as many of the sought after titles as the distributor will send. Keeping that in mind, customers are limited to two copies maximum of any title that they want to purchase to keep it fair for all participants.

In the past 30 years, the music industry has come full circle. When Davis first opened The Sound Exchange, vinyl records were on their way out and compact discs were beginning to take over the mainstream. Now many of the customers coming in are back to building vinyl and cassette collections, as is the store. The front of the store used to feature new and used CDs but today’s customers are greeted by racks of brand new vinyl records, including those released by local artists.

Over the years, the store has hosted artists, both local and from national tours, even before Record Store Day gained popularity, contributing to the atmosphere of The Sound Exchange. Joe loves the culture that they’ve cultivated inside the shop. “My favorite part of owning a record store is by far the people who come in and want to talk about music,” he said.

Surrounded by music all day, every day, Joe said it’s difficult to pick one specific album or genre to call his favorite, but he did admit to being a big fan of Tom Petty. Incidentally, an expanded catalog of the late singer’s music was released just this month and The Sound Exchange has multiple copies of the album and an expanded box set just waiting to be taken home and enjoyed.

Throughout all of these changes, Joe and The Sound Exchange have thrived. With the help of dedicated regulars, some who have been shopping there since the first store opened in 1990, the need for a local independent record store like this remains steadfast in a world where things change by the minute. Davis said customer service continues to play a key role in the brick and mortar music store’s success in the digital age.

“There are a lot of people, younger people, who are discovering vinyl records for the first time,” he said. “Maybe they were given a record player as a gift. There’s nothing that sounds the way a record sounds playing on a turntable.”

Joe has a dedication to his customers that is hard to find in bigger, national stores. Always willing to try to get special requests in stock from their supplier, he also takes on the task of trying to track down out-of-print and more rare requests when possible. His dedication to his customers is certainly what has helped The Sound Exchange stay around for so long, but when you ask Joe, he will tell you that it is all about the customers.

“As 20-year-old kids starting this, you just never think you will hit such a milestone, especially with all the changes that have happened in this time. But it is a huge milestone, 30 years in business, and I couldn’t have done it without the dedicated customers and their support.”