The Record Exchange is more than a music store; it’s a Boise institution. More than 30 years ago, owner Michael Bunnell opened up a record store downtown. Guiding the business into the digital age hasn’t been easy, but The Record Exchange remains a fixture in the Boise community through business diversification and community outreach.
The sprawling store on the corner of West Idaho and North 11th streets sells vinyl, CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks—and that’s just the musical offerings. With an on-site coffee shop and gift shop, The Record Exchange invites patrons to stick around.
“Modern record stores offer much more than records; they’re more like pop-culture marts,” said Marketing and Promotions Director Chad Dryden. “Stores like ours that have survived in the 21st century have adopted this model.”
If it’s not in stock at the store, employees do their best to hunt down whatever obscure CD or record you’re after. Their online store allows patrons to shop from home, if that’s their yen.
“We’ve stayed relevant by listening to our customers, adapting to trends and remaining open to change,” Dryden said.
The Record Exchange regularly hosts live music nights and is a patron of the Treefort Music Festival. Dryden said community engagement is what keeps The Record Exchange looped into Boise culture.
“(Good record stores are) a cornerstone of a city’s music scene, a place where people congregate to discuss and discover new music, hear live performances, hang a show poster and have a place to sell their own music,” Dryden said. “We’ve always embraced that role.”
On a recent January evening, the store hosted Boise-based artist Storie Grubb and band, celebrating the release of his new album “What the Devil.” The band set up camp at the back of the store and patrons filtered in to stand in the aisles and sway to the music.
There are plusses to being a big fish in a small pond. Dryden said that while cities like Seattle and Portland certainly have a niche market for alternative record stores and live indie music, “Boise’s strengths are in its differences.”
“Because of our size and relative geographic isolation, we’ve been left to our own devices in many ways, and what has grown out of that is a spirit of openness, innovation and opportunity,” he said. “Our music and arts scenes are tight and collaborative. If you play guitar, paint, dance, whatever, chances are someone is going to give you a shot to show your stuff. That doesn’t always happen in bigger cities.”
An emphasis on supporting independent labels and artists means that The Record Exchange is sincere in its relationships with its headline acts.
“Michael likes to say, there is no better fit than independent artists, independent labels and independent stores working together for the benefit of all,” Dryden said. “That’s the crux of what we do. It’s easy for us to get behind independent artists and champion their work.”
Not only is that fortunate for emerging Boise artists, The Record Exchange is finding it a good time to be an alternative music store in downtown Boise.
“We have a vibrant, eclectic and accessible downtown, and having been through periods in the past 40 years when no one was coming downtown, we feel very fortunate to be right in the middle of this latest resurgence,” Dryden said.
During Storie Grubb’s show, millennials could be seen flitting through the aisles and amassing a handful of CDs to purchase. In an era of illegal music downloads and home Internet connections, tangible tracks are still in vogue, Dryden said.
“Despite the popularity of iTunes and Spotify, there remains a strong demand for music that people can hold in their hands,” he said.
Top Ten Albums in 2016 – Picked by The Record Exchange owner Michael Bunnell:
You Want It Darker
Lovers & Leavers
Burn Something Beautiful
Stranger To Stranger
JOSHUA REDMAN & BRAD MEHLDAU
JACK DEJOHNETTE, MATTHEW GARRISON & RAVI COLTRANE
Top Ten Albums in 2016 – Picked by Marketing and Promotions Director Chad Dryden:
People Meet Your People
SFM-STEVE FULTON MUSIC
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service