Brunswick music shop owner bets on vinyl revival

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BRUNSWICK — Memorial Day Weekend is often referred to as the unofficial start of summer.

But with the ceremonial smashing of a Kenny G album May 26, David Kowalski ushered in a new phase of his life and the local music scene, too.

That morning, Kowalski opened Deep Groove Records at 32 Elm St. The shop is his first storefront after operating a record stand at the Fort Andross Flea Market for six years.

And, while he’s gained a loyal base of customers over that time, Kowalski said he was still surprised to see about 15 people lined up outside Deep Groove on opening day.

They were waiting for an opening ceremony the owner had promised on the company’s Facebook page. He chose to use music from the American saxophonist to “bless the threshold” before letting customers in.

“I was going to open at 11 on Saturday, I kind of figured maybe a couple people would show up or something,” he said. “Truly, I peeked out the blinds before I opened, my wife was in here helping, and I was like, ‘Oh my god there’s people out there.’ It was really sweet.”

Now, the Kenny G album cover acts as a doorstop at Deep Groove, where Kowalski kept the front door open and had a rotating arrangement of blues records playing for customers June 7.

His goal for the shop, he said, is to emulate the vibe of stores he has visited in Europe – a place where people can enjoy a cup of espresso and talk about music.

“(When customers are) having these conversations, it feels like what I want it to be, which is a hub,” he said. “A place where people of this frame of mind – art-centric and music-centric – feel like they’re part of a society, a subculture.”

Kowalski’s interest in records began when he was growing up in upstate New York, where his mother worked at a radio station.

Because of that, he’s been collecting vinyl for “31 of his 43 years,” he said, and after moving to Maine to build musical instruments 18 years ago, decided to try his hand at selling records at the flea market.

“I set up one weekend just to see, and people were asking if I’d be back,” he said. “So I started there in October thinking I’d be there for a year or two, and I was there for six years.”

When he stumbled upon the Elm Street building where Deep Groove is today, Kowalski had already been looking for a storefront location for three years.

Initially, another buyer was set to purchase the building, but when the deal fell through at the last minute, Kowalski was next in line.

Now, Deep Groove Records has three rooms housing numerous cases of records, as well as shelves displaying them, which Kowalski built himself.

Along the back wall behind the register are a few of his prized, framed album covers, including one by Sun Ra, an American jazz composer. 

Pinned above the covers is also a single dollar bill, from his first Deep Groove customer.

Since opening, he said his clientele has been a mix, mostly comprising people who bought from him at the flea market, along with “a lot more new people” than he was expecting as well.

Last week, one of those new customers was Brunswick resident Brandon Frye, who said he thought Deep Groove was one of the best record stores in New England.

The ages of Kowalski’s customers are diverse, he said, ranging from middle-school kids to people age 70 and older that are filling in the last pieces of their collection.

Some customers, however, have also expressed disbelief at the idea of a record store opening in 2018.

But even in an age when digital streaming services like Spotify are dominating how most people listen to music, Kowalski said records are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, too.

“It’s hilarious, because (some) people when they walk by and they look in they go like, ‘Oh well, good luck’ and there’s this pity in their voice,” he said. “And I’m like, no, it’s cool, I’m alright.”

And, though some young adults’ love for records could be temporary, he said there will always be vinyl fans like him who enjoy the “ritual” and experience of playing them.

Even with the new storefront though, the internet also plays a part in his record sales. Kowalski posts about new weekly arrivals on Facebook and his Instagram page, with the new inventory often being reserved by customers before it can make it to the shelf.

He also recently set up a company website, where the store’s hours are listed.

In regards to the type of music he sells, Kowalski said his concept is “a curated portion of a little bit of everything,” including 78 RPM records of early blues and jazz from the 1940s and 1950s, bluegrass, and international music.

He does not sell a lot of modern music, but does include some vintage hip-hop from groups like A Tribe Called Quest. 

As for finding new records to sell, his sources for vinyl change, but in the past he has purchased large private collections, including 25,000 records from a store in Arizona.

Before selling them, he also cleans each record in the store on a special machine with a homemade solution.

As a rule, Kowalski also doesn’t play favorites when it comes to music, and doesn’t buy in to “musical judgment,” or calling some tunes a “guilty” pleasures.

His preference for vinyl over digital, however, remains resolute, though he said he knows not everyone feels the same way. 

“Digital sound is convenient, but it’s a trade-off. It’s a binary code of ones and zeroes,” he said. “(Vinyl) is sound that’s in real space – there’s something just a little more deep about it, I guess.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

Deep Groove Records, at 32 Elm St. in Brunswick, is owner David Kowalski’s new storefront after running a record stand at the Fort Andross Flea Market for six years.

David Kowalski said his goal at Deep Groove Records in Brunswick is to provide a place where people can enjoy a cup of espresso and talk about music

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