Updated: Oct 29, 2020
After nearly 40 years in downtown Salem, Ranch Records opened its doors to customers today for the last time.
The store, which first opened in 1982, didn’t suffer before or during the times of COVID, but the owners say they weren’t going to stick around to see that happen, either. They’d talked about retirement for years and were aiming for a nice, round 40-year mark as a business before calling it quits.
“We always thought 40 would be the number,” said Lori Close, who owns and operates the store with its founder, her husband, Kit. “But then the pandemic hit and we didn’t want our last two years to be involved in all that. It seemed like a good time to go and we wanted to go out on a high note.”
The community seems eager to give the store a hero’s sendoff. Social media accounts pour out daily, and a pandemic doesn’t seem to be stopping customers from turning up for the going out of business sale.
On a muggy July afternoon last week, furniture and shelving units were being hauled out by local residents and business owners who need the items that Ranch Records no longer does. Even still, mask-clad customers rifled through the shelves of records and admired some of the memorabilia that Kit displays in glass cases.
Were it not for the clean-out and lack of Ranch Records’ iconic neon guitar sign out front, it might have felt like a normal business day -- a full month after the store announced it would be closing. It’s evidence of the loyal following and lasting legacy Ranch Records has built after so many decades in the same spot.
It’s worth noting that the store rests in the same location that former Salem City Councilman and longtime downtown business owner Arthur Moore built his bicycle business in nearly 100 years ago. That storefront has seen a lot of local business since 1923 and Ranch Records now occupies a large part of that history.
The store outlasted all of the local independent competition. In the 1980’s there were several record stores in downtown Salem. Ranch Records was the only one left and the business boasts that it’s the oldest one in Oregon with the original management.
The owners say the store wouldn’t have survived without the passion Kit has for records.
“I don’t think Kit ever remembers a day when he didn’t love records,” Lori said, while Kit manned the register and juggled three conversations with customers at once. “Because it takes a huge amount of drive and patience (to run a business), it comes easier if you’re doing what you love to do.”
Kit first opened the store as a way to collect more records. He figured running the storefront was a good way to get people to show him their collections so he could add to his own. For years, it wasn’t even his full-time gig -- he worked as a waiter and bartender and only kept the store open for a few hours in the afternoon.
After about seven years, Kit realized he was making enough selling vinyl to open up full-time. Since then, he’s amassed an impressive collection, in terms of size, historical significance and monetary value.
Even as records and mementos are flying off the shelves and out the doors -- thanks, in part, to everything being marked down -- Ranch Records still has works of music history lining the display cases and countertops.
Foreign pressings of Beatles albums and live performances are surrounded by Ringo Starr’s debut solo record and a 1981 pressing by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, released the same year Lennon was shot dead by a lone gunman.
Like any good collector, Kit keeps the really good stuff for himself -- what’s stored in the storefront is really a fraction of the collectible inventory he maintains. The Closes have enough antiques and vintage memorabilia that they also own the Engelberg Antiks store a couple of blocks away.
It's this atmosphere of history that made Ranch Records such a gathering place for vinylheads and local musicians. There is real music history on these walls, with signed photographs and local concert posters. Kit knows his stuff, too, helping the store exemplify the idea that record stores, at their best, do more than sell records. They are a gathering space for music nerds to debate the finer points of their art.
That’s why the store’s closure stings for longtime patrons, who described it as a huge loss for Salem’s downtown scene. David Levin, who moved to the area from Los Angeles in the 90’s, said he’s been going to Ranch Records for 10 years.
“I’ve been collecting records since I was a kid … and I haven’t found anywhere as good as this location up here,” Levin said. “I’m so sorry to see this place close.”
It isn’t just customers who have been shaped by Ranch Records throughout the years, however, so have local musicians. There’s always been a section of the store’s record and tape collection designated for local bands.
Kit even used some of his profits to support local music, helping upstart bands with the money needed to record their debut EP’s. The Widgets, a Salem hard rock band formed in the late 90’s, was perhaps the most well-known partnership between the store and local acts. One of the band’s members, David Ballantyne, worked at the storefront and was a patron for years.
Sean McLeod, frontman of Salem band Acting Captain (formerly called The Pumps), said that he’s shopped at the store ever since moving to Salem from Spokane, WA, as a teenager in 2003. Most of his album collection to this day was supplied by Ranch Records.
“I remember buying CD’s from David Ballantyne of The Widgets,” he said. “(They were) some of the first I ever earned with my own money.”
McLeod also experienced first-hand the connection that The Closes have to the local music scene after being invited to play an anniversary gig for the store.
“I was lucky enough to play the Ranch Records 33 ⅓ Party (the rpm speed of a vinyl LP, as well as the anniversary number for the store five years ago) with my band The Pumps,” McLeod said. “It was a wild night, let me tell you.”
The Closes are looking forward to slowing down a bit in retirement, but they aren’t completely done being local business owners. They still have their collection at Engelberg Antiks, and another pop-up location to offload some of the other collectibles Kit has is sure to be in the works.
“We’ll probably do another location like we have at the Engelberg Antique Mall … but for high-end things,” Lori said. “I’m sure Kit won’t stop collecting records anytime soon.”