Imperial Records is bringing some analog snap, crackle and pop to downtown Gainesville.
The fledgling Bradford Street record shop owned by Brock Johnson, Edwin Hughs, Iris Romero and Joey Summer opened in late September with an overarching goal: Reintroduce Gainesville to the glories of classic tunes produced without motherboard, mouse or CPU.
“A computer never even touched it,” said Johnson, buried in a mustard-yellow chair on a side wall of the tiny shop. “Most of that stuff, it was reel-to-reel tape and it went right from that through a board onto acetate or onto vinyl.”
If you understand what that means (or even if you don’t), this is the record shop for you.
The collection is growing but still relatively small — and a little disorganized, the group admits, so prepare for a little browsing when you visit. Much of it has been pulled from the owners’ own collections and from estate sales or moving sales around Gainesville.
“We want to be known for quality stuff,” Hughs said in the shop on Friday, Oct. 5. “We want to be able to find some rare records in good condition.”
Rap, rock, country, heavy doses of funk: The store is building its collection of both vinyl and record players to offer a quality, curated collection downtown built upon public tastes and the shop owners’ musical tastes.
Romero’s first record was an album from The Clash she picked up about five years ago. Hughs bought a record from a band called Cadillac Jones playing at a long-gone bar named Bodega in Auburn, Alabama. Johnson has been listening to records for as long as he can remember, building his collection from his parents with records he “inherited-slash-stole” as a young teen.
And Summer is about as new to analog music as anybody.
“I’ve learned almost everything about records from being a part of this experiment,” Summer said.
His tutelage has included a trip to a few legendary record shops in California and Oregon, including Amoeba Music shops in California.
“At least three of the four of us are hardcore music snobs, and we all just try to influence Joey,” Johnson said, getting some chuckles from the group.
With their wide and varied backgrounds, the hope is to give customers an experience that’s both easier to handle and more rewarding than choking on ones and zeros from the digital firehose of Apple Music, Spotify or Pandora.
“There’s something different about having a record collection, buying a record — the thrill of the hunt of finding something here you might not otherwise stumble across,” Johnson said.
And it’s only because of good luck that Imperial Records exists at all.
The store is the serendipitous result of a couple of years’ planning on the part of two pairs: Summer and Johnson, Hughs and Romero.
“I got a job here two years ago after law school. Joey’s one of my closest friends, and he’s a lifelong Gainesville guy,” Johnson said. “He takes a lot of pride in his hometown, and I just thought one thing that would be cool, a good addition to the square, a good addition to the culture of the town, was a record store.”
While Johnson and Summer were having late-night brainstorming sessions on how to get a shop going downtown, Hughs and Romero had formed an analog DJ duo spinning vinyl records at gigs around town. They too had hopes of opening a record shop downtown, and earlier this year both groups ended up trying to get a shop started up in the same space downtown.
“They basically were in lockstep with our lines of thinking,” Summer said of the DJing couple. “They had looked at the same space, so kind of like coincidentally everything came together.”
And with the two groups together, Gainesville has a record shop. Summer and Johnson continue their day jobs as defense attorneys and Romero works at Longstreet Clinic. Hughs, meanwhile, is the full-time man running Imperial Records.
Together, the group hopes to not just introduce a new-old method of enjoying music to the square, but to foster the local music scene.
“I think there are a lot of artists in Gainesville that don’t have a place to share their music,” Romero said. “There’s not a good platform for them to share their talents, so we hope to create that even though we’re very small right now.”
Their pie-in-the-sky dream is to offer an independent, local label for bands and artists looking to record in Gainesville, but in the meantime, Imperial Records is offering a new reason for people of most ages and backgrounds to spend time downtown.
“We’ve had people old and young come in, and I imagine the future of this being a place where parents bring their kids, and maybe this is the place where they’re introduced to vinyl,” Romero said.
The shop at 105 Bradford St. NE is open most afternoons and evenings. Keep an eye on its social media for hours and events.