Cheapo Records closes Austin location, finishes with sales and performances


Shelby Tauber

Mark Denton, an employee at Cheapo, packs CDs into boxes to prepare for its oncoming closing. Cheapo has has been open for 15 years.

Eli Watson

Inside Austin record store Cheapo Records there are rows and rows of vinyls, CDs, DVDs and video games. Judging by Cheapo Records’ vast and up-to-date music selection, it would seem that the 15-year-old retail store has at least a few years left.

That is not the case: Cheapo Records will be closing on Christmas Eve. Cheapo Records will become one of several other Austin record stores (BackSpin Records, Sound on Sound, Sound Exchange, Thirty Three Degrees) to close in recent years.

Cheapo Records’ origins lie in Minnesota, where the small franchise opened its first store in Minneapolis in 1972. Since then Cheapo Records has expanded to other cities and states: St. Paul and Blaine, MN; Denver and Austin. Each store is independently owned.

Jason Shields opened the Austin store on St. Patrick’s Day in 1998.

Shields was born in Austin, but moved with his mother to Minnesota in 1985 to take care of his elderly grandmother. Immediately after graduating from high school, Shields applied to Cheapo Records in St. Paul and was hired.

“I’ve been a music fan since I was born, so I decided that Cheapo would be a great place for me to work at,” Shields said.

Shields worked at Cheapo Records for five years before returning to Austin in 1994. Upon his arrival, Shields opened a record store of his own, called Under the Sun Vintage. He later sold the store to his brother and used the profits to launch the music label Texas Jamboree and a magazine of the same name. The label released music from artists Nick Curran, The Jive Bombers and Miss Lauren Marie, until 2008.

In 1997, the founder of Cheapo Records in Minnesota asked Shields about forming a partnership. Shields agreed and opened Cheapo Records in Austin the following year.
Before 914 North Lamar Blvd. housed Cheapo Records, it was home to the Mother Earth nightclub, where Austin psychedelic rockers 13 Floor Elevators played in the early 1970s.

Shields renovated the inside, changing it into a full-fledged record store that carried an array of genres and formats (vinyl, cassette, CD).

“The logic was if we’re going to be a large store, we needed to carry everything,” Shields said. “We wanted to cater to as many people possible.”

And they did. Along with having an incredible music selection, Cheapo Records brought in local and national performers and hosted shows at Austin music festivals South By South West, Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun Fest.

However, with the gradual rise of free downloadable music and online music stores, selling music is more difficult for record stores.

“Nowadays it’s either the Apple way or the highway,” John Kunz, founder of Waterloo Records, said. “MP3s, iTunes — the digital business changed the way people discovered and accessed music.”

With the rise of digital music sales came the fall of record stores. According to Los Angeles-based record retail support organization the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, within the past decade, more than 3,000 independent record stores (including some chains), have closed in the United States.

Some record stores such as Waterloo and California’s Rasputin and Amoeba still prosper. Unfortunately, most are either closed, or reopened but cater to a specific genre of music (such as Austin’s Encore Records).

Regardless, some Austinites will always cherish their experiences at Cheapo Records.

“The great thing about Cheapo is that you never knew what you would find,” nutrition/prepharmacy senior Anne Le said. “I once found Destiny Child’s #1’s compilation album and bought it immediately.”

Shields plans to make the best of Cheapo Records’ closing. Along with increasing discounts each day, Shields will have in-store performances every Saturday until the store’s Christmas Eve closing.

“We just want to thank Austin for supporting us for so long and end everything with one final hurrah.”

Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012: Record store slows spin to stop