Trio hopes to prove Salem isn’t “So Lame” with new record store

When Doug Kuzmanoff moved to Salem almost a decade ago, his first stop was at Ranch Records.

Coming to the city from Chicago, Kuzmanoff knew the store would be his best bet for meeting like-minded people to chat about bands and plug into the local music scene.

So when Ranch closed its doors in 2020, Kuzmanoff started talking with some friends.

“I don’t want to live in a town without a record store,” Joshua Blanchard, Kuzmanoff’s bandmate, remembered thinking.

And thus, So Lame Records was born.

The tiny storefront at 231 High Street N.E. opened in early August with Kuzmanoff, Blanchard, and Andrea Jenkins running the show.

The name came from the constant refrain the trio has heard that Salem is “so lame” compared to Portland, particularly for its music scene.

“There’s a distaste for Salem, so let’s capitalize on it,” Blanchard said.

But the motto doesn’t apply to the store’s selection, currently an eclectic mix of records Kuzmanoff described as “whatever we can get.”

Records line the walls at So Lame Records at 231 High St. N.E. in downtown Salem (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Lining the walls are rarer vinyl albums, like N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” and The Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” Bins along the walls contain a selection of both new and used records, from recent releases to live decades-old Bob Dylan recordings.

Because of their often superior sound quality, pressing vinyl is now a routine part of commercial music production, with the latest Taylor Swift or Megan Thee Stallion available on records.

Blanchard said the store wants to stock what people are interested in, including popular music and new releases, though supply chain issues often delay getting new items.

The trio hope the store will serve as a community hub for people interested in music. While it’s easy to order a record online, Blanchard said customers who come into the store are generally looking for interaction — a recommendation, help finding a particular artist or just fellow music-lovers to talk to.

“They want a place to go and meet people,” he said.

The first day So Lame opened, Kuzmanoff said some teenagers came in and bought out their selection of Megadeth and Rush records.

“Now when I’m sourcing stuff, I’m thinking of those repeat customers,” Kuzmanoff said.

Doug Kuzmanoff sorts through records at So Lame Records on Tuesday, Aug. 23. The downtown Salem store opened in early August (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

None of the three owners expected they’d someday be operating a record store. 

Blanchard and Jenkins are married and regularly attend shows in town. Around 2017, Blanchard’s band performed a concert at the Oregon State Hospital and met Kuzmanoff, who works there as a music therapist. They later met at a show and ended up starting a band, Major Hex, together.

But all three said they felt compelled to take on So Lame after Ranch closed down because Salem needs more culture and places that offer community around music and the arts.

“Sometimes the universe tells you to do or not do something,” Blanchard said.

Finding a storefront proved difficult at first, but a nearby salon owner approached them in late May about subleasing some of her space on the same block Ranch Records used to operate. The store came together quickly from there.

All three owners have regular full-time jobs, so store hours are limited to Friday through Sunday, 12-6 p.m.

Though they’re incorporated as a business, making money isn’t a major goal, beyond what’s needed to keep the lights on, though, Blanchard clarified, “We’re not not trying to make money.”

In addition to records, the store has a selection of cassette tapes which have proved popular both with younger customers — Kuzmanoff attributed the interest to the Netflix show “Stranger Things” — and those who remember the cassette era fondly.

A sign on the front register reads “haunted VHS rental coming soon!!” Kuzmanoff said he plans to bring in his collection of old horror movies on tape for people to rent and enjoy.

Jenkins said in an era where music is available on-demand via streaming and other online services, there’s a growing interest in returning to more physical media. Unlike a CD or on Spotify, a record or cassette isn’t designed to skip between tracks easily.

“You’re forced to listen to the vision of the artist,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.