Review: The Exchange
A Great Deal of Entertainment
Nothing quite beats a local record shop. The personality of the owner and staff shine through in every aspect of the store, from the music playing to the posters on display. Big box retailers and chains may attempt to appear as if they are locally autonomous, but at the end of the day they still answer to a corporate office with the daily numbers. A Target is a Target no matter where you go. This is known as McDonaldization, a word coined by American sociologist George Ritzer in his book The McDonaldization of Society. Corporations seek to maximize efficiency to deliver the highest possible profits. The basic parts of McDonaldization is efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. These are qualities local record stores do not demonstrate, and they are not ones that any record store ought to be known for. Which brings me to this months focus – The Exchange.
The Exchange is a small regional chain that has stores throughout the Midwestern United States. They have been around for over 40 years and are found in metropolitan areas and college towns. Their business model is based of the buy, sell, trade model, hence the name Exchange. They do stock new merchandise along with their massive categories of preowned goods. In recent years they have jumped in on the collectable merchandise trend, such as Funko Pops, but to adapt is to survive.
The environment in these stores is always friendly and vibrant, familiar faces always greet you at your favorite store. The employees are always conversing about any and all subjects. From horror movies to the best Kroger store based on layout, they talk about it all. They make themselves available but never overwhelm you with incessant pleas to make a purchase. They also wear whatever they like, with only a lanyard distinguishing them from the public, and making them more approachable in the process. Unlike the staff at Championship Vinyl in High Fidelity, these folks will never berate you based on your taste in entertainment. Like any good record store, they will also give you great recommendations based on what you are currently listening to.
One of the many Exchange locations.
I have been to six separate Exchange stores (Sandusky, Elyria, Rocky River, Fairlawn, Cuyahoga Falls, and Kent) and while all of them have familiar elements such as hardware, signage, and some inventory, every store has a unique atmosphere and environment. The outside sign is always customized by a local employee and often features hand drawn chalk illustrations and listings of new merchandise. The glass doors guards the DVDs CDs, and video games, but the vinyl is all out in the open for the digging. The Exhcange is responsible for 42 of the records in my collection, more than any other single place.
The constant flow of new and used records keeps their selection fresh and always has something to offer. The first store I went to is the Cuyahoga Falls location, and it is there that I bought my first vinyl record, King Crimson’s Three of a Perfect Pair. At the time I was more into CDs and bought the record more as a novelty, not knowing that it would become quite the hobby. It was at this store that my love of vinyl had truly been born.
Now, what does this have to do with McDonaldization? While they are a chain of stores, they do not demonstrate any of the four characteristics of McDonaldization. Efficiency in the context of McDonaldization means finding the fastest way to accomplish a task. They do not focus on volume sales, therefore customers are free to browse and talk with the staff, meaning that there is no set time limit for the customer to be in a store. While they are a store that requires sales to survive, they are not calculable in the sense that they want quantifiable sales over a subjective customer experience. They cater to the niche tastes and are not pushing out the same album or movie to every customer that walks in the door.
The kind of predictability that the store offers is not quite in line with McDonaldization. While the same services and familiar signage and hardware are present in every store, they inventory is wildly different as are the employees. There are no standard greetings or menus. Which brings us to the final component of McDonaldization – control. The Exchange thrives because of the human element of their stores. While people come and go with regards to employment, there is something to be said about the length of time I have seen the same employees at the stores I frequent. They are free to wear whatever they like, so long as they are ready to help the customer. The Exchange represents the best parts of a local record store while benefiting from having a network of stores to pull from. They are the best of both words in this regard.
The Exchange in Sandusky is the first record store I have visited since the stay at home order has been lifted in Ohio. I left that day with a copy of Bjork’s Medulla and a Hereditary on blu ray. My experience that day was comforting, as if being there was a sign that things are starting to regain normalcy. The new normal is masks, plexiglass, and social distancing, which I am grateful for in such a store, but it it something to get used to. It is rare for a chain of stores to feel like a local place, often because corporate offices prioritize sheer volume sales over the human element. The Exchange is an exception to the idea that just because something is a chain, it cannot feel unique. The stores are always good for any collector of physical media.