Thumping drum breaks kick through the store speaker system as Forrest Webb sits behind the counter, surrounded by colorful album covers in silky shrink-wrapped cases. James Brown, Donald Byrd, Lynn Collins, Miles Davis, Roy Ayers. The LPs are the fruit of years spent digging in the record crates, immersing himself in music with soul.
Webb is the owner of Calhoun Record Shop, the best record store in Akron to go almost completely unnoticed. Located at 356 Reed Ave. in South Akron, the store is relatively unknown outside of the neighborhood and serious record collectors in Northeast Ohio. The shop is nestled in the corner of a two-story brick building housing a row of small businesses.
After two and a half years, the shop still does not have a sign.
What it does have is an impressive array of funk, soul, jazz, hip-hop, rock and rare records for sale at a reasonable price.
“Records are something that have always been with me from the time I came out,” Webb said.
His grandfather, Homell Calhoun, owned a record shop named Calhoun Records on Wooster Avenue (now Vernon Odom Boulevard) from the early 1950s through the early 1980s. This inspired the name for Webb’s new store.
Webb remembers days he spent as a child riding in his grandfather’s 1969 Cadillac DeVille convertible, helping him stock 45 rpm records and collect cash from the city’s jukeboxes in bars like the Hi-De-Ho Lounge and the Tropicana Lounge. As a kid, he would comb through his mother’s record collection in the attic of their home.
Webb’s mother moved the family from Akron to New York when he was 10 years old. In New York City, he was introduced to hip-hop culture and began listening to early rap groups like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Funky Four Plus One. He took to breakdancing around age 12 and started DJing seriously at 16.
“I was going to the shops back then, buying all the 12 inches and records that came out,” Webb said, thinking back to the days when new hip-hop singles cost only $1.99 and albums were $2.99.
After finishing graduate school at Adelphi University, Webb kept DJing and breakdancing, eventually showcasing his dance moves in “Rome & Jewels,” an award winning hip-hop dance theater production put on by hip-hop dance company Rennie Harris Puremovement.
Webb eventually started working for Big City Records, a shop in Manhattan, and became a manager for the store’s location in New Jersey. However, a raise in rent and the effects of digital technology on the music-buying industry caused the store to close its doors in September of 2012.
Back to Akron
His mother died unexpectedly around this time, bringing him back to Akron.
“I’ve always been connected to Akron, even when I lived in New York, because I had family and friends here still,” Webb said. Because handling his mother’s estate in Akron was a difficult task while living in New York, Webb decided to move back home.
He discovered the location for his new shop while digging through records one day in a store on the opposite corner of the building. The store’s owner advised him to check out the open space for rent, which had previously been a tattoo shop.
“It was pretty trashed in here, but I thought if I could get it cleared out, maybe I could open a store.”
Webb did just that and designed his new shop similar to Big City Records, with the priciest, rarest records hanging on the wall, the middle-range records stacked in chest-high racks for customers to flip through and the cheaper records in bins on the floor. The walls are adorned with autographed artwork of noteworthy hip-hop records, original flyers for early rap concerts and pictures of Webb’s grandfather and his record delivery van.
“I just dove in and took a chance,” Webb said.
Calhoun Record Shop opened on April 20, 2013. Opening day featured Webb and other local DJs, as well as some big named hip-hop personages like Large Professor and J-Zone, spinning records while customers shuffled through to get their fix of funky, soulful or obscure music.
The shop has received positive reviews from customers since its opening.
“He’s not just putting anything on the rack,” said Alex Gnap, a Highland Square resident who frequents the shop in search of lesser-known rock records and other “deep cuts.”
“It’s very selective and it’s priced well, which is probably why I come back,” he added.
“This place has the best vibe and the best selection,” said Pat Brooks, who lives in West Virginia, but makes sure to stop by the store whenever he’s in town visiting friends and family.
“He always has good jazz stuff,” Brooks said, handling his modest stack of purchases by jazz greats John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Horace Silver and Coleman Hawkins. “This is one of the better jazz selections around.”
Priced to sell
Webb is a one-man band, running the store without any hired help. He works his store hours around his out-of-town DJing, breakdancing and breakdance judging gigs, while also finding time to buy up record collections for the store from local sellers and record conventions. Still, he finds a way to make it all work and keep his loyal customers happy.
“Like the band Funk Inc. said, ‘Keep it priced to sell,’” Webb said, stating his mantra for the shop.
Although he keeps his usual first-rate collection of funk, soul and jazz, Webb stocks more rock records than normal, perceiving the change in customer demographic from New York City to Akron.
“To survive as a record store you have to watch the trends and move with the times,” Webb said.
Although he has witnessed the effects digital technology has made on the vinyl record industry, he remains confident that people will continue buying records into the future.
“I don’t think records will ever go completely out,” Webb said. “There’s going to be a lot of private press records that you’re never going to find on CD or digitally that somebody will look for.”
Webb will continue to dig through the record crates and discover music to inspire those who find their way into the little vinyl shop without a sign.
Calhoun Record Shop is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Call (330) 212-5334 for more information.