Friday, June 25, 2010

“The Next Level”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: The enduring culture of Rock ‘n’ Roll has always provided inspiration for this column. But occasionally, I have missed an opportunity to write about the subject while pondering other things. What follows here is my confession, and penance.

I first met my friend Archer while doing volunteer work in Chardon.

His knowledge of motorcycles, guitars, and personal deliverance was immediately appealing. But what sealed our friendship was a shared love of Rock music.

Long after we had both moved onward to other pursuits, I continued to enjoy his stream-of-consciousness observations about post-war history, theology, and Steppenwolf. One bit of streetwise wisdom missed my personal radar, however.

It happened when he spoke about a store called ‘The Next Level’ opening in Geauga’s Capitol City.

I was fascinated to hear of a new venue for vinyl conquest, particularly so close to home. Archer boasted about buying a Dire Straits concert poster there, and other musical artifacts.

Several writing projects were on my desk, but I promised to pause at the store, very soon.

“You gotta get up there, man!” he said with a grin.

Of course, it didn’t happen.

Weeks later, my friend displayed Beatles memorabilia discovered at TNL. Reluctantly, I admitted not having found time to see the store.

“Ain’t been there yet?” he howled with disbelief.

Again, I took an oath to visit, and explore. And once more, other ideas held sway.
Eventually, many months had passed since the first mention of Geauga’s newest record shop. Over a cup of homebrewed coffee, Archer celebrated finding a pristine copy of ‘An American Prayer’ by The Doors.

The revelation struck me like a bolt of lightning, not only because of Jim Morrison’s poetic stature. But also, because I still hadn’t visited.

Shortly afterward, I made my pilgrimage to TLN.

Bob Adams was at the counter as I walked inside. When I introduced myself, his reaction was friendly, and positive. I could tell immediately that we were kindred spirits.

“My wife Deena owns the store,” he said. “We’ve been here about a year and a half.”

I had expected the store to be a typical vintage vinyl hangout for ‘boomers’ to relive past glory. But Adams explained that instead, their business was a crossroads of sorts – where yesterday and today were able to coexist.

“We kind of mashed up all our ideas into this,” he explained. “It’s a safe place for the kids. They can rent time playing Xbox, hang out in the game room, and enjoy water or soft drinks.”

While we talked, a group of kids bounced on the couch, while one of the bunch plucked an acoustic guitar.

Their enthusiasm made me smile. For a moment, I flashed on personal high school memories from the 70’s.

“We’ve got CDs here, vinyl albums, and used games,” Adams continued. “I also try to keep six or eight guitars on hand.”

I scanned the room while he spoke. Relics were everywhere, almost as if I was standing in the bygone studios of WMMS with Jeff Kinzbach and Ed ‘Flash’ Ferenc. Images of Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, Bob Marley, The J. Geils Band, and John Lennon glowed with enduring vitality.

“Don’t give me credit for this, it came from Rolling Stone Magazine,” Adams observed. “But there’s never gonna be a used MP3 store. If your computer hard drive crashes, what do you have? Listening to vinyl is a personal experience. You have to invest the time.”

I confessed to being fascinated that younger listeners, born after the election of Ronald Reagan, were suddenly embracing the old, analog format of music delivery.

“A couple of boxes of 45s sat here for a few days,” Adams remembered. “Some of the kids looked at them. Finally, I held one up and asked ‘Do you know what this is?’ When they shook their heads I said ‘You know when you get a track from iTunes for 99 cents? Well this is what we got for 99 cents and it had two songs!’”

He also said that many 18 to 30 year-old customers have come to his store to find tangible versions of classic recordings.

“They’ve spent time with the downloads,” he mused. “Now they want a physical copy. And they know their stuff. Grand Funk Railroad, Joe Walsh, Hendrix – that’s what they want.”

Later that day, I found Archer doting on a new purchase for his plectrum collection. The instrument was a Guild acoustic, made in Rhode Island.

My excitement couldn’t be hidden. “Okay, I did it! I went to that music store in Chardon.”

He looked over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses. “Finally?”

“Yes,” I cheered.

“Did you buy anything?” he said quizzically.

“No,” I replied. “Just got an interview and photos for the moment.”

He laughed out loud.

“They had a Domino Californian Rebel guitar on the wall,” I wheezed. “In need of some work, but very unusual. That got my Guitar Acquisition Syndrome going…”

“Huh?” he snorted.

“A strange 60’s Japanese axe,” I explained. “From the Teisco – Kawai family tree.”

Archer bowed his head.

“Better get back up there before it’s gone!” he exclaimed.

“Trying to resist the G.A.S. vibe,” I said.

My friend returned to strumming a Neil Young tune.

“Don’t fight it,” he chuckled. “Just open your wallet, and be happy!”

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to:
Visit us at:

Sounds On The Square

On June 19th, I intended to see Jake and the 'CPB' on Chardon's historic city square. But as an added bonus, I also heard a few songs by 'Toejam' - a group of participants in the Geauga Music Center's 'School of Rock' program:

After the 'school' performance, Jake and his polkateers took the stage with Mike Franklin on banjo and Paul Coates on Sousaphone:

In attendance was the irrepressible Mary Bramstedt, local journalist and former teacher, tennis coach, and elected official:

Jake spoke about an upcoming release from the Chardon Polka Band that will thrill fans from all across the music spectrum - stay tuned!

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Next Level

Finally visited 'The Next Level' in Chardon today. A fantastic place, with lots of vintage vinyl for sale:

More on this local store soon to come in the Geauga County Maple Leaf...

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Austinburg Stuckey's, Revisited

Today I revisited the abandoned Austinburg Stuckey's location for the first time in over a year. Little had changed at this vacant spot on the Ohio map, except that the June sunshine made my photographs more clear than before:

For many Americans, Stuckey's long ago faded into the past of our celebrated motoring history. Yet remnants remain, like the one pictured here.

Meanwhile, the company itself has survived. Look at:

Friday, June 04, 2010

“Thompson Center Market”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: A few months ago, I wrote a series of fictional columns about opening an old-fashioned, neighborhood food depot called ‘Tiny Finch.’ The store was to be located in Thompson, at the site of a long-deserted local market. These daydream adventures were loosely based on my own past experience as a retail manager in Geauga County. Amazingly, while I was busy imagining how the vacant business could be revived, someone was actually working to bring the store back into operation. Today, it is open for business and providing local patrons with a hometown shopping experience.

For many years, residents of Thompson have wished that someone would revive the empty grocery store on their town square.

This vacant plot of real estate has spawned local legends, and tempted curious visitors as a quiet remnant of bygone days.

Meanwhile, those who live in the area have grown accustomed to long drives for bread, dairy goods, and soft drinks. Acquiring such staple items has meant traveling several miles to Chardon, Madison, Rock Creek, or Hartsgrove.

But thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of local investors, that habit is changing for the better. Earlier this year, they re-opened the venerable Thompson Center Market, a consumer depot that was originally established in 1880.

As before, the business is one hundred percent American owned and operated.
Danielle Bashlor, an employee at TCM, observed that the reaction from local patrons was immediately positive.

“We are doing really well,” she said. “Everyone that comes in is happy. Now, they can get milk without driving so far. We get campers, too. A lot of people say they can’t believe that the store is open again.”

She also stated that they have received friendly inquiries from other businesses in the area like Thompson Raceway Park.

Some have visited the resurrected market for convenience items, like ketchup or peanut butter. But others paused to reflect on fond memories from yesteryear.

“One guy said he lived upstairs, over the store, as a boy,” Bashlor remembered. “Another said he worked here as a teenager.”

Long-time township resident Charlene Brown (not her real name) still remembers Thompson market during its heyday.

“Back then, the store was owned by Mr. Crandall,” she said. “In those days, you could get everything there. Food, overalls, or whatever. They even cut glass upstairs. There was a butcher who worked in the back, and gas pumps out front. And homemade donuts.”

Originally, Brown was employed by Paul Cook at his own shop, across the square.
“I like people,” she smiled. “So I’ve always worked in a store.”

When Cook acquired TCM, her expertise in the business helped make it even more successful.

“It was a very busy place,” she reflected. “In those days many families only had one car. They did all of their shopping at the store. We ran charge accounts for our customers, which helped a lot.”

Brown said the business was affiliated with IGA, the Independent Grocers Alliance, at that time.

“Sometimes, I would take the company truck to Garrettsville, to pick up our weekly specials,” she said. “And I would also use the vehicle to get fresh produce.”

The store even delivered groceries when needed, to customers in the area. It was an authentically ‘full service’ enterprise.

In those days, Thompson had become a ‘dry’ township. But Brown remembered that her employer managed to secure permission for beer sales at his market.

“Mr. Cook petitioned to get a carry-out license for the store,” she laughed. “I agreed to sell beer if we had it, but I wouldn’t help him get the permit!”

In modern terms, Brown said that seeing the place again brought back good memories.

“When I first walked in, it looked very familiar,” she explained. “They have a small medicine rack, cleaning supplies, and all sorts of things. It’s very clean and nice inside.”

She said her career at TCM ended in 1988.

With the summer season at hand, Danielle Bashlor said that they plan to diversify the selection of goods available by adding frozen food items. But getting the word out about this revived local business is a big priority.

“It’s a blind spot in Thompson,” she admitted. “The store has been closed for so long. People come in every day and say ‘I had no idea you were open!’ Locals who don’t often drive this way still think we’re closed. But word of mouth can help – five friends tell five friends, and it will spread.”

She said they plan to create a radio advertisement in the near future.

Thompson Center Market is open 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday – Saturday, and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to:
Visit us at:

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Thompson Center Market Ad

This ad flier for the revived Thompson Center Market appeared in my neighborhood, today:

All I can say is "Hooray for our township!"