Hamilton

'It felt like home': After 40 years as a downtown landmark Cheapies is closing

Owner Brian Jasson said he never intended for his store to become a landmark. It just seems to have happened that way.

'It feels like part of Hamilton is leaving,' says long-time customer Stephanie Silva

Customers packed Cheapies Sunday after the record and tape shop announced it's going to close at the end of March. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

As Brian Jasson looked out over the crowded aisles of Cheapies on Sunday afternoon, he was transported back to the days when his store was packed this way every day of the week, with music lovers poring over albums and picking through records.

Outside the shop the iconic florescent sign with the offering of "Music, Games, Video" still flashed above King Street East, just as it has for the past 40-odd years.

But the massive front windows, traditionally festooned with advertisements for the hottest singles were papered over with big red letters announcing "STORE CLOSING."

For some, those two words explain why the store was filled to the brim with shoppers hoping to score a final deal before the doors close for the last time at the end of March.

But, if you listen closely, there's another reason why so many devoted customers are making the pilgrimage to the downtown staple before Cheapies Records and Tapes shuts down forever.

"It felt like home," said Stephanie Silva. "So in a way, it feels like part of Hamilton is leaving."

Stephanie Silva shows off the records she picked up. She's been coming to Cheapies since she was in high school and described it as a safe haven for music nerds. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Silva has been combing through the used section at Cheapies since she was in high school.

In recent years she brought her 11-year-old god daughter with her, hoping to pass along a bit of the experience only a true record shop can supply.

"It was such a big part of Hamilton, especially for a music nerd," she said. "It was a safe haven."

When Jasson announced the store was closing after 40 years in a Facebook post earlier this week, Silva said her phone blew up with messages from friends sharing their disbelief and her eyes welled up with tears.

While there are other places in Hamilton to buy records, none of them feel quite like Cheapies.

Over the years, the store hasn't really changed, Silva explained. "It's a time capsule."

"You never walk out of here empty-handed," she added, showing off the Tame Impala and Teenage Head albums she was picking up on Sunday.

Ward Dilse started buying cassettes at Cheapies way back when it first opened.

He stopped coming for a few years, but in 2015 brought his daughter to the store's famous Boxing Day sale.

She grew up in a world where finding music was as easy as opening an online streaming service, but Dilse said seeing his daughter wrap her head around the idea of a record store is something he'll treasure.

"Just that shared community and flipping through and looking at stuff. I remember the look in her eyes being such shock," he recalled.

A 'welcoming, inclusive environment'

The 54-year-old added that a big part of what made the shop so special was the staff, who were always helpful, respectful and generous with their knowledge.

"What a welcoming, inclusive environment," he said. "This place is pretty special and it's a great landmark for the Hamilton music scene."

Ward Dilse said he's going to miss taking his daughter to Cheapies every Boxing Day for the shop's famous sale. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

For Jasson the past week has been almost overwhelming. The Facebook post about the closure has garnered hundreds of comments where customers shared their memories about the store.

On Sunday, between shaking hands with shoppers and answering their questions, the owner fought back tears and seemed to struggle for the right words to express what he was feeling.

"I had no idea that people associated their purchases, their music, their songs with me. And if they would have told me sooner, I might not have done this."

Jasson can remember a time when there were 10 other record shops doing a brisk business downtown, but those days are long gone.

The store also offers movies and games, but music is what it's known for. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Today Cheapies stands largely alone on King Street among construction sites and chain stores.

"I guess we're the last gasp of the original shops downtown from that time period."

'Pigheadedness' goes a long way

The first Cheapies was at the corner of King and John. Jasson was taking a year off before university and working at a record shop when a supplier offered to set him up with a location of his own.

He remembers his mom being somewhat supportive, but his dad was a different story.

Still he set up shop and hasn't looked back.

"I remember opening up my first store and saying, 'I want to have a store that I want to shop in, with prices I feel comfortable paying.' I've lived and died by that."

Owner Brian Jasson has mixed feelings about his decision to close. He said he's been overwhelmed by the response from customers and staff members. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Jasson said he never intended for his store to become a landmark. It just seems to have happened that way.

"I don't like change. I'm hard-headed, I'm pigheaded. I'm stubborn, all those things that it takes to be relentless in what you want to do," he said.

Over the decades, the store has had years where it moved millions of dollars worth of supply and played host to legends like the Ramones and Ozzy Osbourne.

Jasson credits his dedicated, "very sincere" staff with helping the shop survive the test of time.

Customers flip through albums at the shop Sunday. Jasson said the past few days have been packed, reminding him of the store's heyday. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

After all this time, Jasson said the decision to close came down to several things including competing with the free music offered online, a new generation of consumers and the speed with which new songs seem to rise and fall on the charts.

"I just found myself not wanting to be here where, for 39 of the years, I loved coming to work," he explained. "I didn't want to make the decision when I was forced to … with health issues. I wanted to be able do it on my terms."

But as he looked over the busy shop Sunday and remembered the good years, Jasson admitted he's struggling with his decision.

"I feel horrible about it. I feel sick about it. I don't know what I'm going to do at the end of next month."

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