CINCINNATI — Walking into Shake It Records is akin to time travel. Records, CDs, tapes, books, comics and pop culture memorabilia pack the first floor and basement of the store at 4156 Hamilton Ave. in Northside.
The shop is a monument to all things analog in an era dominated by online ordering and digital streaming services.
"The other day, I watched as this 15-year-old girl walked through the door," said co-owner Darren Blasé. "She just stopped. I asked if I could help her. She must have stood there for eight seconds taking everything in before answering."
Darren and his brother Jim Blasé opened Shake It five years before that young customer was born. Throughout March, Shake It is celebrating its 20th year in business with a series of free performances from local bands and comedians.
"We originally wanted to be up in Clifton," said Jim Blasé.
A location near the University of Cincinnati would have meant foot traffic and a customer base of college students. No one in the neighborhood at the time, though, wanted to rent space to a record store. Jim said the situation forced he and his brothers to rent a spot in Northside — a neighborhood touted as "up-and-coming" but where redevelopment often stalled.
Only a couple of other popular spots drew people to the neighborhood when Shake It opened in March 1999, according to Jim.
"There was the Comet and Dana's Tattoo (which are still open)," he said.
Crazy Ladies Bookstore, a Northside staple since 1979, was already feeling the pinch of online upstart Amazon, according to interviews with its owner at the time. The progressive bookstore had become a gathering place for feminists, gays, lesbians and liberal-minded individuals before it closed in 2002.
The Blasé brothers agreed that when Shake It opened neither of them knew how long it would stay in business. Jim said word-of-mouth was key to the record shop's survival. Early on, friends, family and Northside neighbors bought and gave gift cards that brought people to the store.
Shake It gradually became a destination for those seeking rare vinyl presses, which in turn fostered a community of like-minded people who gathered at the store.
"Really, the secret is we appeal to the five percent of people who want the physical thing," Jim said. "We appeal to those people who want to go deeper. We also turn each other onto stuff every day."
In 2001, Jim and Darren purchased the building where Shake It Records is currently located to accommodate the store's growing collection. Rent checks from the building's upper floor apartments also helped pay the mortgage and keep the store afloat during lean months.
"And now people are staying," Jim said of Northside's current renaissance.
That doesn't mean running Shake It Records has become easier since it first opened.
"I think we have to work twice as hard now," Jim said.
Amazon is now selling vinyl online, after all; finding popular old vinyl records that appeal to younger customers is getting harder; and record labels aren't pressing large amounts of new vinyl, either.
Darren said Shake It still has something online competitors can't replicate: The magic of walking through the shop's doors and discovering a place filled with "things."
"The thing with walking into a record store and browsing physical things is that it has an element of serendipity," he said. "The amount of stuff that is not online is amazing. My ultimate goal is just making people slow down for 10 minutes."