Hardesty: A record store with Dad in Kent’s ‘Golden Era’ of rock n’ roll

Head shot of Tom Hardesty, a white man with short hair in a grey golf polo with the caption "Round Two with Tom Hardesty"

When I saw my old Portage County friend Chas Madonio will give a talk at the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library about the music scene in Kent in the 1960s and ’70s, I immediately reserved seats at the event for my wife and myself.

No way I’m missing this, I thought. Hearing the Brimfield resident discuss his book “Bars, Bands and Rock n’ Roll: The Golden Era in Kent, Ohio” from 7-8:30 p.m. Monday, March 20 would have been reason enough to attend. But then I noticed in the library’s listing that as part of his presentation, Chas will discuss his time in a band with Joe Walsh.

The Joe Walsh. The one who attended Kent State University. Guitarist for the James Gang and the Eagles. Rock ’n roll icon.

That cemented it: We were definitely taking that trip down memory lane with Chas (go here to reserve your spot). It got me wondering about all the tales he might tell — or can tell in a public library setting.

It also started me on my own trip down memory lane — a road which, growing up in the 1970s, often led to the Kent Community Store to flip through hundreds of vinyl albums with my dad on Saturday mornings. Dad was heavy into Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Alice Cooper, etc. (and yes, the James Gang and the Eagles), and the Kent Community Store was his establishment of choice to pore over albums by the hour.

As early as kindergarten — or earlier — I can remember waking up on Saturday mornings to Dad saying the magic words: “I’m going up to the Kent Community Store today. You wanna go?”

That was a hard yes every time.

We’d jump in the car and off we’d go, headed to — as far as my young mind was concerned — the promised land of 1960s and ’70s rock ’n roll. I could have stayed there all day, and I think sometimes we did. I would find a good spot and start flipping through LPs, looking for albums with the most striking cover art. When I found one — which was about every third or fourth LP — I would snatch it out of the row of albums and rush excitedly to Dad’s side.

“Dad, what about this one? Buy this one!” I’d exclaim, holding it up for him to see. Dad would glance at the album and either take it from me and say, “That’s a good one, thanks Bear (my parents’ nickname for me)” and add it to his stack, or he would say, “Nah, not this one, go ahead and put it back.” Either way, the search continued unabated.

I never grew tired of it; it was quality father-son bonding time. There was a certain excitement that came with “the hunt,” wondering what gems were buried in the endless rows of LPs or hiding just past your fingertips, ready to be revealed with the next flip of an album.

That wasn’t all. The Community Store had that unmistakable smell of freshly packaged vinyl records. It permeated the place, and it was intoxicating. You smelled it as soon as you opened the door, virtually beckoning you inside to immerse yourself in — and buy — music.

And Dad bought a lot of music. We often walked out toting bags full of albums, Dad scheming ways (usually unsuccessfully) of sneaking them past Mom when we got home. She was used to it, though; she knew full well that trips to the Kent Community Store were going to result in a bounty of albums to be added to Dad’s impressive collection, which eventually reached somewhere in the neighborhood of close to 1,000 before music changed to the point where he basically lost interest in the new stuff.

I don’t remember our last trip to the Community Store, probably somewhere around the late 1970s or early 1980s. But considering that our first trips there together came not long after it opened in 1970, it was a great run — for Dad and me, and for the Community Store, which closed its doors in 1988. According to a Daily Kent Stater article written by Dawn Keyser dated April 28, 1988, the Kent Community Store largely fell victim to — brace yourself — the convenience of shopping malls.

That’s hard to imagine now, considering shopping malls themselves have been tossed onto the scrap heap of history by the even bigger convenience of the internet.

But things change. And in a true twist of irony, vinyl records have staged an incredible resurgence the last few years thanks in large part to the convenience of the internet, with Facebook groups centered around vinyl popping up worldwide and leading to a secondary resurgence: the neighborhood record shop.

You know, just like the old Kent Community Store.

What’s old is new again, and in the last couple years I’ve found myself at vintage stores, flea markets and garage sales, flipping through hundreds, probably thousands, of vinyl albums. Dad died in 2005, and most of his beloved collection was ruined in the years that followed; therefore, my primary album-hunting mission now consists of replacing much of what was lost. It’s a work in progress, but it’s getting there.

And as I flip through the rows of albums at these stores and sales, it all comes rushing back to me: It’s the early 1970s, and I’m that little boy at the Kent Community Store again, digging through albums in hopes of finding a gem for Dad. That wonderment of what’s behind the next album, what’s hidden amongst the mass of vinyl in front of you, what album that you’ve been searching for is just sitting there waiting for you to find it, has never wavered.

It feels the same in 2023 as it did in 1973; “the hunt” is timeless.

“What about this one?”

A voice snaps me back to the present. It’s my wife, Kim. She’s standing next to me, and she’s holding up an album.

Memory lane has come full circle.

+ posts

Tom Hardesty is a Portager sports columnist. He was formerly assistant sports editor at the Record-Courier and author of the book Glimpses of Heaven.