The owners of this College Street indie-music emporium tell us how they plan to distinguish themselves amid Toronto’s new record-store wave.
“It’s a weird year—there’s three new record shops this year,” says Ian Cheung, co-owner of June Records (662 College), referring to recent arrivals Of a Kind and Grasshopper Records. Does the added competition—not to mention the fact indie-music institution Soundscapes is just a few blocks east—worry him at all? “I think it’s great actually,” says Cheung.
His business partner Dennis Reynolds sees room in the city for comfortable co-existence. “We go to those stores on our off-time,” says Reynolds, “The reality is that record buyers hit a lot of record stores on the same day. I used to have my own route I would go on of three or four stores in the same day. We’re not going to pretend that doesn’t happen and we’re just going to embrace it, because that’s where we come from—it’s part of the culture.”
Cheung feels one of June Records’ distinguishing strengths is their focus on buying directly from smaller record labels without wide distribution. “We’re willing to do that. We want to get deeper into direct label relationships. It’s a lot of work at first, but once you set it up, it’s there,” he says.
Mind you, they don’t want to drift too far into esoteric territory. “We want to be fairly diverse,” explains Reynolds. “We still have a few titles we want to share with people, but we don’t want the whole store to be like that; we want to be able to satisfy a broad range of taste.”
The duo first met when they started playing in a band together and soon discovered like-minded aspirations. “Ian was working at [Queen West record store] Kops and I was working at TD Bank, playing music at night—I was living a double life,” says Reynolds, “I’d work [at TD] during the day and then I would rehearse or play shows at night, so I wanted to do something that could really accelerate my involvement in the cultural community and in music. I just wanted to do something that had a little more of an emotional return.”
Having left Calgary and his former technology-based career behind, Cheung was not looking to record-shop management as a long-term plan. “When I came to Toronto, I just wanted to maybe try this for a little bit,” he says. “I had some money saved up and I thought I’d just be [at Kops] for six months to a year and then I’ll get a ‘real’ job. But then six months to a year turned into three years—it just kind of whooshed by.”
Cheung eventually realized that he truly enjoyed running a record store, but didn’t see his current arrangement of working for someone else lasting. “I had a vision to open a record store,” he says, “but I wasn’t really serious about scouting out places until probably around December of last year.”
“We were looking at the Annex first,” Reynolds adds. “We checked out Bloor but, with the combination of the places not being as nice as we expected them to be and the rent being high, it just wasn’t going to happen.”
When they finally found their current space on College, “it was celebratory for about five or 10 minutes,” says Reynolds.
“Then we realized, ‘Oh god, we just verbally committed to a store for five years,” Cheung continues. “We killed ourselves for three weeks to build this store. We’re still a work in progress until about mid or late August—our official launch.”
After that, Cheung has plans to curate quarterly displays of independent art and photography mixed with limited-edition merchandise all tying into a central theme. “We’re going to rotate our vibe quarterly, then document and print an annual book,” he says.
In addition to the stage at the back of the shop—which will allow for a DJ on Saturdays and small in-store performances—there’s an entire back room that will provide them with the space to execute more elaborate projects. “There’s a performance space in the back that’s going to be for avant-garde noise and electronic shows as well as independent screenings of films that haven’t been released or shown up at festivals yet,” says Cheung. “We’re going to get into that bleeding-edge territory.”
With such an ambitious set of plans, not to mention the daily grind of operating the store and continuing as bandmates, it’s good to know that Cheung and Reynolds have established a healthy working relationship. “Before we went into this, we joked that we were going to be like college roommates, because we were going to see each other every day, all day—and it’s been like that,” says Reynolds.
“Thankfully,” adds Cheung, “It’s been working out well.”