In a college town, it seems like a given to find certain culturally “hip” places where young adults can bask in the uniqueness of these understated alcoves while searching for their identities. Whether it be tasting a falafel for the first time at International Cafe or coming across an art show in a North Village Arts District studio, such Columbia businesses may not be fully aware of the extraordinary memories that haunt their walls from kids simply trying to find their way.
For Hitt Records co-owner and founder Kyle Cook, offering an environment with elements that are new and exciting while old and nostalgic, all the while catering to the idea of finding a place where one feels they truly belong, was all part of the plan.
Cook, a Columbia resident since coming to attend school at MU in 2002, has been a music fanatic and vinyl collector for almost his entire life. After seeing vinyl-exclusive shops go under over the many years he inhabited Columbia, Cook, alongside friend and co-owner Taylor Bacon, started Hitt Records in September 2012.
The shop is located on Hitt Street, in the building known as “Hittsville,” the heart of Columbia’s arts and culture. The collage of Ragtag Cinema, 9th Street Video and Uprise Bakery (and now Hitt Records) — offers an excellent environment for working and spending time with friends on top of showing independent films and presenting fantastic food and beverages.
Cook says the shop’s goal is to provide Columbia vinyl lovers a place to buy and collect records. It’s open Friday through Monday. With a staff comprising just the two vinyl gurus, the quaint yet inviting shop is the perfect location for music enthusiasts.
“I think what I’m most proud of is when the weirdo kids come and tell me that we have an awesome, super diverse collection of stuff they’ve never heard,” Cook says in between bites of El Rancho fish tacos on a chaotic Thursday night with students pouring out of Roxy’s across the street. “There’s something for everybody. There’s so much out there that I know music lovers will enjoy.”
Cook, born and raised in Warrenton, Missouri, was originally studying elementary education at MU before deciding to drop out as a junior with the intention of working and eventually going back to school.
“My parents were both retiring from teaching and hated it,” Cook says. “So I thought, ‘I’ll probably end up teaching somewhere for 30 years, retire, have no say in my curriculum, always be underappreciated at every corner.’ My heart just wasn’t in it.”
After working a multitude of part-time jobs, Cook ended up being accepted into the world of Hittsville by 2007.
“I’ve been part of the Ragtag-Uprise family for so long that it almost feels like a family,” Cook says. “I spend 80 to 90 hours a week there. It has become my second home.”
Cook, whose lanky body and expressive complexion match a carefree stride, is both well-spoken and an enthusiastic listener. Growing up, he was dealt an extremely beneficial musical hand, with classic records and “a really sweet ‘70s-style radio stereo” inhabiting his living room.
“I loved going in the living room and moving through the dial, finding whatever random religious talk radio, whatever late night pop radio, and always at the bottom of the dial you’d end up at KDHX, and there was always great, weird stuff there,” Cook says. “And then of course, my parents’ record collection that basically ends in the mid ‘80s. I got a solid introduction to classic rock, American folk, disco and early New Wave. ELO was my favorite band growing up.
“No matter what mood you’re in, there’s always something to listen to, to either enhance or alter that mood.”
Bacon, Cook’s longtime friend and Hitt Records partner, had a similar devoutness to music early on. While both his parents played instruments, Bacon is a classically trained musician, playing the piano, percussion and singing.
“I remember my parents sitting me down and listening to records with headphones before I was 5 years old,” Bacon says. “I remember Paul Simon and Seals and Croft records being around.”
The duo met while working at Shakespeare’s Pizza and found they had come from similar walks of life and shared many interests.
“Kyle and I both did radio, were devoted record collectors and worked together at Uprise before opening the shop,” Bacon says. “We both come from farm families and will probably end up doing farm work eventually, so this is just a fun chapter in life.”
By the time the two had worked together at Uprise extensively, Columbia’s record scene had nearly vanished. Slackers didn’t have nearly as many records as it does now, while Mizzou Records, Streetside Records and Whizz Records had either shut down or were on their way out.
All the while, Cook and Bacon had been consistently hosting Vinyl Nights at Uprise every Monday, where anyone could bring in their own records to play as a sort of informal DJ. Through this, Cook says the two realized there was a serious desire for records and a record shop in Columbia.
“You drive to St. Louis or Jefferson City or Kansas City or Chicago, and you always have a record store, but if you go to Columbia, you’re shit out of luck,” Cook says. “Finally, late one night, at the bar over some beers, we decided to try and just figure out what it would take to open our own shop. And over the next two months, we figured out it doesn’t take that much.”
And thus came the birth of Hitt Records.
As I wandered up the staircase of Hitt Records, concert posters, framed records and various works of art immediately caught my eye. The walls, covered in various forms of musical propaganda, are equivalent to a record shop fan’s wet dream. It was Sept. 13, and Hitt Records was celebrating its two-year anniversary.
The store buzzed with giddy music nerds and curious young adults, all perusing the magnificent collection of music before them. Records are divided into separate “great deal” sections for the occasion, while sections for bountiful genres are scattered about.
“Right when you walk in, we have new arrivals split between new, sealed records and previously-owned newer records,” Cook says. “Everything else kind of filters in from there. Originally we were going to just have an A-to-Z setup, but we realized that’d be too difficult. So instead we have a section for country, a section for jazz, a section for everything rock related, old and new. International, spoken word, electronic and ambient, metal. The list goes on.”
As a patron gasped “I cannot believe they have this!,” Cook and Bacon happily looked on and discussed a recent score from a vinyl convention, obviously content with their lifestyle as certified music masterminds.
“It has a homier feel than anywhere else I’ve ever seen,” Columbia resident and MU Law School graduate Dan Coffman says. “They have an excellent variety of staple records and great deep-cut kind of stuff.”
Coffman says he found refuge in Hitt Records after moving here and losing his touch with vinyl without his old player and usual stores.
In a time where music is predominantly consumed digitally, it is admirable to even have the audacity to start a store that sells music in an opposite medium.
“Originally we were so afraid because we’re not businessmen, we’re just good at collecting music,” Cook says. “You’re shelling out tons of money for new records, over and over again, so it leads to this idea that we just need to cover ourselves and buy whatever we want.”
Over time, the nitty-gritty handlings of the business element of the shop became simple. The process in ordering records, doing research on the record and pricing, all the while keeping the shop updated and organized has at this point just become part of the experience.
After beginning with Cook’s starting funds of $5,000 and Bacon’s massive personal collection, the duo has made enormous strides in their popularity and success.
“We buy whatever we would listen to or whatever we think we would enjoy,” Cook says. “That’s how in two years of continuously selling records we went from 1,500 records to 10,000 records that are just in the shop. Last year we spent over $40,000 on records. That’s pretty crazy to think about when you’re sitting with your accountant.
“I’ve done a lot of the research in the past just from being such an avid collector, and I knew things from the radio, too, that helped ordering catalogs. We started out contacting four different labels for orders, and we’ve gotten to 25 now. I ordered albums, one by one, that I know I want. It gets easier as time goes by to do the ordering.”
From the beginning, though, the goal was never to make the biggest profit possible while swindling oblivious teens into garbage deals. Instead, Hitt Records’ persona rests upon the idea that a customer should be able to come in, examine the record selection for as long as they like and receive recommendations from its highly knowledgeable staff.
“It’s always been a hobby job for us,” Bacon says. “Last month was actually the first month we had ever paid ourselves since opening the shop.”
“We could do the record store full-time, but we don’t really want to,” Cook adds. “It’s fun because we only do it part-time. If we did it every day, it’d be more like an actual job and less about just hanging out and listening to records.”
The revitalization of vinyl has been a growing phenomenon in the past ten years, as CD sales continue to fall and record sales increasingly become stronger. As musical media have changed in the past, it is unsurprising that in our day of technology, music fans hold the convenience factor in higher regard than any generation before. Between posting favorite songs on Facebook, discovering underground groups on Bandcamp or finding almost anything ever released to the public on various streaming websites such as Spotify, music fans have it great.
So why are people choosing to trudge through the process of using a record player?
“I think that our generation has everything at the click of a button, such as Spotify, and now there is a push-back for authenticity,” sophomore Summer Perlow says.
Perlow is one of the many MU students with a heart that’s been won over by everything about music. A fairly new collector with a lifelong love for music, Perlow is a vinyl fiend and loves the environment at Hitt Records.
“Vinyl is the closest thing you can get to a live playback, thus the best sound quality possible for listening,” she says. “It takes a dedicated music lover to spend the time and money to collect records.”
Just because Perlow loves vinyl, it does not mean she feels technology is destroying everything sacred about listening to music. Instead, she says she embraces the accessibility for even more music discovery.
“The ability to make a playlist with the choice of any music, share new bands with friends, observe what others are listening to, as well as discovering new music is astounding,” she says. “On the other hand, vinyl gives you the ability to monetarily support those bands which you love.”
Bacon says he sees it similarly.
“It’s been a paradigm shift in six months that CDs no longer represent the desired medium,” he says. “The way I’ve read it, streaming is the apex of convenience and vinyl is the apex of experience. We’re just catering to the true experience.”
Sophomore Billy Savaiano, a dedicated vinyl collector, says he also agrees that brand new records create an experience that is both important and fun.
“Records are something that no matter what age you are, or background you come from, their significance is universally recognized,” he says.
Hitt Records has a pertinent role in Columbia’s impressive cultural life. As being the only old school, vinyl-exclusive shop, the diversity of music lovers matches the diversity of selection. Moving onward into its second year, the store and its owners have grown into their community’s heart.
With an always-changing lineup of new and old, deep-cut and B-sides, and always more obscure than imaginable records, satisfied customers aren’t hard to find coming out of the store.
“What makes me come back to Hitt Records is the incredibly vast selection of albums they offer,” Saviano says. “Hitt has everything that a music lover would ever need. Except Prince — they are always out of Prince.”
Perlow attributes the store’s greatness to the duo’s commitment to both meticulously curating their collection and sharing it with the community.
“Taylor and Kyle are so dedicated to music that they devote their career to educating others, and I think that the store is incredibly well-loved and thought out,” she says.
Ringing up a first-time cusomer, Bacon says, “I think we’re doing a really good thing.
“People thank us, they’re happy we have a store. It’s kind of a selfless project, but we love doing it. Kyle and I love making sure people have the jams.”