The customer at In Your Ear asked co-owner Reed Lappin about the Cramps. Soon the aisles of LPs, 45s, cassettes, and CDs were filled with the sound of rockabilly as Lappin played a late ‘90s CD by Boston’s Crank-Tones (which can’t be streamed) and talked about the band’s beloved guitarist, Frankie Blandino. “And have you heard Hasil Adkins?” asked Lappin, recalling how the Cramps had covered the West Virginia wild man.
That kind of personalized music recommendation — plus a wide-ranging inventory that Lappin numbers around 100,000 recordings — has made In Your Ear a destination for Boston record buyers for the past 40 years. But soon they’ll have to travel south if they want to dig through In Your Ear’s crates. Although the store at 957 Commonwealth Ave. is closing, In Your Ear’s two locations in Warren, R.I., will remain open. A final day for the Boston store hasn’t been set, but a hand-scrawled sign on the door says that the store will be shuttered in the next three to four months. Another sign advises that vast collections of eight-tracks, press kits, and live reel-to-reel recordings are available for four-figure sums.
Lappin says that he and his business partners Mark Henderson and Chris Zingg decided to pull the plug on their Commonwealth Avenue location after the landlord asked for a long-term lease and “the heftiest rent increase we’d ever faced.” Retirement held no appeal for the 68-year-old. “I think I’m still pretty useful, and can do this on a high level. It gives my life some purpose,” Lappin says.
In Your Ear’s owners started out peddling records at flea markets and colleges. As campuses became less welcoming to vendors, “we decided we needed our own store,” recalls Lappin. There were two prior locations elsewhere on Commonwealth Avenue before they settled into their current basement in Allston-Brighton, where the store has been for 30 years.
“Here no one really bothered us or tried to poach the location,” says Lappin, noting the ongoing saga of Stereo Jack’s, a Cambridge record institution located in a spot that a cannabis dispensary has been seeking. This month it was announced that drummer and Stereo Jack’s employee Chris Anzalone is buying the store from Jack Woker and moving it to Somerville in the fall. (In Your Ear’s Cambridge location lasted about 30 years before closing in 2019.)
“If you got into a time machine and went to the store 25 years ago, it really would look just like it looks now,” says “Boston” Bob Gibson, who worked at In Your Ear in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, discovering so many rare funk records he started making breakbeat compilations that became favorites of hip-hop DJs. “And before the Internet, if you wanted to hear something, you’d have to play it on a turntable in the store. Reed was never interested in just making money off of records. He always wanted to promote many kinds of music.”
“The people who worked at In Your Ear would always remember you, and point you in the right direction if they got a feel for what you wanted,” says Sean Quinn, who as Claude Money has spun countless records he found at In Your Ear for dancers at Soulelujah, his long-running soul DJ night, which recently returned to its weekly Saturday night slot at the Sinclair. “And they would be super fair and cut you a deal. It’s a whole way of retail life that you just don’t find anymore.”
Quinn says he would routinely pack a lunch before heading to In Your Ear for hours of searching through the stacks. But those with more modest collections have always been welcome too. On a recent afternoon, Nicholas O’Brien, 21, was delighted to finally score a copy of the soundtrack to his favorite film, “A Clockwork Orange,” which he’d looked for during prior visits to In Your Ear. Why not just buy it online? “The prices here are a little bit better, and they always have other things you can find. And I love looking through the movie posters,” says O’Brien.
Former employee John Butler, who has been helping with the move to Rhode Island, picked up a record by Bob Kuban and the In-Men, and talked about how band lead singer Walter Scott’s 1983 murder has been the subject of an episode of “Forensic Files.” “I told my wife I won’t have any social outlet now,” he laughed. “I’ve always found interesting records I had never heard before.”
In Your Ear is leaving Boston just as a number of new, smaller stores have entered the market, including Soundtracks in Beverly, Want List in Newton, and Good Taste in the North End. Quinn says he now often goes to Vinyl Index in Somerville. “It’s heavily curated — a completely different experience,” he says.
One of Quinn’s favorite In Your Ear finds came when he brought DJ Prestige, who writes the Flea Market Funk blog, to the store. “He started talking about this Jackie Gleason record that Salvador Dalí had done the cover art for. They had two copies, so we each walked out with one.”