Toward the end of March, subscribers to The Wren’s weekly newsletter responded to a survey asking them to share a bit about themselves and the type of stories they’d like to see in The Wren. Among a plethora of requests, we learned that multiple readers hoped to see a local business highlighted – Barnacle Records.
Barnacle Records is an independent record store, owned and operated by Rónan and Jessie McGrath. Located at 290 Third Ave., the store opened in August 2015 and has since been serving avid music listeners far and wide, as the brick-and-mortar also sells inventory online.
The store stocks a wide array of new and used records and keeps a “steady flow” of CDs and cassettes on hand for those who still collect the old-school medium.
If local to Kamloops or on your way through town, the store provides an aesthetically beautiful and down-to-earth place to thumb through a thoughtfully curated music library, in which most visitors will likely find something that piques their interest.
Barnacle’s beginnings and the Bizarre Bazaars
Rónan McGrath says Barnacle was born from humble beginnings.
McGrath and his wife Jessie took over a Kamloops-based collective arts label called Bollucks Craft around 2012 that was, at the time, disseminating cassettes and “other odd-ball types of physical media for release,” he explains.
Although Bollucks Craft was a great place to play around with experimental ideas, McGrath says it eventually acted as a front for hosting pop-up record sales from their rental home on Fourth Avenue and Nicola Street.
It was there that McGrath would host what he lovingly called ‘Bizarre Bazaars,’ where friends and members of the community would gather to trade and sell all kinds of artwork records a few times a year.
McGrath says the pop-ups grew in size between 2012 and 2015, prompting him and Jessie to open Barnacle Records.
McGrath initially sold records from his personal collection, and he and Jessie never planned to offer the large library of second-hand collectibles the store became known for.
“Our initial intent was to sell only new and niche vinyl, but once the word got out, people just started showing up with these huge record collections asking if they could sell to us or consign.”
While they hadn’t planned for it, McGrath says consigning made sense, as it continued the spirit of the Bizarre Bazaars.
“We had a lot of friends who had personal collections they wanted to thin out, and because we weren’t in a place where we could necessarily buy large amounts of records off of people, we’d have them consign.”
Over time, a few key folks helped to amp up the McGrath’s collection until they stopped offering consignment later down the road.
Lewis Podlubny, an avid record collector, previous Barnacle Records employee and source for The Wren’s inaugural article, Little Big House: The tale of a punk palace past, spoke with us about Bollucks Craft and his participation in the McGrath’s Bizarre Bazaars.
“They invited me to bring my records over a couple of times when I was running my own distro, so I’d show up with my box of records and stuff to sell, and it was always really cool because although it was very underground, all kinds of people would show up and check it out,” Podlubny says. “It really added a lot of flavour to the downtown core that just isn’t really around anymore.”
Distros buy records from independent labels or bands at wholesale and distribute them at shows or underground community events, he explains.
“They’re sort of like independent record stores on wheels that bring a curated selection of records for people to buy that usually highlights new and upcoming bands.”
Podlubny has been buying and selling records at Barnacle ever since, helping the store appeal to more customers.
“When Barnacle opened, I actually sold my hardcore punk distro to them to help diversify their library,” Podlubny says
Currently, Podlubny runs a screen-printing business, Pogo Pope Printing, a grass-roots record label, Slow Death Records and acts as frontman and vocalist for two Kamloops-made hardcore bands, Bootlicker and Headcheese.
Creating an inclusive environment
McGrath and Podlubny spoke with us about the culture of inclusivity that Barnacle Records has organically worked to build over the years.
Record stores can sometimes feel alienating, McGrath says.
“Even more so than that, there’s sometimes an artificial sense that knowledge about music can somehow indicate someone’s intelligence or cultural development, which of course, is sometimes true,” he jokes, but goes on to say he finds it silly that hierarchies can be fabricated because of that knowledge.
“I mean, there’s this archetype we all know. The snooty kind of socially strange person that thinks of themselves as superior to you because they know the exact date certain albums came out when in reality, It’s just trivia.”
“I’m not built like that. I don’t have those skills,” McGrath explains. “So, you and I and anyone else interested can all be sort of less cool together right here at Barnacle.”
McGrath says he feels the store has built a fairly relaxed and open reputation over the years.
“We’re not trying to pitch anything to anyone. We’re not trying to convince you that you should listen to anything other than what you listen to. And if I happen to be good enough at my job to have the records you want already stoked and easy to find within the store without asking for my help, all the better.”
Podlubny echoes the sentiment, “Barnacle is inclusive and user friendly, and I think that plays into their identity.”
He says he’s been to record stores all over the world, and at some places, “even if you are a member of the subculture and look the part, certain stores tend to make people feel like they don’t belong or could be alienated for their taste in music.”
“Barnacle isn’t like that. They’re very open and considerate and try their best to connect the dots between people’s interests,” Podlubny says.
The vast collection of records available at the store also helps connect locals to the world outside of Kamloops, McGrath explains.
“If you feel like Kamloops feels a little quiet or feels a little bit disconnected from the world, Barnacle is very obviously a conduit to the world that can connect you to other places, cultures and people.”
The value in collecting
While accruing a sizable record collection isn’t necessarily common, McGrath says there’s value in collecting the antiquated medium.
Records look nice in your home, for one, and can be used as decor if you’re into the aesthetic, he says.
There are plenty of manufacturers that make what McGrath calls beautiful artifacts. He says corners aren’t cut, and the resulting product is gorgeous to behold.
Record sleeves look great displayed face forward as 12 by 12 canvases or are equally as beautiful displayed with spines out, whether colour coded or alphabetized on a shelf dedicated to your collection, equipment and other tchotchkes, McGrath explains.
“More so than that, though, a record collection can act as an extension of your personality right there on display in your home.”
Without having to exchange niceties or utter words even, newcomers to your home can easily get to know you by simply looking at your collection.
“The truth of who you are is expressed in a very physical way, and the spines of your record collection can tell someone who you are and what you’re into,” McGrath says.
For Podlubny, records have become artifacts of or proof of eras all but forgotten in his life.
“I started collecting when I was a kid, and I don’t have a lot of memories of certain things or even places or people I’ve met in my life, but I am assisted in remembering certain things through the records that I keep around … they’re like timestamps for my life,” he says.
McGrath empathizes with Podlubny’s sentiments in saying, “I regularly go back to my record collection at home and am reminded of almost forgotten things. I use my physical collection as a way to sort of outsource my brain and memories.”
All in all, McGrath says Barnacle isn’t just a place to build profit or a means to support his family, it’s a place for building culture and creating connections with like-minded people in Kamloops.
“For those who are lovers of music, I hope they’ve been able to build and will continue to build memories right here at Barnacle.”
Podlubny adds that newcomers to record collecting shouldn’t be scared to get started. Barnacle is here to help and if you play your cards right, your collection could be worth something down the road, whether monetarily or emotionally, he says.
While McGrath says he doesn’t expect everyone to come in and purchase something each and every time they visit, he suggests Kamloopsians come and check out the store, see what they have, start conversations, and enjoy the act of discovering new music.
“I feel like it’s our job to make those references available regardless of what they are,” he says. “If they’re very progressive, if they’re a little bit old school, we’re here with the country music, the classic rock, the hip hop, the noise, the drone, the metal and punk, it doesn’t matter. If people are after it, we want to start conversations around it and ensure it’s available.”
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