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Back: Scratch

After fire gutted Spiral Scratch's old location in North Buffalo, owner Dave Palumbo headed for the Elmwood Village. The new Spiral Scratch is at 291 Bryant Street. (photo by Benjamin Gardner)

North Buffalo record shop returns from the ashes in new Elmwood Village location

For passionate fans of music, a record store is far more than a place to pick up the latest releases, or to scrape through bins, hunting down classics and obscurities. Record stores have always been hubs. They are meeting places. They are places to soak in knowledge. They are a refuge.

As recent as five years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine Buffalo without a single owner-operated independent record store.

It’s happened, however.

In the rise of digital music age and online retail, we locally lamented the loss of music emporiums of like Home of the Hits and New World Record.

As vinyl saw a sales uptick and format renaissance, Spiral Scratch on Delaware Avenue in North Buffalo filled the gap those shops left behind.

The long-time dream of Dave Palumbo—a guy whose low-key, good-natured demeanor belies a fervent record fan and punk rock guitarist/hollerer in bands like Trailer Park Tornados and Plates—was to open his own store stocking the latest vinyl and a select section of CDs along with the kind of records he loved: unheralded punk rock, long-lost underground rock, soul nuggets, and other testaments to the varied niches and corners of music.

With his wife Marisa, a like-minded music obsessive, helping out in her spare time, Palumbo launched Spiral Scratch in 2008 with a name borrowed from a famed 1977 Buzzcocks single.

Because the shop was a labor of love, Palumbo’s business sense often took a back seat to running a record store for the people in the community who cared about it. Palumbo’s personal commitment to the local music community showed in his organizing in-store performances like Reigning Sound’s Greg Cartwright and in his “no eBay” credo.

“We don’t eBay,” he says proudly. “Buffalo and our loyal customers here always get the rare records we find…and at fair prices.”

After struggling but ultimately enduring, surviving through some tough months, the tiny record store at 2351 Delaware was seemingly gone a flash.

Palumbo got a call just hours after closing up on Wednesday, May 19, that his shop was on fire. He arrived at the scene to find the fire had been contained, but not before it had consumed two years of hard work and most of his savings—his dream reduced to a charcoaled, smoke-damaged reality.

Thankfully no one in the building was hurt, but the electrical fire destroyed most of Spiral Scratch’s stock and left the rented storefront in shambles.

His insurance company offered little help.

“I got the shaft on insurance but there was so much I could never really replace anyway,” Palumbo says. “Losing the personal records from my own collection was probably the hardest part.”

The local music community quickly rallied, organizing benefits to help keep Palumbo on his feet and get the store open again. A handful of indie labels and artists got wind of the fire and started sending Palumbo packages and raising awareness of his plight.

“We had so much support,” Palumbo says. “I wish I could name everyone. People I didn’t know: It was incredible.”

In under two and a half months, Palumbo and Spiral Scratch are back and—as clichéd as it sounds—better than ever.

With a new location at 291 Bryant, just in from the corner of Elmwood and the development currently under construction, it’s a promising new chapter in the shop’s life.

A framed poster of krautrock techno lords Kraftwerk hangs on the white brushed concrete walls alongside new vinyl releases from Arcade Fire and Against Me! After just one week in the new store, Palumbo has already seen steady business from both new and old customers.

“Of course we didn’t want to move,” Palumbo says, “but so many of our old regulars have been coming in and saying, ‘Oh, I live right around the corner from here.’ I see these people more often now. They don’t have to make the trip to North Buffalo.”

Ever making the best out of a bad situation, Palumbo points at some severely warped records dangling from strings to decorate the front entrance on Bryant.

“That’s what a fire can do to vinyl,” he explains with a smile.

Like Spiral Scratch itself, those wavy, warped LPs survive and will, hopefully, be hanging out on Bryant Street for a long time.

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