Each Tuesday, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.
For more than a decade, independent record store Cosmos Records has supplied the Toronto area with hard-to-find vinyl releases. In addition to its flagship Queen St. West location, a sister store specializing in hip-hop and soul records opened down the street in 2005. Owner Aki Abe is known for his encyclopedic knowledge, an expertly cultivated record selection, and his downtown-Toronto nightclub, Una Más. Below, Abe answers a few questions, and Cosmos employees show off their favorite records.
What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?
In the late ’80s, I used to wholesale rare disco and soul LPs to Japan, which paid for my college tuition. I always seemed to obsess about something, whether it was rare action-figure erasers in grade two or obscure soul LPs I’ve never seen. If I didn’t open a record store, my apartment would’ve burst. I have no background in music.
What is the musical community like in your area?
The musical community is very diverse. My store is located on Queen Street West, which is where most of the independent stores and art galleries are located in Toronto. I always go where the galleries go — cheap rent, cool people.
What makes your store unique?
We wanted to encourage a culture of digging or unearthing old forgotten music, and in our case, you can take a lot of music and check them out at a listening station. Most used record stores 15 years ago did not accommodate listening to the albums in the store. The only way to discover your sound is to listen to it. We also don’t have cats living in the store.
What can someone expect when visiting Cosmos for the first time?
All original vinyl pressings of soul, jazz, rare Brazil, Latin, rare Cuban in the West store, and funk, classic hip hop, disco, and modern soul at the East store. It’s our job to find LPs that are out of the ordinary and still relevant. The LPs are priced at collectors prices, so they can become quite expensive. However, if you ask me to choose between a $100 bill and a rare album, I would choose the album every time — unfortunately, we like records more than paying the rent. We don’t snob the dollar bin though, so not to worry — every record store’s gotta have one!
Give me three great albums that you’ve enjoyed lately.
1. Myrna Hague: What Color Is Love (Studio One)
2. Leon Cook: Cookin (Edmar)
3. Touch of Class: Love Means Everything (Stack-O-Hits)
What is the strangest request you’ve ever received?
Unworn panties of Alice Cooper‘s album.
Which albums has your store sold the most over the past month?
Al Green‘s I’m Still In Love With You and Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin III.
Any big future plans for Cosmos?
Japanese noodle shop with rare vinyl…maybe.