The Needle Exchange finds its niche in a crowded record store scene

In addition to used LPs and cassettes, Ian Graham will partner with Harm Reduction Ohio to offer literature and free Narcan on-site at his new North Clintonville shop

Kevin J. Elliott
Ian Graham photographed at the Needle Exchange Records & Tapes

As a record collector, I often feel blessed to live in Columbus. Save a few major metropolitan areas, our city has to have one of the finest concentrations of quality record stores anywhere in the nation. What’s one more going to hurt? 

That certainly had to be a question local musician, radio personality and record clerk Ian Graham asked during his pursuit to open the newly christened Needle Exchange Records & Tapes in North Clintonville. He’s spent the last five years behind the counter at Lost Weekend Records, and has learned a thing or two about the ins and outs of keeping a store afloat from owner and mentor Kyle Siegrist

“A piece of record store philosophy that Kyle passed on is that stores aren’t really in competition here,” Graham said. “Everyone has a good relationship with one another. Most of us go to other stores and visit and support each other, and that community is important. I want to be in that community.” 

Speaking from the freshly painted rosé and daphne blue walls of Needle Exchange, Graham said that his decision was not born of the pandemic. If anything, the downtime has given him an opportunity to scour and solicit entire collections for his stock, to save money for rent and to rehab the space, and to really determine how the Needle Exchange would stand apart from the other stores in town, as well as the ways it could contribute symbiotically to that community. 

The first thing you’ll notice are the shelves of cassettes, VHS tapes and 8-tracks (a true rarity these days) strategically placed around the stacks of used records. These formats aren’t exactly extinct, but they’ve certainly become harder to find. That’s a void Graham hopes to fill. 

“I’m going to focus on all things analog — not that other stores don’t, but cassette culture is really booming right now,” Graham said. “Part of what funded this store was selling cassettes and 8-tracks, and where [there are] people who prefer vinyl for the warmth, people are out there saying the same about cassettes, and are really passionate about that culture.” 

The Needle Exchange Records & Tapes

In addition to records and tapes, Graham also hopes to make the space a rotating gallery for local artists. The current residency is held by Dani Dirt, whose wild renderings of found art fit the quirky vibe of the shop. Beyond that, Graham showed off some space in the back, where he hopes to hold events once touring bands get the all clear. 

Though Graham doesn’t have the capital to start ordering new titles from the larger distributors, he will be buying from a number of smaller distributors around the country selling harder to find titles and limited releases from independent labels. So no shiny new Tame Impala record, but you could find a copy of Sweeping Promises’ debut album, and in the process discover your new favorite band. By adding some hype stickers (something else you don’t see many places), customers are also assured a more curatorial experience while digging. 

And then there’s the name. While many might see Needle Exchange as a clever play on words — for the uninitiated, turntables use needles, or styluses — it ultimately alludes to an issue that is of grave concern to Graham. While his landlord was reluctant to allow the store to be an actual needle exchange, or to host advocacy groups, there will be an element to the store that addresses addiction. 

“Harm Reduction Ohio will be a partner with us,” Graham said. “We will have literature on harm reduction and free Narcan on-site. It’s an issue that’s near and dear to my heart because I’ve known too many people who have killed themselves with intravenous drugs. It’s awful. The state has done next to nothing to help these people, so it’s important to lift up the independent advocacy groups out there trying to make a difference.” 

In an already crowded field, Graham seems to have found a niche that is sorely needed in Columbus. 

The Needle Exchange is scheduled to open Friday, April 9. The shop is located at 4290 Indianola Ave. (upstairs in suite 201). Follow Needle Exchange on Facebook and Instagram for shop hours and events.