The Record Exchange is changing hands for the first time in the store’s 44-year history, but the new owners will be familiar faces to customers of Idaho’s largest independent record store.
Founder and owners Michael Bunnell and Jil Sevy have sold the business to longtime employees Catherine Merrick, Glenn Newkirk and Chad Dryden, and Dryden’s wife Erica Sparlin Dryden. Merrick, Newkirk and the Drydens will assume ownership on Wednesday, Sept. 8.
After founding The Record Exchange in 1977 and growing the business into a Downtown Boise institution and leader in the national music retail industry, Bunnell and Sevy are retiring to enjoy travel and other pursuits.
“My vision for the store from the beginning was to create a place where people of all ages and musical tastes could discover and share their passion for music.” Bunnell said. “I wanted the store to be an ‘experience,’ and I hope on some level we’ve succeeded in that goal. It was always my hope that when Jil and I were ready to retire, the store would continue in the hands of employees who care about the culture we’ve created. I couldn’t be happier about the employees who have stepped up to take the helm and guide the store into the future.”
With an initial inventory consisting largely of his vinyl record collection, Bunnell and then-partner Al Benton opened The Record Exchange in a modest Orchard Street storefront on the Boise Bench. A year later, in 1978, they moved the business to the Hitchcock Building at the corner of Idaho and 11th streets to fulfill Bunnell’s vision of a full-service record store in Boise inspired by the shop of his youth, the original Tower Records in Sacramento. In 1981, Bunnell bought out Benton and later partnered with Kathleen O’Brien, who ran a poster shop next door, and the two businesses combined under The Record Exchange name until 1992, when Bunnell and Sevy bought O’Brien out of the business. The downtown location was expanded many times over the years, and in 1996, Bunnell and Sevy purchased the building, which they will continue to own in retirement. While it is well-known for its deep music inventory, the store diversified to include gifts, apparel and Downtown Boise’s first espresso bar. Sevy, Bunnell’s wife and partner, officially joined the staff in 2001 as the gift shop buyer and manager and was instrumental in growing the store’s non-music offerings.
The Record Exchange has spent nearly 45 years making itself a vibrant part of the Boise music scene. By featuring local and touring musicians on its built-in, professional-level stage, the store established itself as one of the leading music venues in the state. Record Exchange in-store alumni include Smashing Pumpkins, Ed Sheeran, Built to Spill, Josh Ritter, Ben Harper, They Might Be Giants, Brandi Carlile and Luke Combs.
“We are very grateful to the Boise community for its support over the years, in particular the local musicians who have played our stage and contributed their talents to countless store events,” Sevy said. “We thank the wonderful employees we’ve worked with over the decades, including our two sons Ian and Eric, who have all been a vital part of The Record Exchange family.”
In addition to running The Record Exchange, Bunnell was a founding member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS) and served on the CIMS board of directors for 13 years until he was named executive director in 2008, a position he held until 2019 when he retired to focus solely on the store. In addition, Bunnell also served on the Record Store Day board of directors for 11 years.
Under the leadership of Bunnell and Sevy, the store has earned accolades from grammy.com and several national publications, most recently No Depression magazine, which named The Record Exchange one of the top 75 record stores in the country. Locally, The Record Exchange won both the Idaho Statesman and Boise Weekly’s Best Record Store reader’s poll awards for so many consecutive years that the category was retired.
The new ownership group, with a combined 43 years of experience at the store, is eager and excited to take the reins and lead The Record Exchange to even greater heights.
“As a youth, I spent many hours in this building – it was a safe space for me, particularly as a female music enthusiast who didn’t fit in elsewhere,” Merrick said. “The Record Exchange has always encouraged women to be a part of this industry, so to be able to be part of the RX team, as a young customer to long-time employee-turned-owner, is really validating. I’m excited to carry forward, and build on, the tradition of making RX inclusive and to continue supporting and fostering the diverse artists and creatives in our community.”
Said Newkirk: “The Record Exchange had been my home-away-from-home for 30 years. I’m honored to be a member of the RX family and feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of the continuing story.”