The day the music dies: Reflections on Record Revolution closing after 55 years on Coventry

Back in the 1970s, 100.7 WMMS-FM radio personality and executive John Gorman would go weekly to the office of Record Revolution owner Peter Schliewen to preview song cuts by promising unknowns like Queen and Elvis Costello.

Back then, folk singer Alex Bevan would walk to the record store at 1832 Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights to hear what he recalls as the “best stuff first... on amps that could melt your brain... with a gentle air of patchouli.”

Rob Love, active partner at Record RevolutionLed Zeppelin, George Clinton and many other stars autographed Record Revolution’s walls. Queen and Robert Fripp played a few songs in its basement. Some of the store’s salesmen played in leading local bands like I-Tal and Pere Ubu. National outlets like Billboard and television shows like “How I Met Your Mother” plugged the place.

The stories go way back. It seems that anyone who has visited Coventry Road in the past half century has at least walked by the iconic shop, which sells clothing, posters, jewelry, and, of course, vinyl records and bootleg recordings. 

After 55 years, Record Revolution will close on New Year’s Eve, ending its run as one of the nation’s oldest independent record stores and the second-oldest business on its Cleveland Heights street.

Memories of music and more
Rob Love, the store’s active partner, revealed his plans in a social media post on Nov. 25: “Today I come to Facebook with a heavy heart. After much calculation, consideration, & deliberation we have decided to close the doors.”

The urbane Love, a saxophonist, former dance teacher, former pro-am-skateboarder, and 33-year veteran of the store, added, “We have enjoyed being a member of the Coventry community with its spirit of entrepreneurship, diversity, & encouragement of free thought and expression.”

In person, Love says that the store has lost money and overstayed its lease. “Ultimately it would be more difficult to keep it going than to do something else.”

Many fans posted their regrets:

“Nooo!!!!!!! I feel guilty for having forgotten you in the ensuing years, when life took me away.”

“We used to drive sixty miles to peruse your excellent used vinyl, cutouts, and cutting edge releases that were not sold anywhere else.”

“In the 70's I set aside 20 bucks from every paycheck for my Friday evening trip there for vinyl.”

“I would stop there on the way back after I would make flowers deliveries. My bosses would always wonder why it took me an hour to make the deliveries when it should only take 10 minutes round trip.”

“Cleveland won’t be the same.”

On a recent weekday, a few eager shoppers reached Record Revolution between its previous 11 a.m. opening time and its current opening at noon. Once the store finally opened, more customers arrived, combed its bins, and lamented its fate.

“It hurts,” said customer and deejay Andrej Jackson. Jackson used to stock up for gigs by bicycling to the store and filling a milk crate on his handlebars with finds.

Opening in 1968, Record Revolution helped turn Coventry into an island of cool in Cleveland’s square sea.Setting the Coventry vibe
Opening in 1967, Record Revolution helped turn Coventry into an island of cool in Cleveland’s square sea. Owner Peter Schliewen often promoted the same groups as WMMS, considered the town’s hippest station.

WMMS’s Gorman says of Schliewen, “He looked like a rock star.” The merchant had long blond hair, a Porsche, a Harley, a Jeep, the latest duds, and “a great pair of ears. He was also part of the community. He was sweeping the sidewalk every few hours.”

Online, Gorman once wrote, “He also had the best, most knowledgeable staff—that could ID tunes from a lyric or a hum.”

Schliewen bought many discs by locals instead of just taking them on consignment. He gradually added cassettes, T-shirts, jewelry, incense, drug paraphernalia, and more.

He expanded to three contiguous Coventry storefronts. He opened branches for a while on Prospect Avenue, in North Canton’s Belden Village Mall, and in Parmatown Mall. He fought a costly legal war with Parma officials over his rolling papers and bongs.

In 1983, Schliewen attended Bloomsday, a marathon reading of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” at Cleveland Heights’ Nighttown. He left with a woman in his Porsche, and crashed into a tree, injuring her critically and killing himself.

Schliewen’s widow ran Record Revolution for a few years, then sold it to Mike Allison. Allison added CDs and some of the nation’s first Doc Martens boots. Meanwhile, he kept selling vinyl, beloved by connoisseurs for its truer, warmer sound.

Record Revolution also sold some of Greater Cleveland’s first pro skateboarding equipment. Love, who’d long lived on Coventry, started in 1989 to sell and customize boards at the store.

Record RevolutionOne day, guitarist and Living Colour founder Vernon Reid came up to Love’s counter. The salesman found himself singing Reid’s hit, “Cult of Personality” under his breath. Reed chuckled and bought some gear.

Since 2004, Love has been Allison’s partner. The duo gradually closed two of their three storefronts but kept hosting stars. Love says that the actress Parker Posey encouraged him to try his luck in Hollywood.

Love never started a website but did post some merchandise for sale on other sites. An overseas buyer once paid him more than $1,000 for an autographed Lou Raglin album.

In recent years, vinyl has bounced back. “That’s the problem,” says Love, adding that the chains and big-box stores have taken over the medium and sometimes cheapened it by transferring digital recordings.

An ever-changing scene
Coventry leaders hate to see Love leave. “He was probably the best-dressed merchant, and a great guy who tried really hard against really strong headwinds,” says Suzanne DeGaetano, a partner in the long-time Coventry neighbor Mac’s Backs. Love calls his wardrobe “a modern take on mid-century.”

Mallory Kent, who runs the Coventry Village Special Improvement District, says, “I regularly overhear older couples recalling their first date at Record Revolution, or parents telling their teens about the good ole' days of Coventry when Record Rev was the hot place to be…. Rob is such a kind and welcoming person and will sit and talk with you about music of any genre.... We will miss his calm, cool, collected demeanor and steady presence on the street.”

Harvey Pekar's signature is one of many over the years on the walls at Revolution RecordsMost of Coventry’s three blocks of stores are occupied, except in Record Revolution’s block-long building. Recent departures there include the beloved Big Fun in 2018 and a Key Bank branch. In April, an errant car wrecked the year-old Charley’s Closet Boutique.

The building is run by Zak Perkins of Rent Due Management for an unidentified investor. Perkins says he’s turned down several would-be tenants with unpromising business plans. But he expects a repaired Charley’s to reopen next month and a new tenant to repurpose Big Fun’s space soon.

Coventry continues to draw new businesses and to sustain old ones like Tommy’s, Grog Shop, and Grum’s Sub Shoppe, despite the pandemic and customers’ reliance internet sales. Around the corner from the retail strip, a dispute was recently settled to save the Coventry PEACE Campus—an arts, education, recreation and community service hub in the former Coventry School building.

The neighborhood’s oldest business is Heights Hardware, established in 1911 and moved to Coventry in 1922. Owner Andy Gathy says the street may be going through some struggles, but it will bounce back. “We’re just in a down cycle. Coventry’s been around forever,” he explains. It’s going to come back, of course. We have walking traffic. People live here. Coventry’s never going to die.”

Love says people who want strong neighborhoods need to support neighborhood businesses. Since he announced his plans, “People have been coming in droves,” he says. “Turns out that, if you want to do some business, tell people you’re not going to be there anymore after 55 years, and they show up.”

Love says closing is “bittersweet, but I’ve come to terms with it. I’m ready to be done.” After the store closed, he’ll stay busy managing his real estate holdings and spending time with his wife and three children.

He’ll keep a plywood wall from one of the former storefronts that holds many autographs. He’ll have to leave behind some signed walls of plaster at the current storefront. And he’ll keep living in the neighborhood. “I love Coventry,” he says.

The store is now open Mondays through Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. through December. But, depending on traffic, Love may close a couple of hours early on December 24 and 31.

That last day, he’ll go home and host his customary New Year’s Eve party without “Auld Lang Syne.” “I always play something better,” he says.

The next day, he’ll host his usual birthday brunch and celebrate turning 50.

Read more articles by Grant Segall.

Grant Segall is a national-prizewinning journalist who spent 44 years at daily papers, mostly The Plain Dealer. He has freelanced for The Washington Post, Oxford University Press, Time, The Daily Beast, and many other outlets.