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A Million Memories of Mole's

Updated: May 23

How do you even begin to tell the story of a place that feels like it has always been there?

As a teenager I was very fortunate to get a job working at a record store in the mall before the end of my senior year of high school. This was only the beginning of what turned out to be something of a career in record stores for me and if you know me then you know I'm a little too fond of discussing those glory days of the 1980s. From the mall I went on to work at numerous other shops. As a young music lover, musician, and record collector, there were countless record stores in Ohio back then. Growing up and coming of age in Cincinnati, I found the thread running through it all was Mole's Record Exchange in Clifton near UC. No other store ever came close to the Mole’s vibe. Other stores were bigger, maybe had a better selection, or had the fortune of being located in a hip and trendy neighborhood. But Mole’s is, was and forever shall be everything a record store was meant to be. Regardless of your age or taste in music, if you wandered into Mole’s you would find something to your liking 99% of the time. And I don't necessarily mean merchandise to purchase. Every time you walked through the door you were guaranteed a unique experience! Mole’s was always a store with character and characters. I've met a lot of people on both sides of the counter in a number of record stores around Cincinnati. But again it seems like it was always Mole’s where the deepest, most meaningful connections were formed and fostered. Cincinnati's longest running used record store, Mole’s first opened in 1974. When they close their doors for the last time on June 3, 2023 they will be just shy of their 49th anniversary. Its original location on Short Vine near Bogart's relocated once across the street in the mid-90s and again a few blocks over to Calhoun Street in 2000. If you're reading these words, chances are you could rattle off a dozen or so names of people you met and friendships you formed in that store at one or more of its locations over the years. Proprietor Dean Newman has been the owner-operator since 1990, weathering the most tumultuous era in record retail during that time. With the universities ongoing expansion, the surrounding area continues to evolve and change. They say progress must progress. I'll leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself if what you see on Calhoun Street these days compared to years past qualifies as "progress".

Calhoun Street in the 1970s

After stints at a few other stores, I landed a job at Mole’s in 1992 and I worked there for 20 years. It took some convincing but I finally persuaded Dean into hiring me when I promised to clean up the back room. (It looked like a bomb had gone off back there.) Securing gainful employment at Mole’s was like hitting the record store job super lotto. Mark Twain said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” And so a big chunk of the store’s history is irrevocably interwoven with my life story. For better or for worse, it defined in large part who I was in my 20s and 30s. When a place like that is your station in life for two decades, it really gets into your soul. It is an honor to know my name is listed among those unforgettable characters who worked the counter there. Jess Hirbe. Michael Riley. Darren Blase. Tom Scheidler. Ben Marts. Each of them a sorcerer, an alchemist in my book. Giants and gems.

The author at Mole's original Vine Street location mid-90s With the closing of Mole’s just over the horizon, I feel like a huge cosmic ice cream scoop is dipping down to rip into my heart and gut it like a fish. I can only imagine what Dean is going through. So I asked him. Here, in part, is what he said. “Rickie, life has been a fucking rollercoaster… Closing the shop wasn’t anything I was looking at. Shit, I've been fielding offers on that building for ten years. And they never amounted to much. I just wasn’t planning on doing it…” A chance encounter with a representative from a local business owner’s association revealed details of the university’s next phase of developing the surrounding area on Calhoun Street. Turns out the building next door to Mole’s had already been sold.

One thing quickly led to another and Newman was entertaining an offer on the building within a few days. Less than a week later, the deal was done. At this time it looks as though the building will not come down but rather be converted for future use. More student housing and parking lots will replace the iconic two block stretch of Calhoun near UC. Way to go, Ohio.

Newman waxes nostalgic for the extended Mole’s family with “kudos to the legendary Corryville Slugger, the late great Michael Riley" as well as countless fond and funny memories of Chris "The Bear" Buxton, Bern, Darren, Tommy, Ben… I feel tears welling up when Dean throws my name in there too.

"It's bittersweet, the way we are ending. The building was bought with new exciting developments on the street. It's been the toughest decision of my life. Bigger than when I purchased Mole's!"

"Looking back at all the good times that happened in the store," Dean goes on. "The Ramones in-store… Billy Gibbons coming in to buy some Blues CDs and he stuck around shooting the shit, telling stories, signing posters and just being fuckin' cool… Gong performed in the store… MTV put us in the spotlight for a feature on Cincy's music scene… And all this was before today's social media! So many bands who partied with us in the back room. There's too many to list! Thanks to Bogart's for all those great memories."

Dean and I both get a little choked up during our telephone conversation. Even across the many miles between us, seen and felt clear as the midday sun in spite of time's attempts to fog the old memory bank, it’s all one big blur of smiles, laughter, a few hangovers along the way, tons of great music of course. But mostly it is the sense of community and strong, lasting friendships that define the Mole’s story. To have been a part of such a magical place, a legendary institution in the Queen City, an iconic Clifton business that spread so much life and love and good vibes across the tri-state and beyond for half a century? How do you say thank you for something like that? My own immeasurable gratitude is matched by Dean’s and again I hear the emotion in his voice cracking, “I want to thank all the great customers and business acquaintances I've had the pleasure of meeting. Mole's wouldn't be what it is without you."

Ric and Dean in 2022

I know Dean would agree with me when I say that a record store becomes your life. Even after decades spent there you never experience even a crumb of regret. Pay one last visit, folks. Pay your respects while you can. You only have another week or two before it slips away into the mists of time. (For Dean’s sake, I just had to slip at least a few lines in here that sound like Progressive Rock lyrics! Jade Warrior forever!) For my part, I would ask you to consider everything you ever loved about Mole’s and the people there and try to be that to the people in your life that you admire most. In this way, we keep Mole’s love alive in a world where there is no longer a brick and mortar Mole’s. Let that spirit live in you. Pay it forward. Buy somebody a used LP they weren’t expecting. Make ‘em smile. Spread it ‘round. I look forward to dropping in for one last visit, to raise a glass with Dean not for the first time and certainly not the last. Maybe just the last one at 111 Calhoun Street! I'll look my friend and soul brother in the eye and tell him face to face as best I can what a pleasure, a privilege, and an honor it has been to be affiliated with that store. Long live Mole’s in our many memories and happy hearts. “I have finished a monument more lasting than bronze, more lofty than the regal structure of the pyramids, one which neither corroding rain nor the ungovernable North Wind can ever destroy, nor the countless series of the years, nor the flight of time. I shall not wholly die, and a large part of me will elude the Goddess of Death.”

~ Horace *** When I stop to focus up and really think about my years at Mole’s it makes my head spin. I probably have more happy memories there than any other place I have spent time in my life.

Here is a partial list of amazing Mole’s memories: - Employees of the other store on the block who would spend their lunch break at Mole’s, drinking beer and bourbon with me and shaking their weary heads in disgust over John James’ latest self-serving bullshit. - Mike Davis gave me a Zappa tattoo in the store’s backroom way back when Frank was still alive. - Rock stars who wandered in off the street: Billy Gibbons, Robyn Hitchcock, Wayne Coyne, Brian Auger, Chris Robinson, Joseph Hill from Culture and dozens more. - Scoring pot for Spacehog! - When I saw Lux & Ivy from the Cramps walking on the sidewalk across the street I simply could not abandon my post quick enough. I left a store full of people so I could run over to meet them. - A then-unknown Marilyn Manson peeking through the front window with two different colored eyes scared the shit out of Dean! “Who or WHAT the fuck was THAT?” Within a year M.M. was famous. - Mini-fridge always well stocked. So much drinking and smoking there… - There was a good long stretch there when we grilled out every Saturday afternoon. - Loose Wrecks’ rehearsals in the basement at Mole’s 2.0. - The Francis Dunnery concert in my apartment over the store on Calhoun Street - The Mole’s Christmas parties are the stuff of legend. - The Ramones’ in-store appearance in 1985. - On my last day working there, a squirrel ran into the store. Tom and I spent hours trying to get that fucking thing out of there. - I am but one among many witnesses and partakers in events of an intimate and personal nature that transpired in the back rooms, basements, upper floors, and attics of all three locations over the years. I passed out there many times when I was too wasted to even walk home. - Michael Riley told me about partying in the back room with the Talking Heads. One of Michael’s co-workers was plying Tina Weymouth with cocaine until Michael told him, “You’re wasting your fucking time. The drummer is her husband!” - Honestly, Michael Riley was a walking talking encyclopedia of amazing stories. I mean, the man went to Woodstock AND later saw the Sex Pistols. Having read about Punk Rock in the NME, he flew over to London to see what it was all about. He was one of the first public radio deejays to play Punk and New Wave music in Cincinnati. He charmed the Rolling Stones’ entire security staff over a period of years until he found himself in the band’s inner sanctum, even sitting with them in a small club for a Muddy Waters’ gig in Chicago. Every single time you worked alongside Michael you were regaled with fascinating tales like these. But he always put them across with humility and self-deprecating humor. That humble man was a giant who walked among us. We won’t see his kind again.

The legendary Michael W. Riley

Jess Hirbe


Mike Couzins & Ric Hickey 2001

Rehearsing in the back room and performing on the sidewalk out front

Dean in his domain Lots more pictures to come. This is all I can find right now. -rh

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