Rich Liukko revives his record store and keeps the retro vibe alive
By Renato Pagnani | September 6, 2022
One of Edmonton’s oldest record shops looks a little different these days.
Nestled on the corner on the corner of 101st Street and 108th Avenue to the southeast of Victoria School of the Arts sits Freecloud Records, which moved to its current location in 1986 after opening the year prior in a temporary location just off Jasper Avenue.
Over the last few years, the building has gone through extensive renovations, thanks in part to the City of Edmonton’s Storefront Improvement Program, which aims to help create attractive, lively main streets.
“It’s a really cool initiative, because it encourages landlords to keep the older, rustic buildings around rather than tear them down and build something brand new, which is too often just parking lots,” says Freecloud Records owner Rich Liukko.
The building, which is almost 100 years old, originally sat across the street from its current location and used to be apartments. At some point — likely due to an expansion of Victoria School — the building was picked up, rotated 90 degrees, and moved across the street.
“The grandson of the guy who built the building actually came in one day and told me excitedly, ‘My grandpa built this place!’” laughs Liukko.
Most of the renovations have been to the exterior of the building, bringing it into the 21st century structurally as well as aesthetically. Vertical, lagoon-blue tiles adorn the first-floor façade, while white stucco featuring clean lines replace the sun-bleached stucco on the building’s upper half. The store’s name now sits centred on a ledge above its door in bold black letters, lending an air of prestige to the shopfront.
But record shops — at least the best ones — are affectionately known for being more, well, lived-in spaces. And for those who love digging in crates for original pressings of obscure 1970s Afrobeat records, that dinginess is part of the experience. While the renovations to Freecloud certainly bring a cleaner, more modern aesthetic to the building, the shop still retains the friendly, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere that was one of the old shop’s defining traits.
“The most disappointing thing about renovation is the smell,” laughs Liukko. “Everything smells new. We once had a customer from the UK who visited the shop, and when he walked through the door, he stopped and took a deep breath in. I said hello, but he put his hand up to stop me from speaking. Then he took another breath and said, ‘This smells like a record store.’
“That’s the one thing I kind of miss,” he continues. “We love that this building is good to go for another 50 years, but we’ll miss that old record store smell.”
Renovations began before the pandemic and continue to this day, although all the major upgrades are now complete, and the shop officially reopened last November.
The renovations also unearthed some previously unknown history about the building.
“The coolest thing was when they were doing some of the work inside, the contractors exposed the joists, which have numbers spray-painted on them — one and then a line, two and then a line, all the way up to 24,” explains Liukko. “We couldn’t figure out what these numbers meant, so one of the contractors took a picture, sent it to his grandpa, and his grandpa answered that it’s wood from old bleachers.
“So we think this building is made out of the leftovers from either the original Victoria School bleachers or the Diamond Ballpark that was on the Ross Flats below the Hotel Macdonald. Wherever it’s from, the wood holding up Freecloud Records is reclaimed and likely from the turn of the century.”
For Liukko, tidbits like this are part of what makes keeping old buildings worthwhile. He stresses that countless stories will be lost if buildings like this are just demolished. And if shops like Freecloud Records also introduce the next generation of vinyl aficionados to the medium, that’s just icing on the cake.
“As a fan of historical Edmonton, saving old streets is essential to me,” adds Liukko. “Toronto saved their brewery district, and now it’s one of the city’s hubs. You can feel the culture there, just like you can feel it here on 101 Street. Having a building like this saved is so important in preserving the story of this city. And it’s a good story.”