[SPQ Article] 720 Records by Caroline Mendoza

Put Jimi Hendrix, Mos Def , Wiz Khalifa, and a little Duke Ellington into a box and shake it up and it would literally spit out 720 Record Shop.

Enter the old-school but hip-hop styled café, slash record store, slash vintage clothing spot at the corner of 44th  and Butler Street in Lawrenceville,  and you could be anywhere from Amsterdam to Soho, London to  NYC. The record shop joins a growing number of funky clothing stores, bars, restaurants and coffee shops nestled away on Lawrenceville’s main thoroughfare just blocks away from the new Children’s Hospital.

“Lawrenceville is one of the few neighborhoods that despite gentrification have been able to maintain a balance between the old and the new,” said Jovon Mitchell, one of the four owners of 720.  Her husband Nate Mitchell, another member of the owner quartet adds, “The residents and the business owners are happy about the direction the neighborhood is going in and we want to keep it that way.” 

720 Record Shop is actually the brainchild of James Scoglietti, a local Pittsburgh disc jockey and lover of vinyl records.  Scoglietti opened the original shop on Oakland’s college campus in 1999, then moved it to East Liberty in 2002 and had yet another move to Squirrel Hill in 2008.  In late 2010, he joined forces with the Mitchell lovebirds and fourth owner Andrew Burger to create the current 720 Record Shop. 720 officially opened its new doors on Butler Street last year.  The bearded-half of the couple currently owns, operates and offers a nappy solution to your styling needs at Natural Choice Barbershop in Oakland.

The store boasts an extremely eclectic clientele.  Stepping into the shop on any given day hip-hoppers with long dreads, business men with white khakis and flip-flops, or smoky-eyed, grungy teens clad with patent leather could be searching the crates of vinyl, hip-hop, jazz and techno-funk records, or enjoying pastries and free Wi-Fi.

The husband-wife duo running the storefront credits the diversity of their clientele to the gentrification of Pittsburgh.  The female Mitchell says while gentrification does have some negatives (i.e. the push-out of poor residents and loss of persona in once cultured neighborhoods), African-Americans should embrace the better aspects of change.  She says the opportunity for revived neighborhoods to provide business hubs for fresh, urban ideas is one of the upsides.

J. Mitchell says the uprising of Pittsburgh’s inner-city awakened her goal of wanting to start a vintage clothing shop.  That mixed with her husband’s days as a DJ and his relationship with Scoglietti made 720 a reality.  “720 is actually the revolution of two records on a turn-table,” explains Nate. With the exception of Ms. Mitchell, the other three owners are DJs.

Jovon regularly travels to DC, NYC and small towns in Pennsylvania to find clothes with an old-time flair, but new school kick.  Something she calls Instant Vintage.  She says many local vintage-addicts even have her shop with them exclusively in mind.

In the future the couple imagines growth without corporate takeover.

“We don’t want to become corporate,” says Nate.   While Jovon adds, “We like the idea of being an Espresso Bar,” Jovon adds.  The couple hopes to add vintage clothing for kids, possibly gain some low-key night life recognition and possibly open some 720 replicas.  But for now, Jovon says she’s happy with the direction of the store and the neighborhood.

“We have to reinvest in our communities,” Jovon said, “If you want something to change you have to bring it to fruition.”

Article first published in the Fall 2012 Soul Pitt Quarterly Edition.
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