In Your Ear moves into former 2nd Story Theatre — and they've got big plans

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 6/21/23

Just a few short months ago, local theater advocates were close to mourning the death of 2nd Story Theatre. Today, thanks to a local vinyl shop, they have reason to hope and rejoice again.

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In Your Ear moves into former 2nd Story Theatre — and they've got big plans


If you’ve traveled up Market Street recently, you might have already noticed a small but significant change to the streetscape. The sign that had for years marked the empty site of the former 2nd Story Theatre like an elevated, circular tombstone has been replaced. And the entity replacing it has subsequently reinvigorated the hopes of an entire community of artists.

In Your Ear decided in April to lease the space, as their three-year lease at their Water Street location (which they secured during Covid) approached its end. Although they had been interested in the 28 Market St. location for years prior to that, according to David Silva — a music industry entrepreneur who has partnered with In Your Ear’s founder Chris Zingg since the 90s — it finally made sense to pull the trigger on a building that perfectly suited their business vision.

The first floor features a large, attractive show room and retail space for the thousands of vinyl records they have on sale, which launched in a soft opening this past Friday. Adjacent to the main room is a large bar room currently undergoing renovations, which will eventually become a vinyl bar where customers can enjoy a craft beer or cocktail while listening to records. They’re hoping to have that operational for a grand opening event on Saturday, July 29.

“We’ve managed to create what seems like the most comfortable and inviting version of In Your Ear that we’ve ever had,” said Zingg, who started In Your Ear in 1982. “For stores like ours, as opposed to the chain stores, there’s still lots of stuff that you can find in our store that you can’t get online. And so it's really about the art of discovery.”

In Your Ear’s Main Street location remains in operation, which Zingg described as more of a “bargain basement” experience, where shoppers will never know what they might find unless they spend some time browsing. The new space features more curated, high-end records, from the newest hit albums to rare records worth multiple thousands of dollars.

And although the shop is certainly a must-browse for any vinyl collector or enthusiast, it’s the team’s vision for the dormant second story of the building that is already a cause for rejoice among advocates who had recently met in open concern regarding the fate of the once-beloved community theater.

“We’re not greedy or selfish. We want this to be a community space,” said Silva. “We wanted to come in and create a space where everybody could really collaborate.”

Creating a community arts hub in Warren
Silva is no novice to the entertainment business. He has worked for some of the biggest record labels in the world and throughout his decades in the music industry has amassed a pretty impressive rolodex of contacts. The walls of the bar room are adorned with signed memorabilia, gifts given directly to him by names you might have heard of; Prince, Stevie Nicks, The Rolling Stones, et cetera.

Center to the concept of the newest iteration of 2nd Story Theatre is the existing theater space upstairs. Currently situated as a “theatre-in-the-round”, the team wants to reorganize the seats around a permanent, traditional stage in front and boost the existing capacity from around 175 to as many as 220. They plan to update the space with a state-of-the-art sound system, and utilize other existing infrastructure that has remained since the theater went dark. They say that the theater could be ready for performances as early as September.

“We’re in a good position as far as the contacts we have in the music business, so we’re going to create a really high-end theater up there that will be a cross of music, local art, and comedy,” Silva said.

Talks with the local theater community have also already commenced.

“We’ll also do a lot of pro bono stuff in terms of allowing local theaters to come in, and we’ve already met with some,” Silva continued.

That includes the Bristol Theatre Company and Arts Alive, the Barrington-based arts advocacy group that strives to provide youth theater opportunities throughout the East Bay and Providence.

“I can’t even put into words what it means for organizations like ours, and what it’s going to mean for the community to have these organizations come together and create this arts hub in Warren,” said Dena Davis, Artistic Director for Arts Alive who organized a community meeting back in March to discuss how they could possibly save the building for an artistic use. “It’s like a genie popped out of a bottle and granted our wish. That’s what it feels like.”

According to the In Your Ear team, the theater will be utilized to provide a space for a variety of artistic performances that will symbiotically support the record store and vinyl bar below. Adding to that perfect blend is the restaurant-grade kitchen that was installed in the lower level prior to the theater’s closing. The In Your Ear team brought in Taylor Benton, a recent Rhode Island transplant from Spokane, Wash., to oversee that part of the build-out.

“It’s more or less like a commercial size hotel kitchen down there,” Benton said. “If this building was completely at capacity with this space full and the theater full, it probably wouldn’t have a problem feeding them. So we’re working on creative ways to really use that space.”

Benton envisioned possibly opening up the kitchen to various pop-ups featuring local chefs, but nothing has been decided as of yet. Silva stressed their goal was not to create competition for local restaurants, either.

“We’re more worried about curating a great schedule,” Silva said. “I think that will equate to a good profit margin, because we have access to a lot of great artists who otherwise probably wouldn’t be playing in Warren. We’ll have that, good comedy, and we’ll do local theater.”

While they don’t currently own the building, the team secured a five-year lease with a five-year renewal option.

“We’re at least going to have fun for 10 years here,” Silva said. “Assuming we don’t get hit by an asteroid.”

For Zingg, who has witnessed the ebbs and flows of the vinyl business for over 40 years, this newest venture is another sign that music lovers are increasingly craving physical, personal experiences with art that runs contrast to the increasingly-digital world around them.

“We all know what the experience is of putting a record on and holding the cover and reading about it as opposed to just walking away and letting it play in the background. But having actually discovered something you’ve never seen before, physically, is special,” he said. “It’s definitely a labor of love. It’s nice to be able to go to work every day enjoying what you do.”

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