Deep End Records goes under, Insomnia Gallery shuts its doors for now
If you’ve ever attended one of Insomnia Gallery’s vividly imaginative art shows — frequently reviewed by Thresher staff and featured in our weekly roundup of local arts events in recent years — you’ve been greeted with walls lined with colorful cassette tapes and bins filled with vinyl records old and new to rifle through. Deep End Records, tucked in that front room of the indie gallery since early 2018, was a frequent stop on my first solo adventures in Houston thanks to its laid-back vibe, wide selection and insane affordability — I was incredulous to have been able to snag an Elton John album for just $5 on one of my first visits.
On Sept. 25, Insomnia announced via Instagram Live that it would be going on a hiatus and that Deep End was closing permanently; both businesses will have vacated their cozy alcove on 708 Telephone Road by the end of this month. Instagram comments flooded in from local music lovers reminiscing about times they’d discovered and adopted gems, many expressing hope for another Deep End venture somewhere down the line. Though it wasn’t exactly a long-standing pillar of the local record business, the humble shop was an East End favorite, and it will be sorely missed.
“It’s been fun as hell,” said Deep End and Insomnia owner Chris Unclebach. “And I thank each and every patron that helped fuel my record store dream.”
Deep End was born in September 2015 out of a passion shared by Unclebach, a veteran of Houston’s Vinal Edge Records, and former partners John Baldwin and Erik Carter. The shop originally inhabited Walter’s Downtown, a beloved independent music venue known for its support of local and alternative artists. Once Walter’s bit the dust in 2018, Unclebach made the decision to move all the toys and books that had occupied the front space of his art gallery across town, and he thought Insomnia was a perfect fit.
However, as we all know, times have changed. When the pandemic erupted in the U.S. in March, Deep End was among the legions of small businesses forced to shutter and took a severe blow to its operations.
“We’ve had our doors shut since March and hadn’t taken in any new collections, which is the lifeblood of a used record store,” Unclebach said. “To go seven months with nothing fresh to offer was really frustrating and disheartening. We offered online sales through sporadic Instagram posts but never opened our doors until we were closing ‘em.”
With these burdens in tow, Unclebach decided that the next step for Deep End was not to move somewhere else but to simply move on completely.
“Ultimately, Insomnia Gallery was closing temporarily and it just seemed like the thing to do,” he said. “Back when we were inside Walter’s Downtown, the store made a lot of sense and was a cool concept. It just made less sense being inside an art gallery.”
Along with the announcement of the store’s closing, Deep End told their followers that Sunday, Sept. 27 would be their last opportunity to shop its music, (bitter)sweetening the deal with blowout sale discounts. Customers cleaned out the bins and shelves in earnest during the send-off weekend, lightening the store’s load as it prepared to leave Telephone Road behind.
Today, Deep End’s records and tapes have all gone to new homes, its walls once plastered with art, concert posters and paraphernalia are bare and its bins are empty. Insomnia will remain temporarily closed and will likely reopen at a new location, though there is no telling when. Although saying goodbye was far from easy, Unclebach says he’s grateful for the outpour of support from Deep End and Insomnia patrons.
“The community we serve has always been amazing and supportive. When we announced the decision to close, when we first opened, and every anniversary between — the community has always been there for us.”
As the pandemic rages on and independent businesses continue to succumb to its pressures, Unclebach reminds Houstonians to support the city’s hidden gems and holes in the wall while we still can.
“Do what you can, because these small businesses can be fragile. Nobody can support everything they love, but those little mom and pop restaurants, indie retail stores, etc. that you love the most, try and do what you can for ‘em," Unclebach said. "That doesn’t always have to be financial. Sharing posts on Facebook, liking pics on Instagram — stuff like that is super important and only costs a few seconds of your time.”
I wish I’d had a few seconds more. There are plenty more great independent record stores to satisfy the senses, but I’ll always remember my first swims through Bayou City and how I was always most comfortable at the Deep End.
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