The World's Smallest Record Store Is Not Where You'd Expect

In a converted meat trailer off the Trans-Canada Highway lies a tiny record store named after a walrus penis.

Did you know that the world’s smallest record store is in a converted meat trailer in Northern Ontario?

Or that it’s named after the bone in a walrus penis?

Now that we probably have your attention, you should know these are only a few of the things that make Oosik Records unique. Located just north of Sault Ste. Marie along Highway 17 in Algoma Country—at the exact midpoint of the longest national highway in the world—lies what is truly one of Canada's oddest roadside attractions. 

Blink and you'll miss this sign advertising the world's smallest record store.


 So who runs Oosik Records?

Oosik is the baby and brainchild of Batchawana Bay resident Al Bjornaa. His love of music—and vinyl collecting—runs back to his preschool years, when his father bought him a small record player and a few records for his fourth birthday.

“Whenever he went to town and had a couple extra bucks he’d buy another record— one that he liked, but under the guise of ‘buying Al a record,’” Bjornaa recalls. “At that time, everyone was getting rid of their vinyl and buying cassettes, and it was like, little Al’s collecting records! so people would drop off records for me.” 


Visitors can open up the doors to the trailer and browse at any time of day or night—it's open 24 hours! 

By the middle of the 1980s, when Al was ten, he had himself a fairly substantial collection. It’s a passion that has never waned, even through the years when no one pressed vinyl records and CDs were ubiquitous.

The origins of Oosik Records and the meat trailer

Vinyl lovers can browse at their leisure. 


 

Oosik Records is the culmination of a lifetime of vinyl love. The name Oosik was simply a funny word that stood out from the others on the internet. The shop is stocked with some new vinyl, some used vinyl Bjornaa has sourced, and a large number of records from his own personal collection.

Hamilton artist B.A. Johnston was well represented on our visit. 


 

The unusual shop came about by happenstance. Bjornaa’s family are long-time fishermen on Superior. When an uncle came across an old refrigerated meat trailer, he asked if the family could use it to store or haul fish. Bjornaa saw something a little different—a rare opportunity. He saw a small well-insulated space (“so it doesn’t get hot in the summer or really cold in the winter”) with no rent to pay. He saw a record shop. Albeit a very small one.

”It’s only 7 feet by 10 feet,” Bjornaa says, “so I wondered if this was the smallest record store in the world. I learned there was a record shop in Germany that was 80 square feet but I’m only 70, so I guess I take the title now.”

Setting Oosik further apart—as if its name, physical make-up, size, and location weren’t enough - Bjornaa also has a unique payment system that requires some trust in the clientele. 

Unique offerings (and payment system)


Trout Fishing in America for fans of fish music.

“I run it on the honour system,” Bjornaa explains. “I leave the door open. You can either leave cash in the bowl or there’s my email address where you can e-transfer me the money.” Though it might sound risky, he claims there is only one album unaccounted for in the seven summers since Oosik opened. Record buyers, in Bjornaa’s experience, are honest folk on the whole.

If Bjornaa is around when customers arrive, he truly enjoys the conversations that ensue. His taste in music is reflected in Oosik’s stock. “I want people, when they walk in, to be shocked to find a record they’ve been searching for for a decade,” he says. “I had a customer the other day, oh man, he got some good stuff. Some early Eno, a first U.S. pressing of the banned MC5 album. That’s the kind of stuff I love selling. The Beatles and the Stones and all that? People still want it. But I like people walking in there and being blown away by the weirdness of the selection. It’s only maybe a thousand records in total—LPs and 7”—but there’s probably 200 that you might not ever see again.”

Please don't steal. Oosik accepts cash and e-transfer. 

A lifetime of vinyl love

 “Cover art was a big deal for me,” Bjornaa says of his love for vinyl. “So were liner notes. When CDs became the dominant format, cover art really lacked because it was so small. Record labels were just like ‘take a photo of the band and slap their name on it.’”

Vinyl also makes listening to music a more active process. You’re more likely to remember song titles and pay attention to the music itself. “It’s more of a tangible thing,” he says. “With a CD or a cassette, the music became background noise. With vinyl it’s always been the main event.”

The resurgence of vinyl as a format started around the mid-to-late 2000s. Bjornaa ran a small record label and, noting the slow sales of CDs, switched to cassette releases. This preceded the trend of boutique cassette labels, which, if you didn’t know, is absolutely a thing.

“My goal was always to make enough money so I could put some stuff out on vinyl,” says Bjornaa. It was a goal he eventually realized. He even invested in his own record lathe, which allowed him to press his own hand-cut records. 

The vinyl business was more or less saved by boutique labels like Bjornaa’s. They were the first to return to vinyl as a format. At one point, there were only three pressing plants left operating in North America. Now, there aren’t even enough plants to keep up with demand. This is largely because that demand has been overtaken by major labels and superstar re-issues, which unfortunately delays releases for the artists and labels who started this whole trend. “A big label’s like oh we need to repress 50,000 of a Led Zeppelin record—because there’s not enough of them floating around,” jokes Bjornaa. “It hurts the small independent labels who really kept that whole industry alive.”

“I’m all for a new generation buying vinyl,” continues Bjornaa. “If they can keep pressing planets open that’s great. I’m happy new bands are making the investment to put their stuff on vinyl. I have a lot of touring bands pass through here that stop in because they know I’ll probably pick up five copies of their record to sell. It’s pretty much how I stock new records at my shop. Bands stopping by [and dropping off records].”

It's also a music venue

While the pandemic put a pause on touring and live shows, the site has also played host to a few bands over the years—due in no small part to its location along the Trans-Canada where travelling musicians pass by on their way east or west. "I remember a really fun show on the lawn with Campbell Woods and Mike T Kerr," he recalls. "We all got really drunk and went swimming." Other bands that have stopped by to hang out or shop include Alien Boys, Faith Healer, and Sad Beach Boys.

Oosik records: onwards and upwards

As for the longevity of Oosik Records, it has been open for seven years—but for Bjornaa, there’s no end in sight. 

“People are always like, ‘Well, how long are you going to run it?’” he says. “Well, forever. It doesn’t cost me anything. There’s literally no overhead. It’ll never close but that’s because it’s in a trailer on my mom’s lawn in the middle of nowhere on the Trans-Canada highway.” 

About Jamie Tennant

Jamie Tennant is a broadcaster, freelance journalist and author. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

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