Speck’s Records & Tapes didn’t make a big fuss when they set up shop on North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood in March 2017. Founders Maia and Michael “Speck” Gersten started small; they filled crates with an eclectic array of vinyl records, lined a shelf with a few dozen old tapes and set up a low-profile checkout counter. Meanwhile, Maia’s father, Jose, helped restore audio equipment and the couple’s grade school-age son, Miles, helped operate the Square reader (along with making patrons dance as his alter ego, DJ Bouncy).
Within a few months, the Gerstens had garnered admiration and support from collectors and legendary shops like Mississippi Records and Music Millennium. Today, the store owners are keen on continuing to create space for even more people to gather, connect and discuss music.
Maia and Michael’s Story
In 2004, Michael’s band, CYNE — a beat-laced hip-hop outfit based in Gainesville, Florida — performed at a music festival in Barcelona. Maia, who had moved to Barcelona a few years earlier following the reelection of Hugo Chavez in her native Venezuela, was in the crowd. “We just started chatting after the show,” Michael says. “That’s where our whole thing clicked.”
After the festival, Michael moved to Portland for several months, then relocated to his hometown of Miami, while Maia remained in Barcelona making art. Lengthy conversations and international mixtapes kept the pair’s romance thriving. “Basically, we met through music and fell in love through music,” Maia says with a laugh. “We were long-distance, so he would send me songs.”
When Maia visited home for the first time in years, Michael hopped on a flight to meet the family in Maracaibo, Venezuela. While in Venezuela, Maia began applying for U.S. tourist visas but was repeatedly denied. A year and a half later, in 2007, Maia arrived in the United States on a fiancé visa, and the pair were soon married.
Even though Michael and Maia grew up 1,185 miles (1,907 km) apart, scouring music stores for new and old albums was a ritual they both loved independently.
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Throughout college, Michael worked at a local record shop that focused on dance and electronic music. At the same time, he became a producer for CYNE and was exposed to Gainesville’s blossoming punk and rave scenes. CYNE “sparked the passion to relentlessly dig for records,” he says. “We’ve never stopped hunting for samples and inspiration, and it has been an ongoing education in all genres and eras.”
Maia fondly recalls a similar thrill of the chase in Maracaibo. “For me, growing up in a small town in a South American country, we had the one CD store,” she says. “But those guys who owned the store and ran it were so generous with what they knew about music and the feeling of discovering. They would recommend you something and that would lead you into a rabbit hole.”
Decades later at Speck’s Records and Tapes, Maia seeks to recreate that experience for her customers.
The Creation of Speck’s Records & Tapes
In 2011, Maia and Michael moved to Portland. For a while, things worked — but by the time the couple’s second son was born, Michael’s 15 years in the corporate world were weighing heavily on him. The Gerstens began brainstorming.
“Every get-together, every party, every dinner became a conversation about music,” says Maia. “I could see how much he just loved that, and I was like, ‘What if that could be your job?’”
The pair dove into making the shop a reality, and in the spring of 2017, Speck’s opened its doors in the Kenton neighborhood. In addition to stocking records from a wide range of genres, the store boasts a small but mighty collection of gear, new and vintage tapes, and a stage equipped with turntables and a PA system.
“We got to chase something that was ours — that we could build and have our boys see,” Michael says. “We wanted them to see that other people don’t have to dictate your family and lifestyle.”
The couple chose the name “Speck’s” because “Speck” is Michael’s producer alias. It’s also an homage to a small (now-defunct) Florida chain store called Spec’s, where some of Michael’s earliest memories of music discovery occurred.
One of Maia’s favorite shop duties, she says, is helping others discover music of their own. “They name a genre that they think they like and we can sort of guide them to different things,” she says. “I like that flexibility of people just coming, not quite yet knowing what they want, and we can help them go on different avenues.”
“It works completely the other way too,” Michael adds. “Every day I’m in here, I learn something new.”
The Future of Speck’s Records & Tapes
In Portland, Maia and Michael say iconic shops like Mississippi Records have paved the way for a deeply caring music community built on mutual exchange and passion. More locally, Maia says Kenton’s Denver Avenue is their own family-oriented Sesame Street. Shop owners know everyone’s names, and patrons bring their kids to hang out in the shop for hours (stationed next to the in-store toy box).
As the Gerstens continue to evolve their business, they want to host more shows and poetry readings, and, eventually, add DJ workshops and a music lecture series. They’re even considering adding a small sampling of beverages and snacks. It’s a lot of work, but the duo is grateful to have had support from all sides.
“It’s like everyone in the family is chipping in,” says Michael. “[Speck’s] threads through everything that we love, how we like to spend our time, and is ours.”
A Day in Kenton With Maia and Michael Gersten
- Start your day with coffee and pastries from Posies Bakery.
- Dig for vintage treasures at Kenton Antiques, Give and Take and Revive Designs.
- Take a lunch break at friendly brunch spot Derby.
- Stop by Speck’s :).
- Spend 4:20 at cannabis dispensary Kind Heart Collective (adults 21+ only!).
- Shop for new reads at Comic Cave or handmade home goods at Mantel.
- Spend happy hour at the local pub Kenton Station.
- Grab dinner at Kenton landmark Po’Shines Cafe De La Soul.
- Catch a live show (or one of Speck’s DJ nights) at the World Famous Kenton Club.