WRITTEN & PHOTOS BY: Rae Burach
If you live in Philly and you love music, Creep Records is on your radar. Located in the heart of Northern Liberties beneath the Piazza apartment complex, Creep serves the surrounding community in more ways than one. Part record store, part record label, part smoke shop, part punk-wear, part disc golf, and home to a unique history— Creep Records is a Philly music staple.
Arik Victor is responsible for the birth of Creep Records, which didn’t start out as a record store at all. It was a record label for five years before a retail location even entered the equation.
“[Creep] started in the suburbs with like four people, five people living in a house,” said Victor, who grew up in West Chester, Pa. “There was a recording studio in the basement and we put out records in the ’90s. From there, we would have shows and stuff in our house.”
The name came from Victor’s high school band’s need for a label to slap on the back of their first-ever 7-inch. Naturally, they wanted something dark and mean— a Misfits or Sex Pistols vibe.
“When I was really little, every time I did something bad, my grandfather would always be like, ‘Don’t be a creep,’’’ Victor reminisced. “And that was the word that meant, ‘You’re f*cking up right now.’ It was the ‘80s.”
“Creep” had the right vibe and, obviously, it stuck. Victor opened up his first retail location in West Chester in 1998. It closed in 2002 and another one opened in Phoenixville, Pa. for less than a year. It wasn’t until 2009 that Creep came to Philadelphia. The rent was dirt cheap when Victor first arrived, making the area a breeding ground for businesses centered around artistic expression.
Aaron Ruxbin, full-time Creep employee and in-house booking manager, said that the store opened the same day the Piazza opened in May of 2009. It’s the only original business that remains in the plaza today.
“In that first 2009, 2010 period, this was the oasis of this neighborhood,” Ruxbin said. “You had a couple of bars that were opening— Johnny Brenda’s had been here for a while at that point. But it wasn’t the walk-around area that it is now. [The Piazza] was the anchor for that.”
Ruxbin came into the picture right when Creep’s Philly location first opened.
“I grew up where the first store was in [West Chester],” he said, “And then came to Philly in 2000. I was riding my bike down the street one day and saw Creep and said, ‘You gotta be f*cking kidding me.’”
Northern Liberties has grown and changed significantly over the past decade, and Creep Records has evolved with it. When it first opened, the store was one-third of the size it is now. If you’re familiar with the space— just the glassware portion was rented by Creep.
A year into the store’s existence, the walls separating the two adjacent stores were blown out and Creep stretched their space, allowing them to expand and diversify their inventory. The expansion also gave Creep the opportunity to add yet another facet to their name: live events. Their back room is perfect for small performances.
“We’re open to more than just what our bread and butter is, which is like punk, metal, alternative rock,” Ruxbin said. “We’ve had art shows, photography shows, fashion and flea market type stuff— anything somebody wants to have a DIY space for, we can do.”
He also mentioned that Creep recently inherited the sound board from Everybody Hits, a multi-use music venue that just closed in Northern Liberties.
“That was a big loss to the community and everybody was really bummed,” he said about the former venue, “But we can absorb weekday shows, matinee stuff on weekends, all age shows, which is really a benefit for this area and for college kids especially.”
The performance space at Creep makes for some really intimate shows. Sarah Munson is a part-time employee and loves how tight the space is.
“The cool thing about our space is that there’s no separation really between the artist and the venue itself,” she said. “We don’t have a green room for the artist, so they’re usually out mingling with the crowd when they’re not performing. So they’ll come over and talk about records with us.”
Maggie Wilkinson is also a part-time Creep employee. She makes her own music outside of Creep and, with her background in audio/visual work, will often do sound for some of the in-house shows.
“What gets me most excited about shows at our store is when we do exclusive stuff,” She said. “Or the fact that we have a record label and we do still put out records, and so we’ll have…events where we’ll have a band and then we’ll have a signing after. That’s something that I think brings attention to our store.”
The record label has been around for 27 years, and it’s come a long way since it began in Arik Victor’s parents’ suburban basement in 1993. His studio is now located at 5th Street and Girard Avenue, just a few blocks from the retail store in Northern Liberties. It’s been there since 2012 and is yet another piece of Creep’s evolution.
The label contains several local punk and rock groups, including three that Arik Victor is a part of. As for the recording studio, it’s available to any musicians in the area. Victor explained that they recently revamped the space.
“I would say probably in the last year, it’s been like a commercial studio,” he said, “Whereas before, it was more personal.”
Ruxbin said about the studio, “It’s a great resource for the neighborhood, and I don’t think people even really know about it yet.”
Victor has plans for Creep to start combining its multiple parts— the studio, the label, and the performance space.
“When we have some of the bigger shows, we’ll have a band come and play here to a hundred people, and we’ll record it,” he said. The recording would then be mixed at Victor’s studio and sent to a new vinyl pressing plant in Philly, where they’ll press a couple hundred records to be sold exclusively at Creep Records.
“So you can’t get that [record] in any other store, you can only get it here,” he said. Not only would it be an exclusive record, but it would be recorded, mixed, produced, and sold entirely in Philadelphia. Does it get any more authentic than that?
But Creep Records is more than all of these tangible parts. It’s also a nearly three-decade-old community that has been fostered by people who simply love music— a community that originally revolved around Victor’s music.
“It was a very underground community that was pretty successful in the early ’90s,” Victor said. “Nobody else was doing it. I mean I knew people that didn’t love every record that we put out, but still bought every record that we put out.”
Ruxbin added, “It’s 27 years of a community swirling around recordings that [Arik’s] made.”
That community has grown exponentially since it began, and it’s owed largely to the people who are passionate about the music that’s playing right in their backyard. Victor pays it forward, too. Creep always buys music from local artists instead of doing consignment. The artists get paid for their music up front instead of having to wait for it to sell in the store, which can make a huge difference to musicians trying to make it.
Victor never could’ve predicted that he would end up here, and he certainly never could have anticipated the way that the music world— or the business world— has changed.
“When I was getting out of high school, I was making records and making a little bit of money and I was so f*cking confused, it’s ridiculous,” Victor said. “None of us knew what we were doing. If somebody had taught me business when I was 20 years old, I’d probably be a multi-millionaire right now.”
The way music is produced and consumed is drastically different than it was in the ‘90s. A majority of the Creep crew has experience making their own music in one way or another, and simply being an employee there pushes you into the Philly music scene. Much of the staff DJs around the city, and having an affiliation with Creep never hurts.
“We’ll do live shows,” Ruxbin said about him and his fellow employees and DJs. “We kind of rotate around bars in the area like Johnny Brenda’s. Ortliebs is a big one. Me personally, I spin all vinyl, so a lot of the sets that I spin are just records that [Arik has] put out over the years that I’ve collected, and local stuff.”
As for moving around and exploring other musical entities throughout Philly, Ruxbin said, “Creep is a fun resume booster. I left and went over to Live Nation for a little while, and it was kind of hilarious watching the worlds intertwine.”
“There’s a lot of crossover even from when we were young,” Victor added about him and Ruxbin. “If you stay involved in the [music scene]…for more than five years and you haven’t become an insurance salesman, it sticks with you. You either figure out a way to sustain yourself in one way or another to live a halfway decent life, or you do something else.”
Ruben Ruiz is another part-time employee who DJs in Philly and loves working in the environment that Creep Records provides. In talking about being a part of the music scene, he mentioned that nobody ever does it for the money.
“It’s like being a teacher,” Ruiz said. “It’s like a calling. You’ve got to really love it.”
And it’s pretty clear that every member of the Creep Records team loves where they’re at, whether it’s making music, listening to it, or being surrounded by records all day.
“Everybody that works here spends money here, including me,” Victor said. “Everybody that works here has a pile of records with their name on it behind the counter, including me.”
So the employees of Creep buy the records, and so does everyone who’s into vinyl these days. But with the way we consume music now— between Spotify and Apple Music alone— you can’t help but wonder: will vinyl ever die?
“I personally think it’s always gonna be around,” said Sarah Munson, another part-time Creep employee. “The cool thing about people who actually buy and collect records is that they get really into it… It’s almost like you’re going down this rabbit hole.”
Victor, as Creep’s creator, takes a slightly more practical perspective.
“I think every year, we’re waiting for people to stop buying records,” he said. “In the big picture, that’s the same reason why we do the shows and make t-shirts. When all this stuff isn’t cool anymore… the whole vision is to make the store and the company so cool that it still sustains [itself] past that point.”
The point of Creep Records being a multi-faceted musical entity is to make it so that the average Philadelphian or visitor of Philly has no choice but to know their name, regardless of whether vinyl’s still around. There are too many bases covered— making records, selling records, selling glassware, hosting live shows— for people to not know about Creep. That’s the goal. And it looks as though Victor and his team are certainly on the right track.
Ruxbin said, “You can ask any local punk, any hardcore metal kid about Creep Records in this area, and they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, of course.’”
Creep just opened another location in West Chester in 2018, and Victor says opening more locations isn’t out of the question. Even if it was, there are enough awesome things involved with the Creep name for it to sustain itself for the foreseeable future.
“[Creep] is the only record store in Philly that really actually has a functional performance space with PA in it,” Ruxbin said. “And it’s the largest square footage record store retailer in Philadelphia. It’s a big deal. It’s a big resource for the neighborhood and for local artists.”
It is a big deal. Whether you’re buying a new record, some glassware, or an edgy punk tee, visiting Creep Records means supporting people who pour their heart and soul into supporting music. It’s places like Creep that make Philadelphia a hub for local art, small businesses, and passionate people.