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Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 26 – 1-2-3-4 Go! Records

By Michael on Monday, December 10th, 2012

Forget the prelude. 1-2-3-4 Go! fucking rules. Read what owner Steve-O has to say about it.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
1-2-3-4 Go! Records started as a label in 2001 and opened our real world store in Oakland, CA in March 0f 2008. Pretty much the worst time to start any business, especially one in an industry most people thought was on it’s last legs. We’re very proud to say we’re having our 5th anniversary in March 2013! We moved in to our latest location last year and now host shows in a separate room. We have 4 to 8 a month as well as a rotating monthly art installation.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
For most of my adult life I had worked in record stores or music related businesses so I had the history and I saw that there were some great really big stores in the bay area but nothing like the smaller shops I was used to working in. Well curated and focused on punk/indie/etc records. Since those early days we’ve expanded to have a small but pretty killer selection of jazz, blues, classic rock, funk, reggae etc as well but keep still keep our main focus. We pride ourselves on the fact that you can come in here, spend half an hour or so and walk out with an armload of great finds that would have taken you a few hours to dig out in larger stores.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Green Noise in Portland, Singles Going Steady and Jive Time in Seattle and you still can’t beat Amoeba for size and pure volume.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
Every year business is consistently up. We’re currently doing five times the business we did the first year we were open so things are definitely moving forward. Always a bit tight but always getting better.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Focus. Not trying to be the everything to everyone sort of store. That’s a brutal game to try and compete in and for one stop shopping people hit the internet these days I think. But if you offer something special you’ll drag people out of their homes and offices to come have a look.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
Sales and giveaway stuff are always great. When a label works with you to sell a record you believe in it’s the best for everyone. What’s better than loving a new record and being able to get in someones hand at a discount and/or give them something cool to go with it? Nothin!

7. Why do we need record stores?
It provides an experience that you don’t get online. The thrill of the hunt and subsequent score in a store can’t be beat in my opinion. Every store is different and you never know what you’ll find or who you’ll meet inside it. Some of my longest band/genre tangents have been inspired by talking to folks at stores and about new things or getting hyped on them from customers or the guy behind the counter. I prefer it to blogs myself.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Flour tortilla for sure. Heresy I know. I’m vegetarian so it can be difficult to get a good one but La Pinata in Alameda makes a damn fine one.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Been on a huge Smog kick lately, got really in to Jobriath and I’m biased because their LP is coming out on my label but Synthetic ID is really killing it for me out here. Really great tense bay area post punk.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store?
The amount of support it continues to have from our customers. I’ll be out and see our stickers on cars of people I don’t know and if I ever overhear something about the shop it’s how much people like it. I wanted to establish a place that was fairly priced and consistently had great new and used stuff in it, staffed by friendly people you can actually talk to about music and I think I did a pretty good job.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
Continuing to grow at the pace we have been short term. Long term (also possibly short) a second location. Possibly in San Francisco or Portland.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 25 – Vintage Vinyl

By Michael on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

I’ve only been to St. Louis once. And on that one trip I made one stop. And that one stop was Vintage Vinyl. First impression: “Holy shit this place is enormous.” Enormous but manageable. Like a less intimidating Amoeba (intimidating meaning, “How the fuck am I going to walk out of here without spending a few hundred bucks?”). I made out with all sorts of stuff. A Phil Collins CD, a Therapy? cassette, some used soul and r&b LPs, a George Jones record, shitloads of HC 7″es and some other things that didn’t really make any sense in the same bag (perhaps even a DVD movie starring Will Smith, but that I won’t confirm). Needless to say, this place has one of the most diverse selections I’ve ever thumbed through. But be forewarned; it’s not really a place you can just pop in. Browsing at Vintage Vinyl is a commitment. I spoke with VV co owner Tom “Papa” Ray about all sorts of stuff. Dig it.

(FYI that last photo is Tom with none other than Peter Tork.)

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Vintage Vinyl has been operating in the Delmar Loop of St. Louis since 1980—we saw ourselves that year as the ‘alternative’ home-town urban record store.  Currently, we are a 7800 square foot mothership for the intelligent music lover. We made a point of opening on the ONLY ‘racial neutral zone’ of our city, with an eye to pleasing both a mainstream/independent rock clientele, as well as the deep-dish urban market for soul/jazz/blues/gospel, as well as reggae & hiphop. In other words, we ended up selling more Bobby Womack than Cat Stevens.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
In the middle/late 70s, my partner Lew Prince was running the Finest Record Chain in Colorado. I was doing work in the retail/wholesale/indie side of things, promotion and club-work in Manhattan at that time. We both wanted to return to St. Louis; we saw it as justly-fabled and half-forgotten foundation music city, and we could use the contacts and knowledge both of us had acquired working in the industry towards doing our own store.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
In our own town, we have several. Euclid Records & Apop Records comes to mind here. Love my musical compadres in the AIMS Coalition, to which we belong.  There are GREAT stores around the country, to say the least. Last time I was New Orleans, Domino Sounds Record Shack was proper!  Jason with Sonic Boom in Seattle, Boo Boo Records in Cali, Shake It in Cincinnati, Waterloo in Austin. Music Millennium in Portland seem to have inspired a nest of indie stores in that town. These are just a few of my favorite stores.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
In 2000 we recognized that although our city had the most square footage per capita given over to retail music of ANY city in the USA, those chain and mall stores were not our future or really or then present-day competition. The internet and digital download okey-doke was seen as a sobering reality. Since then, we have continued in business by being a destination store in St. Louis, and evolving to where now, I can smile and say, “NO! CDs are not ‘going away’ anymore than vinyl ever did” We’ve always done both, and wish to be the alternative to on-line shopping in ways that option can never connect to the customer. As far as business now, 2012?? Better than selling jet-skis in rural areas, I’d say.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Beyond knowing your market, be adept at both new and used sales in all physical formats. Try and be the garden of earthly musical delights wherever you pitch your tent, and being able to work magic helps also.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
We’ve released world-quality music on a number of labels over the past 33 years; Charlie Parker Live In D.C. 1953, crucial blues & hip hop releases in the 80s; currently our label Sound System Records has quite fine reggae releases by U-Roy, a great dub set by The Roots Radics, 2 LPs by Nicodemus.  We partnered with SONY in the 90s to do a 1,000 piece edition, double LP giveaway of a live Pearl Jam set as part of promotion with local corporate radio; in-stores/live appearances with everyone from Tommy Lee To Willie Dixon, Queens Of The Stone Age to Ike Turner, Marilyn Manson to Charlie Louvin. 100s of in-stores, Eddie Levert of the O’Jays, George Clinton, Black Angels, Peter Tork, the great Rudy Ray Moore, AKA the Dolemite, etc etc. Two in-stores that were a gas with the Insane Clown Posse. Eazy E, Jason Mraz. All styles served here, y’know??  Our 20th anniversary party was with the legendary Jamaican band The Skatalites.  Oh, we’ve had our fun.

7. Why do we need record stores?
Bootsy Collins answered this one day, a few years ago in Cincinnati: he stood at a table where the owners of indie stores around the nation sat, and quietly with great conviction said, “I know things are tough sometimes, but your communities NEED you to do what you do, because you-carry-the-music-culture in your towns.  BEST BUY don’t know a damn thing about Bootsy Collins, but you do!  SO PLEASE. I know it’s hard, but keep goin’ on. When it seems it’s not worth it, PLEASE, keep just goin’ on. So, as the man say, Who Feels It Know It, true??” There are continual moments at my store where the collective sense of musical community amounts to a mystic beating heart that is part of this River City called St. Louis: where Chuck Berry still walks and plays, where Miles Davis started, where Ike Turner walked the bar playing guitar, where the original Stooges played their final show. I recall once, during the Rodney King business, there was a sense of dread and tenseness in people. I remember seeing a customer walk in, visibly agitated, and he said to me,  I just HAD to come in here and cool off, and check out some music.  Sometimes, I’ll recommend taking a Thelonious Monk record: now call me in the morning if it’s not better.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
I like some grilled snapper in mine.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
It depends on the genre of music.  I just saw soul legend Lee Fields do a hellacious set a few weeks back. At Red Rocks last month, I experienced as great a performance as I’ve ever seen by Winston Rodney, The Burning Spear, which is to say as great and powerful as reggae ever gets. Sure would love to see a 2nd release by Them Crooked Vultures.  I just heard the pre-release of Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young, and it’s killer. And when I was in my teens and 20s back in that day, I HATED Neil Young. So, it’s all over the place.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store?
Too many things. It has been a great personal blessing to work with the employees we’ve had for more than 3 decades, many hundreds of talented people, and the customers too. I’m always struck by how essentially NICE our customers always are.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
Long Term and short term?  To thrive and continue enjoying this musical aquarium we’ve built here on the Delmar Loop. As a Baptist preacher might say in the pulpit, GLORY!

Photos courtesy of Louis Kwok

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 24 – Silver Platters

By Michael on Monday, November 5th, 2012

It says it right there on the side of the Seattle store: “Fiercely independent.” That’s pretty much all you need to know about this small chain. It is yet another of the awesome record fortresses of the Pacific Northwest. For this edition of our surely-immortal blog series, I spoke with Silver Guru Mike Batt.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Silver Platters is a locally owned independent music and movie chain with three stores based in the greater Seattle area. Silver Platters carries the largest selection of new and used CDs, DVDs & vinyl in the Northwest. We pride ourselves on our staff knowledge, customer service, and selection. We started out in 1985 only carrying CDs, but have expanded over the years to have great vinyl sections in all the stores now and have a really nice book section in our largest store. We have large selections in back catalog, jazz, folk and blues. We also have one of the best classical music sections in the U.S.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
I started as a part time employee with Silver Platters because of my love of music and wanting to learn even more. Silver Platters was locally owned and I was drawn to that rather than working at Tower, Peaches or any of the other national chains around at that time. Through the years I became a manager, buyer, part owner and am now the sole owner of the business.


3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
I still have a great passion for music, but I really don’t have the time to go into record stores and peruse them for enjoyment/product any more. Of the one’s I’ve been in, I admire Bull Moose Records, Twist & Shout, Music Millennium and Amoeba for what they have done and become.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
We are doing better this year than any year since 2006. New catalog sales have doing really well and our used business just keeps growing.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
The same things that always has spelled the survival for independent record stores – service & selection. Customer base and location are also very important. The one thing that has that has become much tougher for not just independent record stores, but for any small, independent business, is that land owners and property managers have made it much tougher for independent businesses to survive. Landlords are looking more for the bigger corporate business as a tenant or redevelopment out of retail in order to make more money. This makes it hard to keep a small, independent business in good retail locations for any length of time.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
Any in-store around a new release by an act is great. Well thought out added values always helps to make the customers happy, help sell new product, and at the same time make us and the labels cool. The special cassette version of the new Sword album has been very successful recently for us. Aggressive sales on good back catalog titles really helps. Any promotion where the store, the label/act and radio can work together is still very successful. Facebook & Twitter are great for getting people in the store for an event, but radio still works better for getting people in the stores to buy music. Last and most important, all the help the music industry has put into making Record Store Day and all that revolves around that a great success has been wonderful!

7. Why do we need record stores?
For people to still come in, look around, learn, enjoy, hold the product, buy and discuss the culture that is the ever growing history of music, movies, and whatever else the store may carry. Record stores help establish and maintain local neighborhood communities, which is good for everyone.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Any good pork taco.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
What a limiting question for a music lover. I will go with currant acts that have a release this year to pare down the possible selections – Chris Smither, Tame Impala, & Pond.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers.
Working in them with the employees and customers. Also, being able listen & look at all the music, whenever I want.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
Keep on trying to be a music & movie store that offers everything to everyone. I would like to provide better service by improving reference and organizational tools so that customers & employees can explore, easily find and enjoy the music and movies we sell. I have always said, “If we can’t make it being the store we currently are then I don’t want to be in this business anymore.”

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 23 – Hear Again Music And Movies

By Michael on Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Often overlooked as an epicenter for music, Florida rarely enters the conversation as a sonic hotbed. But the reality is that the Sunshine State has long incubated a strong musical sense, especially when it comes to record stores. You could argue that Florida counts some of the best and most important record stores (Park Avenue, Radio-Active, Revolver, Retrofit, Sweat, Vinyl Richie’s Wiggly World, et al) as its residents. Hear Again is one of the names that should be a constant in that conversation.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Hear Again has been a staple to the Gainesville music scene since 1994.  In 2006, the shop changed ownership and began working toward a different goal – NEW VINYL.  Since it’s relocation to downtown Gainesville in 2009, the store has succeeded in procuring an inventory of new vinyl and has hosted a few in-store performances including Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Cheap Girls & Heartless Bastards.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
I started working at Hear Again fresh out of high school in 1995.  After a few years of full-time employment, I took the opportunity to decrease my hours (just a little) and get my butt into the University of Florida.  After graduating with a BA in English and watching business decline considerably, I decided that I wanted to own the shop and make some drastic changes to help steer her through the declining wave of record stores across the country.  When it comes to my music collection, I’ve always preferred the physical medium to digital storage.


3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
It’s been a while since I’ve visited other shops (I’ve got kids now), but I love AKA Records and Repo Records in Philadelphia.  Of course, Vinyl Fever, Revolver & Radio-Active are near the top of my Florida list.  The first thing I do when I go to another city is put my stuff down and immediately head to the local record shops. It’s always been that way for me and it always will be.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
They could always be better.  Gainesville was just highlighted as being number one in illegal downloading.  I’m obsessed with changing that by promoting a higher quality in sound.  The move downtown and shift to new vinyl in 2009 definitely helped.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Simple.  We are at the mercy of our distributors.  Used vinyl is everywhere and can often be obtained and “flipped” at low cost, but a lot of people prefer new vinyl because they prefer a perfectly clean record.  One of my biggest satisfactions in life is playing a record for the first time and then adding it to my collection.  If all distributors (including one-stops) offer the product at a good price, that good price can be extended to the customer with the shop retaining a respectable profit that will undoubtedly be applied to the next order (as well as payroll, rent, utilities . . . you know, shop stuff).

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
We’ve done promotions with Merge, Matador, Fat Possum, Drag City, Sub Pop and more.  In-stores have included (but have not been limited to) Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Cheap Girls & Heartless Bastards.  We also partake in Record Store Day each year as well as Black Friday.


7. Why do we need record stores?
We need record stores because we need a source for new music that doesn’t involve the “if you like X, you might like Y” logarithm we have grown accustomed to online.  Most of those choices are lumped together by what people buy or what label the band is on rather than what the music actually sounds like.  For instance, I just typed “Pavement” into Amazon and the recommendations included more Pavement, Yo La Tengo & The Shins “Oh, Inverted World”.  There is a social dynamic that exists in listening to records and it is exclusive to the vinyl format, which is why listening to vinyl is actually a past-time for a whole lotta people.  You know, a couple of new records, a six-pack of beer and you’ve got yourself an evening.  Who gets together at someone’s house to check out their hard drive collection?

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
I prefer the burrito kind.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Only 3?  Shit . . . . The Men, The Kinks (always) & Titus Andronicus.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store?
My customers.  That’s an easy one.


11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
My goals include constantly changing the layout and adding new inventory on a weekly basis so people always find something new when they return.  Oh, and staying in business is a BIG one – hope that happens!

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 22 – Streetlight

By Michael on Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

The Bay Area has always been known as a hub of musical awesomeness so surely you could count on the landscape being home to myriad awesome record stores. Surely, you could count on that. In fact, you can count on that. Especially if you’re visiting one of the three Streetlight Records locations. They’re a no frills, all awesome record store that harks back to a time that was very, very kind to record stores. These guys rule. I know it, you should know it too. I spoke with my homie Paige Brodsky about some things. Read those things now.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
We have three stores in the Bay Area—Santa Cruz, San Jose and San Francisco. We carry new and used CDs, Blu-rays, DVDs, vinyl and video games, along with accessories (headphones, vinyl supplies, turntables, etc.) and a smattering of lifestyle products. We’ve been in business as a record store since 1975.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
The owner originally had a used stereo component shop that morphed into a used record store in the mid-70s and grew from there.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Some personal faves are Record Archive in Rochester, Twist & Shout in Denver, Salzer’s in Ventura, On the Corner in Campbell, CA.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
It’s definitely been tough these last few years, but things have really been looking up in 2012. We’ve seen an increase in sales thus far this year, which is very encouraging. The growing success of Record Store Day and Black Friday has certainly helped. We feel like people are really beginning to get it that physical products are where it’s at and that shopping local is the way to go.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Like an investment portfolio, the key is probably in diversification. In-store performances, cross-promotions with other local businesses and event-based promotions seem to be working well for us, in terms of augmenting the traditional sales model. For instance, our Santa Cruz store is now participating in First Friday events and our San Jose location is about to host its second Record Swap.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
The number one thing for us that labels have done is high-profile in-store performances and signings. Nothing says “cool, fun place to be” like an in-store with one of your favorite bands! In addition, we’ve had success in the past with catalog promotions that involve a combination of deep discounts and co-op dollars to support the program.

7. Why do we need record stores?
In addition to serving its primary function of music/movie/game commerce, the record store can serve as something of a cultural gathering spot for the community. Like music and movies? Want to talk to other people who like music and movies? Go to your local record store! The things you can learn and share with others who are like-minded are truly incredible.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
The kind that looks like a burrito.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
This question is always so hard. I’ll go with the last three things I listened to: Trampled By Turtles, Black Joe Lewis and Paul Thorn. That will change by tomorrow, though.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
I have two favorite things (besides our amazing customers). The first would be my co-workers, who are smart, witty, warm, compassionate people. I love it that I get to spend every day with them. The other is the vast number of LPs, CDs and DVDs we have. It makes this journey of learning and listening a never-ending one, which I cherish.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
The short term goal is always to keep the doors open. The long term goal is to reach the point where the rest of our community feels the same way we do about the record store being a cultural community center. When we’ve achieved that, we will be happy campers.

 

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 21 – Tres Gatos

By Michael on Monday, September 24th, 2012

Tres Gatos. Translation: Three Gatos. Or a killer New England shop that’s one part record store, one part book seller, one part enoteca and one part tapas (tapash, if you wanna pronounce it correctly) joint. I’m pretty sure the coolest thing about Tres Gatos is how they let the customers DJ. I tried doing that at a Wendy’s once and it didn’t go over too well. I talked to store manager Phil Wilcox about Gatos, tacos, and winos. Dig it.

Tres Gatos
470 Centre Street
Jamaica Plain, MA
857 719 9294

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Tres Gatos is a Spanish style tapas restaurant and wine bar in the front, first rate record and bookstore in the back, While we do stock used vinyls, CDs and books, we specialize in new titles, ranging from the latest bestsellers to obscure or cult choices. Guests at the bar are encouraged to request music, bring in vinyl from home to play during dinner, or bring drinks back to the store and hang out. The idea, one which sounded odd at first but has happily caught on, is to feel like you’re over a friends house for a dinner party, enjoying great food and drink and exploring a curated record and book collection.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
I was lucky enough to meet David Doyle, the owner of Rhythm and Muse, the store he operated for years before expanding into Tres Gatos. It seemed to me that he had a passion, and a flair for knowing his customers and what they wanted. When I’d go out in Jamaica Plain, I’d see people with vinyl or books under their arms that David had sold them and it seemed to me that he was a trendsetter for our little corner of heaven in Boston. I wanted to do that too. And so I came on board as a clerk at the old store, and when Tres Gatos opened, David gave me the gift that every nerd from the suburbs wants – the chance to run a book and record store, and one with a bar in it to boot!

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
New England has so many great stores, with different themes and strengths and followings. I love Stax Of Wax in Provincetown for prices, Bull Moose in Maine for selection-Mystery Train in Gloucester, MA for the same reasons. Nuggets on Commonwealth Ave in Boston is a landmark, too. Same for Cheapo Records in Central Square.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
We’ve been lucky enough to have a solid neighborhood following and regulars who get us through the tough months. We operate in a place with a massive college and undergrad population and the kids love records, but when they go away during the summer it is our neighborhood regulars that pull us through. The restaurant brings in all sorts of business from all over the state and New England, and we’ve received some great press. We opened in February 2011, but I don’t think we hit our stride until December of that year. Since then, the business has been steadily growing, and Record Store Day 2012 was the busiest day we’ve ever had.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
I think you need to be a friend. I think you need to be a place where people want to go, hang out, have a beer, spin a vinyl, hang out, and eventually, you’ll build up a connection where any record these folks need, they’ll come to you. It’ll turn back the clock and make the idea of a download simply silly, but only if you build up a rapport and a mutual respect. They go out of their way to come to you, you have to go out of your way for them. The days of the lazy clerk behind the desk reading the paper is over. You need to open up a dialogue. And also, stock interesting things. Stock the hits, the no-brainers, but also things that are odd, conversation pieces, hard to come by. Things not just for the classic ‘collector’ but also for the casual fan who wants something to show off.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
We have such a multi-purpose space here. Admittedly, we haven’t done that much directly with labels as far as promotions go although the odd promo record or t-shirt is always nice. We’ve tried our hand at having live music events, and its been a success. Rock, jazz, blues, flamenco guitar, all sorts of things. We’ve also had some in-store book events and signings.

7. Why do we need record stores?
We have to try to keep some things tangible in this world, and to keep some places as meetinghouses, forums and hang outs for all the misfits out there. Record stores tie a community together. We have a guy in a business suit talking about blues with a kid with cut off sleeves, covered in tattoos, on a nightly basis. Its amazing. I’m 24, so I’m right on the border for this, but I am part of the last generation who knew the novelty, the excitement, the fun of waiting around for a song you wanted to come on the radio. The joy when it came on, the dash to the tape-recorder, always missing the beginning of the song, to get it recorded. You were young, couldn’t afford CDs, couldn’t get a ride to the mall and there were no downloads. Music just seemed more special. Record stores keep it special. When someone comes who doesn’t know what they’re looking for and then they find it – Nico or Dusty Springfield or some Ornette Coleman record – and they light up, it’s so great to watch. It means alot more then clicking a few buttons on a computer and getting instant gratification.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Crunchy, and full of meat. A soft taco is just a burritos boring cousin. And never fish.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
I’m big into the new Magnetic Fields record, I’m loving the new Justin Townes Earle, I think Dr. John’s latest might be the best record of the year so far. I’m listening to all sorts of stuff. My most listened to list right now would be Chet Baker, Destroyer, Love, The Zombies, Tom Waits, a bunch of other stuff. This is an amazing time for music. Great music is coming from every direction.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
I love looking out and seeing people drinking, talking about music, hanging out. It really is like a house party. People come in as a couple, or a group of four, and end up sitting, and eating, with three or four new people, just because they ALSO like Delta Spirit or Miles Davis or whoever. A lot of relationships start here. A couple who got married dropped us a line to say we were a first date. It’s more, hopefully, than a place to shop, or eat, but it’s also a place to meet, to talk, to see and be seen. And I love the beer.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
In the short term I want to keep expanding our network and get people excited about music, about owning vinyl, turntables, make it a thing buzzed about around town. We’ve done pretty well on that front so far, I think. Long term, I want all of Boston to buy its records here. I want to beat online competitors, as well as Newbury Comics, the behemoth that has had, until now, somewhat of a monopoly on new records in New England. I want people to drive in from out of town, not to just shop, but to have an experiance, have a night. Eat delicious food, have good drinks, meet new friends, and buy some great records.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 20 – Sonic Boom

By Michael on Monday, September 10th, 2012

The Rolling Stone called it one of the Best Stores In America.  Spin called it the 5th best record store around (original link has been taken down, but trust.)  It’s one of Mike V’s (me) three best record stores in America.  And I’m clearly much more important than both the Rolling Stone and Spin. So there’s that.

Sonic Boom – or “The Boom” as absolutely no one calls it – is a Seattle Rock City institution.  Talk to anyone from the great northwest and they’ll inevitably have a cockle-warming story about co-owners Jason or Nabil, or the sadly departed (from the job, not the mortal coil) Melanie or one of the many knuckleheads (See also: Jon Treneff, Gabe Spierer, Matt Olsen) that have come from the confines of Sonic Boom and all of their sagelike rock and roll wisdom.  I spoke with co-head Boomer Jason Hughes – who is arguably my favorite person in the record business – about some stuff.  That stuff is below.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Sonic Boom Records is a relatively small neighborhood store, about 2200 square feet, that curates its inventory carefully.  The store has been around since 1997 (15 years in September) and, at times, we had up to 3 locations.  My business partner Nabil (ED: Current head of 4AD, Nabil Ayers) and I started in the bottom of a house in Fremont with about 600 s.f., very little money and our own collections to fill the used up.  We moved Fremont to a bigger store down the street in 2000, opened in Ballard in 2001, opened a store on Capitol Hill in 2003, closed Fremont in 2008, moved Capitol Hill in 2009 and, subsequently, closed that store in 2011.  Phew.  We now have just 1 store location in Ballard.  We carry new and used CD’s and vinyl, music accessories, headphones, toys, magazines, books and some guitar stuff.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
I wanted a raise and a little respect. I was working at another store. I was also working at 2 local radio stations which made it a no brainer.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Twist & Shout, Shake It, Waterloo.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
We still try and carry some catalog but it’s mostly new releases and used that sells for us.  Used LP’s have really been picking up which is good since the margins are way better.  Overall it’s been a belt tightening few years but we’re still here.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Cost/inventory control, good employees, used sales, good community relations and customer service.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
New Pornographers midnight sale/in-store.  MIA in-store.  Actually lots of great in-stores:  Death Cab for Cutie, Shins, Superchunk, Stephen Malkmus, Stars, Iron & Wine. We also did custom silk screening on site for Record Store Day and our Interpol signing.

7. Why do we need record stores?
If we all buy online, what’s the point of getting out of bed?  (ED: How else would we get tacos?)  Human interaction is important.  I can’t tell you how many customers met their significant others here at Sonic Boom.  We’re a meeting place, a social hub and a destination for good music.  Who doesn’t need all that?  All great neighborhoods should have a good record store, books store and retail core.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Carne Asada, San Diego style.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Diiv, Chromatics, Bob Mould and Divine Fits.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
I love being surprised by a new favorite band and I like my current group of employees. I’d probably like to meet Otis Redding, not that you asked.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
I’d like to expand our vinyl and still be around in 10 years.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 19 – Madcity Music Exchange

By Michael on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

For some reason that I can’t explain there has always been a seemingly high concentration of Madison, Wisconsin transplants here in New York City.  I mean, it’s New York so you’re bound to run into someone every couple of minutes who isn’t from around here but it seems like everywhere you look there’s some kid from Madison.  And it seems like those who know what’s up all say the same thing – Madcity Music Exchange rules.  So as you should do anywhere you go, trust the locals.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
MadCity Music Exchange was started in 1981.  Moved to our current location in 1989.  Has long been know as Madison’s place for music fans, hipsters, band dudes/chicks and other arty/low life types.  It was purchased by long term employee Dave Zero in 2007.  Since then it has gone under major renovations and now has a larger and more diverse stock of new and used vinyl and CDs.  Specializing in new releases and hard to find titles.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
I’m the rare success story of the hang-around-long-enough-and-they’ll-have-to-hire-you philosophy.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Green Noise Records in Portland is great!  I also really like TD’s CDs and LPs in Bloomington, IN.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
The remodeling and expanding of stock has really started to pay off.  We’ve been doing real well.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Survival for a record store these days depends on a few things: 1) knowing what your customers expect to find and having it  2) being able to surprise your customers  3) being able to juggle a lot of different ways to find income  4) having a niche that’s needed in your town

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
We had a instores with The Black Lips and Peter Case that were great.  We also had some fun giveaways from Drag City.  We are up for trying just about anything.

7. Why do we need record stores?
We need record stores because everything else in the music world has become so impersonal.  Reading a review on Pitchfork than downloading it while sitting all by yourself on the couch is a terrible way to live.  Record stores open give you a sense of adventure that should always be part of music.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
The one my wife makes me for dinner.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Imposable for me to get it down to three at any one time.  Sorry.  Recently I’ve been obsessing over: Eater, Abner Jay, Horse Feathers, Nick Lowe, The Spits, Michael Rother, Ebo Taylor and some solo Bob Mould albums I missed the when they originally came out.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
I love the way it looks now.  As mentioned, we’ve been remodeling off-and-on for about four years and finally have it looking good.  It’s spacious, bright and welcoming.  It also has a stage perfect for instores.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
Short term: we’ll be revamping our website be e commerce and more interactive.  And getting a new sign for the front on the store.  Long term: Keep selling new and used CDs and vinyl to people who love music.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 18 – Lakeshore Record Exchange

By Michael on Monday, August 13th, 2012

Rochester, NY. AKA The Flour City. AKA home of the Eastman Theater (yea. That Eastman) and The Rochester International Jazz Festival. AKA also home of one of the raddest stores in the area, Lakeshore Record Exchage. Sounds like these guys got the jump on the dotcom boom when they snatched up the alternativemusic.com URL. Unfortunately I didn’t have the heart to tell owner Andrew Chinnici that Mondo Kim’s closed years ago. But he should totally check out Kim’s On First next time he’s in our neck of the woods!

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Lakeshore Record Exchange has specialized in alternative music since 1988. Focusing on imports and independent labels on vinyl, CD and DVD as well as posters t-shirts, books and magazines, We’ve expanded into  jazz over the last 10 years and sell both new and used, vinyl CD and DVDs. We’ve been doing mail order since we first began and jump into online sale back in the early 90s with our full ecommerce site at www.Alternativemusic.com.

2. What got you into the independent record store business ?
I had worked for Transworld Music for 3 years while in college and was a customer of Lakeshore Record Exchange for 3 or 4 years when the original owner abruptly decided to sell the store and move to Texas. I didn’t have plans to own my own store but when the opportunity fell in my lap, I pick it up and ran with it.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Record Stores? Amoeba, Mondo Kim’s, Other Music, Newbury Comics.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
It’s usually pretty steady because we have a lot of records and rare CDs listed on multiple online retailers, so there’s never a dull moment in terms of online sales. The vinyl boom has been great for business because it’s caused a large expansion of our customer base and brought in steady stream of customers looking to sell us their vinyl, CD and DVD collections.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Continually taking advantage of the numerous online marketplaces for selling music as well as keeping a close close tabs on the lightning fast changes of the new  upcoming bands and genre trends that don’t seem to pause for a moment.

6. Why do we need record stores?
We still find that most of our regular customers come to us because they are looking for the personal recommendations and to be kept informed on whats the new big thing at the moment.     Preserving the tactile pleasure of searching through racks for that album that is going to be one (or many) that you were looking for.
7. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Black bean with salsa fresca, guacamole, & jalepenos.

8. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
The Horrors, Thee Oh Sees, and Trust

9. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
Doing business in our own unique way to super serve our customers, our product mix and merchandising system for our CDs.

10. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
To not just stay afloat but grow our over the counter and online sales. Broaden our product mix even more.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 17 – Schoolkids

By Michael on Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

More than just being the college basketball mecca and home of the khaki, tucked in Polo, sandal-combo that southern frat bros so love, North Carolina’s Triangle region (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) has a history steeped in serious rock and roll. So of course the area must have some serious rock and roll record stores, ya? Of course there is the already-profiled Bull City and the renowned CD Alley, but arguably the most revered in the area is Raleigh’s Schoolkids. I spoke with main Schoolkid Stephen Judge (no relation to our own Judge) about his favorite stores and tacos but didn’t ask him what the fuck Robert Plant was buying at the store.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, NC. We just celebrated our 39th Anniversary last weekend which happened to be on Record Store Day and had the best sales day in story history.  The store has been named by Time Magazine and The Grammys as one of the top ten legendary stores remaining in the United States.  Still thriving on Hillsborough Street at our original first location across from NC State University.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
in 1990 I was hired at Schoolkids while attending NC State University. I begged them for two years to hire me before I got a job. I shopped here in high school in the 80s (drove over an hour to come here) left in 2002 to work for Redeye Distribution/Yep Roc Records for 7 years and then started my own label (Second Motion Records) and magazine (Blurt) four years ago. I recently bought the store that I started at so now I’m the owner and I run the label and mag out of the store.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Amoeba Music (LA, Berkeley and SF), Music Millennium (Portland), Criminal Records (Atlanta), Easy Street Records (Seattle), Waterloo Records (Austin),  Crooked Beat Records (DC). Flat Black and Circular (East Lansing, MI)

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
Great, we are seeing growth for the first time in years, 40% growth in Vinyl and RSD this year was the best day we have ever had in 39 years. amazing. So we feel good about the future.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Diversity, customer service, being the culture center and the center of a culture.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
We love doing instores, we get loads of giveaways from tickets, to autographed lithographs whatever, it all helps fans love it.

7. Why do we need record stores?
You cannot repeat the experience of a record store anywhere else, they are the culture center for music, trading ideas, songs, thoughts and often therapy.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Bean and cheese

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
The Shins, Lost In The Trees, Dexter Romweber Duo

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
Our history

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
Continue to fight and survive, we would love to have more here, such as more instores and evening shows and a coffee shop. More things to hang out and share with the community.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 16 – KA-CHUNK!! Records

By Michael on Thursday, July 19th, 2012

For this week’s installment, I spoke with Matt Mona of mid-Atlantic mainstay KA-CHUNK!! Records in Annapolis, Maryland. One thing we noticed is that as much as anyone we’ve spoken to, Matt’s heart is pointed in the right direction. This dude loves records and music and everything that comes with owning a record shop in today’s landscape. Some would classify Matt as being “stoked.” Another thing we noticed is how pretty much every other profile has named Chicago’s Reckless Records as one of their faves… just sayin. So read on, my brothers and sisters.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
KA-CHUNK!! deals almost exclusively in vinyl with a healthy portion of concert and art screen prints. One thing I noticed about a lot of record shops was that they kind of thought of records as a side business to CD’s/DVD’s or they were more geared towards used records. So I figured if I focused first and foremost on vinyl that I could offer a wider selection of new records and carry a lot of stuff that would be neglected in a lot of shops. I was either going to have a CD/Vinyl shop that was ok or hopefully a kick ass vinyl shop. I’d rather have a kick ass vinyl shop even though I’m sure I’m leaving some money on the table by not catering towards CD’s.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
Records have been something I always thoroughly enjoyed and I never wanted a “real” job so it seemed if I was going to make a run at anything it would be this. I’ve had an online business for many years prior to opening up a shop so I’ve been gradually working my way into opening up an actual shop.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
That’s an incredibly hard question to answer just because I don’t have to the time to go record shopping any more since all I do now is maintain mine and patiently wait for customers to sell me old Parliament, James Brown or Kinks records I can squirrel away into my collection. C’mon, guys! Hook me uuuuup!! I’m so behind the times on current record shops. The last record stores I heavily frequented were Reptilian Records in Baltimore and Record & Tape Exchange in Annapolis and those are long gone. Those are contemporary, right? I think I cheated on this question a bit. Although I really enjoyed Reckless Records in Chicago when I visited and I have incredibly fond memories of Smash Records in D.C. which is still around.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
It’s definitely an upward trend but I’m a pretty new shop anyways so that should be expected. I’m basically located between Baltimore and Washington D.C. so more and more customers are making the trek from both cities to frequent my shop. It’s always incredibly flattering to hear when people leave a city loaded with record shops to shop in yours. But bottom line is I’m a healthy business that’s going to be sticking around for a while.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
This question is just begging me to start talking straight out of my ass. “Please Matt, just start making up bullshit, it’ll be all right!” I’m not a marketing wiz, I really have no idea, plus I’m the new guy on the scene so I hardly have any wisdom to add for people that have been around for a while. The only thing I know is that as a whole we should be making sure Record Store Day is protected. I think it’s an amazing event that generates an incredible amount of publicity and interest into vinyl. Indies should step up their game and not let the major label cash ins rule the day. That event helps me run my business so much better because it gives me a financial backing to carry records that may sit around for a while but when someone does finally pick it up it may change their life. I’m not going to sell a Wipers record every day but if I have some cash in the bank I don’t have to chuck it out of the bin to make room for a better seller.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
Sub Pop and Record Store Day helped me publicize my in store performance of Obits in early April. That was an incredibly fun time! I hope to do more of that in the future. And not to preach to the choir or anything but Matador’s Buy Early Get Now program is an amazingly cool thing to do with retailers. It’s promotions like that that really make the indie retail experience a positive one.

7. Why do we need record stores?
Record stores, besides hopefully making the owner money enough to live his or her life, should provide a service to the community. There’s a level of communication you don’t get from shopping online or just pirating MP3′s. It’s about personally explaining to a kid who’s just discovered the Seattle music scene that there’s a history that cultivated that scene and punk didn’t start at any one band, it’s a growing evolutionary process. Someone influenced Nirvana and someone influenced Iggy & The Stooges. It goes beyond music too. It’s just about creating a better community for people where we can all gather and share tastes and common experiences. It just makes for a richer society.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
First of all, thank you for posing this after the last question. I need a breather after that one. Oh, man! I’ve been getting loco on Doritos tacos waaaaay too much. Justin, stop calling me at 2am to get loco! These sad taco parties in the parking lot of Taco Bell have to stop!! We’re grown men for God’s sake!

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Any and all Billy Childish bands, which band is he in now? I have no idea. How can anyone keep track!? Thee Oh Sees who put on an amazing show in Baltimore not too long ago. And JEFF The Brotherhood. I’m probably annoying my customers by playing all three at every waking hour.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
Probably the building itself. It has a beautiful Art Deco movie theatre style facade out front with glass tiles and an amazing marquee that hopefully I can get a band to play on one day. I’m probably going to take the funds from this last Record Store Day and invest it into restoring the signage. I’m heavily biased but I think it’s the most unique building in the city of Annapolis. It’s a privilege to run a store out of it.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
Maybe I’m a terrible business owner but I don’t have huge goals. I just want a cool record store that customers appreciate. Anything I can do to facilitate that is both my short term and long term goal.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 15 – saki

By Michael on Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Chicago is arguably one of America’s (and probably the world’s) top two or three cities for independent record stores. Most cities would surely love to have one store on the level of Chicago’s Reckless, Permanent, Dusty Groove or Dave’s, but they’ve got all those and more. And when you throw the relatively young saki into the mix… shiiiiiiiiiiit. Basically if you’re a record goon like us and you’ve never been to ‘Cago (that’s what the locals call it*) you need to get your ass in gear.

I spoke with saki’s guru Adam Hirzel and I must say, I’d be hard pressed to find someone as well versed in record stores as this dude. From Buffalo to LA, from NYC to Australia, he’s been around so it’d likely behoove us to listen.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
saki is a record store, performance space & art gallery in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. Our goal is to further the local music & arts scene in Chicago by providing a space for performance, discussion, appreciation, and yes, sales of music, art, books & anything else we think is “totally awesome.”

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
Carrot Top Records & Carrot Top Distribution have been around for over 15 years as an independent label & distributor in Chicago. saki, the store, is just a continuation of the independent spirit of those companies. In fact, saki has been the name of our mail order site for years. Now it’s just a physical place where we can do so much more than just sell records!

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
We’ll skip the ones in Chicago, because it goes without saying that we love them & what they do for the music & arts community in this city, not to mention that we have employees who have worked at several of those stores in the past. We have a soft spot for Rainbow Books & Music in Delaware. They’re as mom & pop as you can get & they’re really the only decent place left to buy quality records & books in the state of Delaware. Also, our manager, Adam used to be the manager there, so that’s certainly part of it… there are so many others, but Stormy (Dearborn, MI), Rotate This! (Toronto, Canada), Moogy’s Mobile Record Store (Australia), Spiral Scratch (Buffalo, NY), Park Ave (Orlando, FL), all of the Amoebas, Academy in Brooklyn & of course, Other Musi are up there among the favorites.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
Obviously, having a physical record store, or any retail store, in 2012 is a challenge, but saki has been open for just under two years, so we were well aware of that challenge when we started. I think we’re just starting to get over that two-year hump where things are looking much, much better. Both Record Store Day’s that we’ve been around for have been a huge boon for us. We use that day to highlight the kind of community-involved events that we really do week in and week out. We just do it on a much larger scale for RSD. That always gets us a lot of positive attention. We’re in a city where there were already so many great stores, and there are even a few that opened around the same time as us, and not too far away, so works as both an advantage and disadvantage. People are so accustomed to having great stores in town, that it doesn’t seem so ridiculous to have one more, but a lot of people probably just go to their closest store for regular shopping. Either way, things are looking up and we can’t wait to see how it all works out!

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
I think record stores have to make more of an effort these days to remain relevant as cultural centers and not just retail stores. That’s inherent in saki’s mission to be a performance space where people can gather and appreciate art & music. Hopefully that translates to sales as well, but our main goal is to promote the community. I think you see a lot of stores these days carrying “boutique” items and not just books & music. Shelves full of records are exciting, but in this day & age, I think people want to see something more.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
Well, in-stores are essential to what we do, so we appreciate it any time a label helps us to get one of their bands in the store. Most labels will offer us the option to return copies of an item (especially vinyl) that would normally be non-returnable if their artist is playing an in-store. In-stores are a great opportunity to sell a few more copies of a band’s releases, so it works out for both the store and the label. We also love to do ticket giveaways, or special promotions, so it’s always nice when a label is willing to help us out with that and throw us a few guest list spots or some signed items to give away.

7. Why do we need record stores?
Just imagine a world where we can have any music we want available at the click of a button. In many ways that’s already possible, but luckily there are still stores around too where we can have things like in-stores and people can gather to get a little closer to the bands they love, or even just to talk to the person behind the counter about how they share a love of a particular artist. Without record stores, we would all be like the amorphous blobs in Wall-E, scooting around on our little hover chairs, listening to music in our headphones and interacting with the rest of the world on a touchscreen. Again, doesn’t sound that far off from what we already do, sitting in our homes with laptops & iPads, but just imagine that world and imagine not having the ability to go somewhere and interact with a human being. That’s scary! And yeah, I referenced Wall-E…

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
I haven’t tried that Taco Bell Dorito shell taco, yet, but I’m pretty sure it will be my favorite once I do.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
A band out of Baltimore called Lands & Peoples just put out a really nice debut LP. It’s limited to 300 copies and we’ve still got a few at saki! I also really like that Lee Fields LP on Daptone’s Truth & Soul imprint & then there’s that El Rego reissue, also on Daptone, that I’ve been spinning in the store a lot lately.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
Honestly, I’m kind of conflicted on this, but I guess I like that saki doesn’t look like your typical record store. By that I mean we don’t have a bunch of promo posters all over the wall and stuff like that. It’s a pretty clean & modern looking store. I like that, but I also kind of miss the old-school look too. So, it’s both my favorite and least favorite thing in a way.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
We’re already planning on expanding to have more of a “boutique” selection with toys, jewelry & all other sorts of knick-knacks, mostly from local vendors. The next step after that is to put in a small cafe, I think. None of it is official yet, but I’d say the boutique expansion is the short-term goal & the cafe is the long-term. Both short and long though, we just want to sell records and meet awesome people. So far, so good!

*not really

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 14 – Sweat Records

By Michael on Monday, June 18th, 2012

For our 14th Domestic Installation (we’ve had two internationals, but who’s counting?) of our phenomenal, sure-to-be award winning web series, Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer, I rang up Lauren Reskin (or Lolo as she’s known more cordially) of Miami rockstitution Sweat Records to have a chat about her shop, how record stores affect community and whether or not Iggy Pop wears a shirt when he comes into the store.

Lolo is one of the most involved store owners I’ve worked with and I don’t just mean in the scope of her store. This girl is seriously involved in so many different facets of the fast-blossoming Miami scene and I think we’ve all realized that if independent record stores are going to survive, they have to become cultural and community hubs, rather than simply a destination for commerce. There are few people, if any, who seem to embody this ethos more than our pal Lolo.

And let’s face facts. Any store where Iggy Pop shops (scroll down!) on the regular is probably pretty fucking boss.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Sweat Records was started in 2005 as a direct response to Miami having a growing indie music scene but no “traditional” indie record store that could be a hub for our geographically spread-out city.  I was (and still am) a DJ and club promoter and saw more and more people coming out to concerts and events, even though back then it was pretty hard to find out about them.  I started Sweat with my best friend Sara who was in law school at the time, she bowed out in ’07 and is now a super kick-ass public defender.  My current team includes Jason “Jsin” Jimenez who throws renowned Miami hip hop and dubstep parties (((SHAKE))) and Get Low, and Emile Milgrim who owns and operates rad record label Other Electricities.  Our shop is in Little Haiti, synergistically located next door to Churchill’s Pub, one of Miami’s most venerable music venues and is often called the CBGB’s of Miami.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
I was always drawn to music stores and vividly remember going to Spec’s Music when I was a kid and re-organizing any CDs I saw that were out of place.  In middle school a tiny but immaculately-stocked shop called Back Street Records fueled my obsession and stole all my babysitting money.  When I was 16 I got a job and the freshly-opened Miami Virgin Megastore and worked there until I left to open Sweat in early 2005.  Obviously there is a lot more admin involved now, but I still wholly enjoy just hanging out at the counter and talking about music to the random people that come in.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Radio-Active Records in Ft. Lauderdale is basically our sister store.  We’re about 25 minutes apart and send each other customers all the time.  They are great guys who are truly passionate about vinyl and they’ve got a great aesthetic.  Other Music in NYC has been a favorite of mine since high school when I would visit to devour their “La Decadanse” section full of French/Japanese/Swedish fantasy pop goodness.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
Sales have been going up and up and up.  We just dealt with the street in front of our shop being under construction for over 11 months and still had our best year ever (though we seriously hustled).  It is easy to see that more and more people are taking up buying vinyl as a means to get their music (especially because of the free downloads that come with them – thank you labels who do this for getting it!) and not just a hobby, although that’s on the rise as well.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
You must be integrated with your community, in touch with your customers, tech-y, and responsive to change and suggestions.  After Hurricane Wilma destroyed our first location, we used our forced move as an opportunity to add an event space, as well as a coffee bar and tables so people could use our wi-fi during the day.  We’ve definitely worked online sales too, in 2011 we launched SweatShopMiami.com which sells only our local music, shirts and merchandise.  The sales from that are a nice pad to our bottom line, and it’s awesome to be able to help bands and local artisans take care of their business.  My best advice would be to seek out niches in your cultural community and fill them.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
Drag City hooked it up with the “Free Florida” tour that had Bonnie “Prince” Billy doing a series of free shows in record stores in the state, which was completely amazing.  Kudos to them as we’re geographically disadvantaged so we get passed over a lot, even though we have a very healthy concert-going audience down here.  (Labels: MORE IN-STORES, PLEASE!  It shows that artists care about the fans and not just ticket sales.)  I also think Sub Pop’s indie-only “Loser Edition” colored vinyl is rad.

7. Why do we need record stores?
It’s an easy answer but cities suck without them.  I did not want the kids growing up after me in South Florida to miss out on the experience of going into a unique space full of music, posters, odds and ends, etc.  It’s concrete proof that there is a vibrant reality beyond the overwrought mainstream music and lifestyle.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Tofu cubes marinated in fajita spices with lots of guacamole and Cholula.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Gotta give some love to these local acts who are totally killing it:  Deaf Poets (hyperactive bluesy garage rock), AXE AND THE OAK (post-punk twang), and Holly Hunt (brain-melting sludge rock).

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
My favorite thing about our physical store is our art – our whole front outside wall is a two-tone mural of our music heroes by CP1 and it’s been featured on CNN, in music videos, and a ton of other places.  We have other pieces around the shop by AHOLSNIFFSGLUE, the TM Sisters, Federico Nessi & Dino Felipe, famed Little Haiti muralist Serge Toussaint and an insanely amazing saltwater tank installation by marine biology/art collective Morphologic.  The tank is mesmerizing and features these brilliantly colored plooshy round corals that are aptly named “discosoma”.  (P.S. The icons on our wall are Prince, Daft Punk, Iggy Pop, Morrissey, MF Doom, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Aphex Twin, Billie Holiday, Bjork, Serge Gainsbourg, Notorious B.I.G. and two of the Gorillaz.)

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
Short-term we just finished our third Sweatstock festival (which celebrated our 7th anniversary and RSD 2012) and are working on another similar sort of day fest.  Long-term we basically want Sweat to be around forever.  There’s an independent bookstore chain in Miami called Books & Books that’s open and growing for over 25 years and we take a lot of inspiration from them.  Miami has a really unique sense of community and camaraderie and we want to make sure everything continues on this great upward swing it’s on.

12. When Iggy comes in, does he wear a shirt?
Not always.

*Photos courtesy of TeaJayPhoto

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 13 – Treehouse Records

By Michael on Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

I’ve never been to Minneapolis but there are a few things I’ve always heard; “Dude. It’s way cooler than you’d think!” or “Dude. It’s a big biking city.” or “Dude. When you get up there, you have to check out Treehouse.” So one day, when I make it up there, I will surely ride a bike over to Treehouse. Until then, I’ll just have to take owner Mark Trehus (yes!) at his word. But by the sounds of it, I’m more likely to run into him in New Orleans… read on.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.

We opened on April 1st, 2001.  From 1973 until then, there was a record store called Oar Folkjokeopus in our spot, which I managed from 1986 until its last day (March 31st of 2001).  We have always been a vinyl-heavy store, concentrating mostly on areas of music that myself and my employees are interested in. Like any good indie store, we have everything from Sun Ra to Hank Williams, from the 13th Floor Elevators to Eddie Bo. We have the best vinyl selection in the state, and carry both new and used. (We do carry a few select CDs, but don’t feel particularly proud about doing so.)  We consider ourselves a RECORD store, pure and simple.  We consistently rate among the best record stores in the country by anybody who knows anything.  No brag, just fact. (ED: #humblebrag)

2. What got you into the independent record store business?

Well, with the old adage of Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll being the credo during my misspent younger years, I figured that settling into the latter option would be the one most likely to end up without imprisonment , the nuthouse or suicide. I have loved music and have collected records since pre-adolescence. I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up, and I just turned 57!

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?

My favorite stores are Peoples Records in Detroit, Michigan, Mississippi Records in Portland, Oregon, and Domino Sound in New Orleans, Louisiana.  All three stores are owned by true music lovers, all 20 years or so my juniors.  The owners and their employees are all very lovely and righteous people, and I am proud and happy to call them my friends.  All of them value love over gold, as do I, and that is what binds us together and soulfully.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?

I am very fortunate in that regard, as I have other ventures which augment my income.  My store was in the black last year, but a little in the red the previous one.  This year, in a nice turn of events, we have done very, very well–at least by new millennium standards, anyway.  We seem to be back on track toward becoming more profitable again. I hope we have weathered the storm.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?

I don’t believe that there is an easy answer for that.  In this day and age, it seems that all independent record stores need to have a little something extra. For some folks, like Aquarius in San Francisco, it is a strong internet presence.  For Domino Sound in New Orleans, it is having a cheap storefront in a relatively-low income area–coupled with a relaxed, non-extravagant lifestyle. For Mississippi Records, it’s a positive attitude, and an unwavering trust in the basic humanity of people to do right–if you do right unto them too.  And so on and so on.  For me, I am blessed in that I own my own building, have employees who have forsaken personal gain in order to keep Treehouse alive, and have a strong community of loyal, vinyl-loving customers spiritually and soulfully.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?

In a general sense, the best thing that labels can do for us is to give us (independent stores) records that (a), people actually WANT, and (b), that they can only get from shopping at an independent store.  While many larger labels are unnecessarily fearful of biting the proverbial hand that feeds, smaller labels are offering in-store appearances, price breaks, limited editions or special packaging, etc., by artists that our customers demand.  Specifically, in recent memory, Van Dyke Parks (who has his own small label for his own records) did an in-store with us this month.  This utterly blew my fucking mind!  I mean, come on, VAN DYKE PARKS in our 100-capacity store in the heart of the godforsaken Midwest?  It’s stuff like that that makes me happy that I never went to law school.

7. Why do we need record stores?

Because the soul is being sucked out of our lives by computers and big business. Obtaining music via illegal downloads or on-line sources not only deprives musicians and/or record stores a means to make a living, but more importantly, robs the consumer of an organic, fundamentally-nurturing aspect of the whole gestalt of the music-appreciation process.  Hearing music on an mp3 file on your computer isn’t the same as LISTENING to music. I feel sorry for these fucking kids who don’t get that! The soul is nurtured by listening to RECORDS, on analog equipment, that are (hopefully) bought at a brick-and-mortar, independent, music-loving establishment and listened to AT HOME, on a STEREO SYSTEM.  It is a necessary component of being part of something much, much bigger.  That “something” is a little big to properly define in this small space, but it involves nothing less than the saving of one’s own soul, and keeping one’s integrity in the face of an increasingly greedy and destructive element of society, one which threatens to keep us in check, and to imprison those of us who wish to stay human and t0 love our neighbor as we do ourselves.  The personal and the political truly ARE one and the same, aren’t they?

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?

There is nothing better than authentic tacos al pastor, of course, with a nice red chili pepper salsa.  Is that a trick question? (ED: No)

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?

Impossible to answer, you know that! But, we’ll say Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Bob Dylan & his band, and whoever I am next going to hear perform live (cuz live music is best!).  Oh, and everybody who records for Matador Records, of course. (ED: Of course.)

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”

I have a job where I can walk in the door, and there are ALWAYS some pieces of music–new or used, usually both–to listen to for the first time.  I think that many people go to work where at best they hope to merely survive the day.  I get to have fun because even my “work” is enjoyable.  I feel truly blessed to be in this position, and if it all ends tomorrow, I have had one hell of a run.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.

Short term, to get through the collection of 6000 records I just bought!  Long term, to get by until I am of retirement age, and then I will decide to sell the store and/or building, or otherwise cash in my chips and move to New Orleans.  There, I plan to open Treehouse Saturday Records.  Treehouse Saturday Records will be in a building that I will buy, will likely live above or in back of, and will be open only on Saturdays.  There, I will have an espresso machine, a cooler full of cold beverages, and records that I have gleaned out of my personal collection for the past week, leading up to that Saturday.  I will use money earned in order to eat copious amounts of jambalaya, etoufee, and gumbo, for the rest of my life, getting even fatter, listening to my records, hanging out with music lovers and enjoying great live music, in the city that I love above and beyond all others.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 12 – Dave’s Records

By Michael on Monday, May 21st, 2012

Chicago is arguably the best city in America when it comes to record shopping. It seems that in nearly every neighborhood there is at least one really, really fantastic store you absolutely have to check out. Some specialize in focus on hip hop, jazz and funk (the venerable Dusty Groove) while others are a destination for psych records (the previously profiled Permanent Records). And then of course, there are the few Second City retailers that focus solely on vinyl, the best of which (in my humble yet professional estimation) is Dave’s Records. I spoke with Dave’s owner Dave Crain about his love of vinyl, looking toward the future and how some people still use Myspace. I really loved Dave’s enthusiasm and his unique take on things, especially when he said, “We are the temples of musical nirvana trying not to become museums.” Read on.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.

This store has been in the neighborhood since 1976. It was called 2nd Hand tunes and I began working here for the original owner in 1985. He sold it to an internet company called Django’s  in 1999 and by 2002 they went bankrupt. Out of the bankruptcy, I bought the vinyl half of the Clark Street location from the company that bought the Django’s assets. I changed the name to the very clever Dave’s Records on Labor Day September 1, 2002. We have been concentrating on vinyl only (7″/ 12″/ LP/EP/ and even some 78′s) since the beginning. The sign on the door says “No CD’s! Never Had ‘em!! Never Will!!” We carry an ever changing stock of approximately 40,000 NEW and USED titles. We are a store for the browsing class. If you enjoy wading through the racks, we are your kind of store. But if you need one thing and want to get in and out, we are organized and know our stock availability. After 10 years of labor as the owner, the decision to remain all vinyl has been key to our ability to stay in business. We are an old school store for the new generation that is discovering the wonders of vinyl.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?

As a kid, I tried desperately to get a record store job. I finally got a job in a chain store in Woodfield Mall when vinyl was still the main format and cassettes were about to take over. It was a very corporate environment. Even if I customers were actively requesting something, if it wasn’t in the Top 25 or a sanctioned deep catalogue item, we could not order it even if it was available. It was a frustrating environment with a dress code as well. The district manager and I were at odds over my tri-color Chuck Taylors so I began to look elsewhere. I saw and ad in the back of the Reader and the timing was right because I got a call from the owner who needed some help in the Hyde Park location for some remodeling. I said I could start right away and on the Saturday I started I knew it was the right fit. We were selling James Brown, Funkadelic, Roxy Music and not the latest Night Ranger.

 

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?

Chicago and the surrounding area is fortunate that there are so many great stores. Ones of note that I like in Chicago are Permanent Records, Dusty Groove, Reckless Records, Jazz Record Mart and in the suburbs Val’s Halla Records (Oak Park) and The Old School Records (Forest Park). In the books & record department Shake, Rattle and Read (Chicago) and Squeezebox Books and Music (Evanston). I have seen a lot of stores come and go over the years. When I started here on Clark Street 27 years ago there were 8 stores (CD and record) within a 4 block radius. I admire anyone who can last.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?

After a pretty touch and go time through the economic downturn, things seem to be rebounding. This generation embracing or at least acknowledging vinyl has been the biggest factor. In the 1990′s, kids that loved music would put there head in the door and see that it was only vinyl and turn right back around. The advent of including the download was a game changing event because then you wouldn’t have to make 2 purchases to get it digitally. Matador was at the forefront of that, so thanks! After this Record Store Day, I would say I am very optimistic. Through the economic downturn I was staying cautiously optimistic after each Record Store Day. Let’s throw caution to the wind and be optimistic!

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?

The survival of an independent store is tied to having an identity. Our identity is vinyl. We live it. We breathe it. And when Jack White makes the edible limited Third Man Record, we will eat it and have musical toots! All record stores that survive know who they are and who there customers are. If you are unsure of that, you make missteps and try to be something that you are not and slowly lose what you originally had. When you walk in Dave’s Records, you know that we are broad based in genres. There is nothing we won’t carry if think we can sell it. Everyday we try and make this the store that I would’ve liked to come into when I was beginning to get musically literate. Endless possibilities to dream and reach for. Classical-Yes! Reggae- Yes! Vocal-Yes! Hip Hop-Yes! Metal-Yes! Folk-Yes! Country-Yes! Rock-Of Course Yes! Jazz-Yes! Soul-Yes! Klezmer-Yes! You name it on vinyl and we try to say a loud and hearty YES!!!! We like being a YES store. We may not always have it in stock but we are always trying and at some point have we had it in the store-Yes! CD’s on the other hand-not so much!

6. What are some of the coolest things labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?

Record Store Day is really the biggest instore thing we do. We aren’t really set up for instores in this space. Last year we had the band “I Was Really Destroying It” for Record Store Day and that was great. This year though we reached capacity and I don’t think it would be possible to squeeze a band in. We are always open to new things but the records are our main focus day in and day out. I keep my eye on the spinning black circle. I been hypnotized!

7. Why do we need record stores?

We need record stores to fulfill our musical dreams in real time. Looking at internet pages of product and clicking a button even on our rarest desired record and then receiving a package days later will never replace flipping through a bin and discover that same thing – or even better something you never imagined – and walking home with it. That is what a record store does; it moves our imagination from what we already know. Artwork of a band you don’t know or a song on the stereo that perks your ears up and makes you say, “What is THIS?” is the real world brick and mortar experience. We are the temples of musical nirvana trying not to become museums. We are a space for the living passage of music from generation to generation.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?

Breakfast taco, naturally! After I got back from SXSW in Austin I started each day with one bacon and one chorizo breakfast taco.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?

Top 3 newer albums I can’t get off the turntable would be The Explorers Club – Grand Hotel, First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar, Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”

My favorite thing about having a store is selling someone a record and having them say “You made my day!”. Having someone type Great Seller A++++ is not the same. My favorite thing about the physical store space is the smell of vinyl. I love the smell of vinyl in the morning. It smells like VICTORY!

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.

Short term my goal is to more effectively use social media. Since the second year of Record Store Day, we began with MySpace (I’m older, OK), then we moved to Facebook, then we set up a blog on WordPress, and before this SXSW, I got a smartphone and set up a Twitter account. Like most things they are only tools and I am just figuring out how to efficiently use them to get info out to customers. Balancing it with running the store is the hard part. Long term is to keep the store open. Some goals are always the same.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 11 – Redscroll Records

By Michael on Monday, May 7th, 2012

A few notes on Wallingford, Connecticut. Roughly 43,000 people live there, making it Connecticut’s 23rd most populous community. Both Morton Downey and his namesake, Morton Downey, Jr were Wallingfordians. That really great movie Riding In Cars With Boys partly takes place in Wallingford. And that was pretty much all I could find. Well, that and the fact that it’s home to Redscroll Records, one of the raddest stores around. I spoke with store owner Rick about running a his store in a pretty awesome community. I especially like the part where he says “There are lots of great stores around these days.” Because that shit is truth.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
Redscroll opened it’s doors as a physical store (more on that later) on April 12, 2007. We focus on “Underground Music & Culture” with a heavy slant towards the vinyl record format. We do carry a lot of things that might not be (and many that definitely wouldn’t be) considered “underground” and we also carry compact discs and assorted ephemera (DVDs, t-shirts, books, posters, turntables, record care accessories…). Used and new. Y’ know, a record store.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
Redscroll Records started as a label to put out a few friends’ releases. That turned into a small distro that went show to show (punk and hardcore around CT mostly). About 6 years ago that distro got to be too much to handle so Josh Carlson (the guy who started the label) asked his friend Rick Sinkiewicz (that’s me; I’m talking in third person here) to open a store with him. We’ve now been open as a physical shop since April 12th of 2007 and we’ve been doing nothing but growing (to the point of being a bit over full).

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Once a year we make a pilgrimage to Baltimore for the Maryland Death Fest. We actually spend maybe 1/3 of our time at the actual fest (which is great by the by). We’ve developed a good relationship with a few of the stores down there. Own Guru (a CT ex-pat) was great when we first discovered that by following a sign that led you down a narrow alley to a little hobble full of records beyond an unkempt garden. He eventually grew into a second shop and I believe he only has the second shop now. I have to admit I miss that first one and the amount of moving and actual digging you had to do to find the treasures. It was satisfying. Celebrated Summer is a great spot in the back of a comic book shop specifically for punk, hardcore and what used to be called alternative (indie?). True Vine is great for left of center more esoteric record shopping. I’ve personally found the most treasures for myself in True Vine. We have a small love affair with the Baltimore area record stores. Atomic Books is great too and I end up browsing books just as much as records. Double Decker in Allentown, PA is another favorite. We’ve done more trades with Double Decker than with anyone else and Jaime
(the owner) is seriously one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever encountered. Armageddon Shop in Providence and now with a second shop in Boston also rules. We could go on and on with this one. There are lots of great stores around these days.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
Being a young store and having opened when physical music formats were already in decline we’ve really experienced nothing but growth. We’re able to cut weekly checks, have no debt and are constantly expanding.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Play on your strengths. We love music. We listen to it a lot and to a lot of it. We don’t listen to everything. Nobody does no matter how many people espouse to. I hold only surface knowledge of calliope music for instance. We carry a ton of more modern (60s and up – but generally even more modern than that) 7″s, but I’m not going to risk
spending money on a collection of doo-wop that could theoretically hold a golden ticket because I just don’t know much about it. On the other side of that coin I grew up listening to tons of college radio (mostly the Wesleyan University station WESU) which opened me up to lots of weird avenues that aren’t all related. Josh and I met in the
punk/hardcore community and he has a wealth of knowledge within that. There’s crossover between our two tastes of course and we don’t confine the store to just what we like, but it is reflected. We know some stuff, but not nearly everything of course. We play to our strengths.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
We’ve done some contests and whatnot, but really the coolest thing labels can do is put out great music for us to turn people on to. It’s really cool when labels discover us rather than the other way around. I’m constantly on the hunt for new music in diverse corners of the music world so when other people are doing that and discover us
it’s pretty flattering. I don’t want to mention any particular label because I’ll likely leave another equally deserving one out. As far as in-stores, we’ve had a bunch of bands play and it’s always fun, but it’s not yet been because of a label reaching out to us.

7. Why do we need record stores?
We don’t need them like water or shelter, but they’re fun so try to keep your local one around.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Black beans, seitan, rice, olives, lettuce, guacamole. Fun fact: we’re both vegan.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Josh: Nightbitch, Living Laser, & Snake Oil (keeping it local!)
Rick: Cowards, Trust, Legowelt (this will change by the time I hit return)

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
When I was a kid I collected baseball cards and loved drawing. I drew my fair share of what I considered to be my dream baseball card shop – mostly designed to look like a baseball diamond. I still like baseball, but not nearly as much as music. This shop is entirely the fulfillment of the further truth of my childhood dream (deep, right). Now I just have to get it to look like a baseball diamond with a stage in the center.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
Expansion. Further expansion.

Get To Know Your Local Independent Retailer Vol. 10 – Easy Street Records

By Michael on Monday, April 23rd, 2012

In a city that is known for its music, surely there has to be some absolutely amazing places to find some great records. Well in Seattle there are many of those places but the only one who responded to our query about being profiled in our epic webseries about record stores was Easy Street Records. I spoke with owner Matt Vaughan about his love of discovering new records and getting drunk in bars.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
2 stores, 1st store opened in ‘87 when I was 19 yrs old, moved it to bigger location in ‘89. With Seattle music booming, we opened our doors the same year as Sub Pop, if that gives you an idea of what was in the air. By ‘97 we took over space next door, held after-hour shows/instores (Mudhoney, Rocket From Crypt, Luna). In ‘99 we converted it to a full service café and diner. Three years later we opened 2nd store, our downtown location (6,000) sq feet, 3 blocks away from Tower Records. Grand Opening Week featured instores by Paul Westerberg, Elvis Costello, Jack Johnson. We’ve gone on to host over 500 instores at this location. We were recognized for some cool award winning displays and our huge 20 foot hand-painted murals outside and the 10 foot billboards inside the stores. We like to help break and develop new bands, that’s what we do. For 10 years we’ve been the onsite retailer at the annual Sasquatch Festival.


 

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
My mother was an independent radio promoter in late 70’s-80’s, working with labels such as Casablanca, Arista, MCA. Also, my mom’s husband at the time had 12,000 records (out of order). I took it upon myself one summer when I was 12 years old to alphabetize them. I became a record junkie at a young age, worked at two different stores, from age 13-18. Both stores went out of business around same time, I put the owners together, I assumed the debt and consolidated the two stores into one.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Euclid, Streetlight, Music Millenium, Waterloo, Luna, Vacation


4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
We can’t go deep into new catalog anymore, something we once prided ourselves on. The titles are either unavailable, one way, or they sit for too long. Margins are getting better, but the volume of sales are down. On huge titles, what once would’ve sold 3,000 copies in a year, now sells 1,000.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Small, niche, community involvement, store design/aesthetic, quick used turns, more than fair prices, tech savvy and progressive, buying power.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
Street date instores; Cave Singers, Shins, Band of Horses, Head and the Heart, Brandi Carlisle.

7. Why do we need record stores?
Gathering place for like minded people, instinct, awareness, community support. We need healthy places like this, otherwise we’ll all be getting drunk at bars talking about the good ol’ days of when a record store was in this space.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
Fish tacos

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Real Estate, Viva Voce, Pickwick

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
Riding my bike in, grabbing a coffee from our coffee bar, looking at new release wall, pricing some used vinyl, being surprised by a new record.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
More collaboration with like minded businesses. More vinyl bins.

 

Get To Know Your Local Indie Retailer Vol. 9 – Melody Supreme

By Michael on Monday, April 9th, 2012

For this week’s installment of our most amazing, surely to be award-winning web series “Get To Know Your Local Indie Retailer” we spoke with Gwen Berthy, a Frenchman who somehow ended up in Charlottesville, VA and opened his very, very killer record outpost Melody Supreme. Something we learned in posting this; Gwen is a killer photographer. Take it away, Gwen.

1.  Tell us briefly about your store.
We opened our doors in October of 2010, so we’re relatively new.  On top of that, my background’s pretty atypical since I’ve only been in the US for a few years.   I arrived directly from France, lived initially in Richmond, before moving to Charlottesville in October of 2009.   I was complete stranger in town, knowing no one, and I opened my store one year after my arrival.  I guess you’d need to be French (in other words, crazy) to dedicate yourself to a retail sector believed by most people to be dead. Melody Supreme sells only vinyl, new and used, new music and reissues.  We offer a wide range of music, that goes from 60’s psych to electro, from Afro-beat to blues, from classic rock to indie rock, from jazz to punk, etc.

2.  What got you into the independent record store business?
Around the time of my fortieth birthday, I started to question my life as a professional photographer.  Though this had been my career for over 20 years, it no longer gave me the same satisfaction as before.  It had given me the possibility to travel the world, but like any life-long vinyl lover, my favorite activity when I wasn’t working was to find the best record store in any town I visited.  I guess that after taking stock of my life, I realized that of all the places I’d been, the record stores were among my favorites.   Charlottesville really lacked this (in my opinion), so why not open one myself and experience it everyday? I have been collecting records since I was 20 and have always been interested in new music, never falling into the ‘it was better before” trap.  After 9 months of intense preparation, between a tiny borrowed attic and a rented storage unit, I finally secured a retail space in the historic center of Charlottesville, right in the nerve center of the music scene.  From there, it was all engines go.

3.  Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
Wow, that’s a hard one.  My references are pretty much from the past, and I must say that since opening Melody Supreme, I haven’t had much free time to travel in the US.  Also, I know Paris much better than any city here so I’m going to have to recommend (in case you find yourself in France) Born Bad, a store run by a group of garage and punk enthusiasts who also produce on their own label obscure reissues from the 60’s, minimal synth from the 80’s, or contemporary groups like Cheveu. In Virginia, I’d have to cite Deep Groove in Richmond who had the flair to open a really friendly, inviting space just a few years back (when the economy was in free fall) – a worthy model for the small vinyl-only store.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
It’s pretty early to say; we still have a couple of months to go before clearing that essential 18-month mark.  But I will say this first year was pretty intense, working solo where I can count my days off with the fingers of one hand.  I am new in town so I had to be patient while word of mouth and some good reviews on the web performed their magic.  Right now, despite my pessimistic French nature, I’m finding that things are definitely heading in the right direction. Thanks to existing record stores in town who had partially converted to vinyl, there’s a growing interest here in vinyl, in having the beautiful object and impeccable sound, which I find really encouraging.  For the immediate future and beyond, I know that this is going to be a project for the long haul, with each month bringing new challenges: the fight of a small business to keep its head just above the water line.

5.  What do you think spells survival for an independent record store today?
Passion.  I get really tired sometimes, but each morning I’m happy to walk through the door of my store. Selling records is not an easy job and my store is too small to compete with behemoths like Amazon.  But I can honestly say that the vast majority of new stock we carry has been chosen, listened to, and valued.  I know the music I sell. The same can be said for my used stock: they’re here in the store because I chose, inspected and carefully cleaned them – my clients don’t have ugly surprises when they get home. I consider myself very much like a gourmet market of music.  I choose carefully and try to know as much as possible about my music, its history, its quality, its origins, so that I can offer it to my clients.

6.  What are some of the coolest things labels have done with you?
First off, unlike my European homologues, just getting the chance to work directly with independent American labels is the coolest thing ever.  Not having to pass through a distributor, being in direct contact with the actual producers of the music is a dream and makes me feel like I’m in the beating heart of the action. Promotions and sale strategies aside, having access to new items, especially limited or exclusive editions (Matador Buy Early Get Now, first-run on colored vinyl and promo 7”) is fantastic.  And then there are the incredible efforts labels put into providing us with Record Store Day merchandise, which for me was enormous last year.

7.  Why do we need record stores?
Because music can save your life, and for most of us who are truly passionate about music, the record store will always be a sort of refuge where you can dig up new tonal phenomena.  I’m part of a generation that had to construct a musical culture piece by piece through friendships, brick-and-mortar stores and musical press.  For me, it was a long process.  Today, you can have access to everything, and listen to it instantly (and gratis) via the web.  I think the web is a fabulous tool, but it doesn’t compare to flipping though cases of records and visually contemplating cover art enthroned on the walls of a record store – or swapping suggestions with store owners and friends.  A record store really is a singular place where you can exchange, interact and forget about the worries of the day – a place of comfort really. It also true that record stores contribute greatly to the quality of local life.  You’ll always be able to buy on line, but I really can’t imagine the pleasure in doing that.  You should have more faith in your local record store – if they don’t have what you’re looking for they can always order it.  You’ll be contributing to your local economy and (in my store, at any rate) it’s usually cheaper than buying online anyway.

8.  What kind of taco is your favorite?
I am not what you would call ‘knowledgeable’ when it comes to tacos.

9.  Who are your top three favorite bands right now?
Today it’s Veronica Falls, Porcelain Raft, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (I love 1st albums).  For tomorrow I choose Fucked Up, Electrelane and the Gun Club (I’ll be needing a morale boost).  For the day after tomorrow I choose Shugo Tokumaru, Animal Collective and Moon Duo (I’ll still be listening to them in 10 years). The next day after that, it’ll be Sebastien Tellier, Alain Bashung and Florent Marchet (I miss France sometimes).  The next day after that, it’ll be Yo La Tengo, Pavement, Pixies (the 90’s were pretty sweet).  Then the day after that, it’ll be: Sagitarius, Love, and the Zombies… Music to me is a bit like children – you love them equally but differently, and it really is impossible to choose.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked, “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”
I think first off it would have to be that I get to listen to music all day long.  I get to listen to new music all the time (for better or for worse) and I get to discover used records that I’ve never heard of, but that are absolute gems. And then there are the visits.  Like the day Fucked Up’s singer came away with some coveted new wave albums, or when Arcade Fire spent an hour just chatting, or the rainy morning that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings spent warm and dry, hanging out in the store.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.
To keep the store alive and to some day find that super-talented, charismatic, but unknown group and sign them on my own label – just to know how it feels.

12. Tell us about the cool used and collectable action you have going on over there.
Sometimes you have to dig far and wide, and there’s always ebb and flow.  The best way to be abreast of our collectible finds is to follow us on Facebook – and hit the ‘Like’ button while you’re at it.

Get To Know Your Local Indie Retailer Vol. 8 – Permanent Records

By Michael on Monday, March 26th, 2012

There’s the prevailing myth which inspired this epic web-series that record stores everywhere are in deep shit. For some reason, people seem to believe that there isn’t a single traditional record store out there who is prospering, or even growing. Well you and I know that’s not true and we have people like Liz Tooley and Lance Barresi to help us prove it. Their Permanent Records has been a staple on the Windy City scene for the last six years and recently they decided to grow their brand to the west coast, giving Los Angelenos the option of yet another amazing record store. But they’ll tell you all about that.

1. Tell us briefly about your store.
We opened Permanent Records in Chicago in October of 2006 in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago.  After working for/managing record stores collectively for nearly 20 years, we decided to start our own, with an all-killer no-filler policy and an emphasis on the things we liked most, namely rare vintage vinyl and obscure, limited independent releases.  Shortly thereafter, we started our own label and opened a webstore.  We’ve released records by bands from all over the globe, including artists such as Moon Duo, Cave, Cheveu, Purling Hiss, Puffy Areolas, Brain Idea, King Blood, and dozens more.  After 5 years of success and countless in-store performances by incredible bands, we opened our second location in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, Californ-I-A.  Killing (AKA selling records) is our business and business is good. Haha!

2. What got you into the independent record store business?
We eat, drink, breathe, and sleep music every day and have ever since we can remember.  We’ve worked in various industries, doing a variety of work, and the only thing we’ve ever done that felt supremely rewarding was working in a record store.  Even though the hours are long, the paycheck feeble, and health insurance is essentially unfathomable, we’d still prefer to work in this industry than do just about anything else.  Anyone who’s ever worked in a record store knows what we’re talking about, but only a handful of us are able handle the dedication and hard work it takes to open their own shop.  We have that drive and we work VERY hard to keep ourselves knowledgeable in this field, so we do this…EVERY…SINGLE…DAY!

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?
We do EVERYTHING we can to make our own store our favorite store.  No joke!  But other inspirational stores include Apop in Saint Louis, MO, the Love Garden in Lawrence, KS, and Aquarius in San Francisco, CA.  These are wonderful stores with excellent selections.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?
It’s going well at both locations.  Surprising, considering the state of the music industry and current economic conditions.  We’re never gonna get rich doing this, but we knew that going in. We love it anyway!

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?
Taste, knowledge, and friendliness are key for us.  All of the people behind the counter must have all of these traits.  Everyone at Permanent does.  You have to know what’s what, what’s good, and what sucks.  You can’t run a shotgun shack these days and you can’t get away with lying to people for very long.  Record store supporters are some of the most savvy and interesting people in the world.  You can’t fool them into buying crap these days, which is great for us ‘cuz nothing bums us out more than crappy music.  We handpick most of the records we sell and we know who will like them and who won’t.  We present these records accordingly.  This mentality translates to all aspects of our business from in-store performances to new releases – from Permanent t-shirts to used cassettes.

6. What are some of the coolest things labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?
We’ve hosted hundreds of incredible in-store performances.  Nobunny pranced around our shop and climbed on the bins in his tighty whities.  Kurt Vile performed a solo acoustic set at Noon on New Year’s Day.  Ty Segall has blown not one, but two PA systems in our store.  Times New Viking and Clockcleaner filled our infantile Chicago store with more people than we ever thought possible.  We’ve been graced by the presence of legends such as Meat Puppets, Kid Congo, Paul Collins, Axemen, Scream, and more.  Future legends such as Francis Harold and the Holograms, Puffy Areolas, Smith Westerns, Woods, Vivian Girls, Bitchin Bajas, Zola Jesus, Pop. 1280, Royal Baths, Night Beats, Milk Music, Apache Dropout, The Men, Liminanas, Circle Pit, Kitchen’s Floor, Human Eye, Mikal Cronin, Obits, Umberto, Sex Church, Pink Reason, Purling Hiss…

7. Why do we need record stores?
Where else can you hear the hottest new jams, go on a treasure hunt, shoot the shit with knowledgeable weirdos, and party all in the same place?
Also, shopping for records online is fucking boring.

8. What kind of taco is your favorite?
The pink ones.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?
Top 3?  Ha!  How about top 30?  Who can pick a top 3 favorite bands right now and/or pick a favorite record of all time?!  It’s like picking a favorite star from the sky.  Space is deep, man.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers.
Our favorite thing about our store is our stock.  At any given time, we have access to more excellent records that we could listen to in a lifetime.  We’re vinyl rich!  And there’s always new stuff flowing through the doors.  Our store is a river and we’re on the best float trip EVER!

11.Tell us about the used and collectible action you have going on over there?
Everything we get goes in the store before it goes online and our walls are constantly filled with a variety of rare and collectible LPs and the wall overflows into the bins.  There’s a wall of rare singles as well and both are ever-changing.  We’re a store, not a museum.  C’mon by and have a look for yourself.  Savvy shoppers also know that many of the common new items we carry are certain to become future rarities, sometimes immediately.

12. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.

We’ve been doing this for ourselves for 5 years.  If you asked us 5 years ago if we’d have a second location in LA, we would’ve laughed in disbelief.  So answering the long term question is tough.  We’ll definitely continue to do what’s gotten us this far and adapt with the times.  Look for more label releases, more weekly email updates, more podcasts, more in-stores, a more user friendly webstore, as well as a constant flow of quality new and used items at both shops.  Also, first record store in outer space?

Getting To Know Your Local Indie Retailer – International edition, vol #2. (First print) – Banquet Records

By Stuart on Monday, March 19th, 2012

I’m stepping in for another international edition of Mike V’s excellent “Getting To Know Your Indie Retailer” column, with some words from Jon Tolley from Banquet Records in Kingston-upon-Thames, London.

The shop’s slogan is “More than your local record shop” and they live up to that in many ways.  Last year they put on over 200 shows and instores – a number that would put many a promoter to shame, aside from that there’s the 3 weekly club nights they also hold, their ever-expanding mailorder business and they even sponsor their local football team.

Aptly timed with the Ceremony show they’re putting on TONIGHT, learn a little more about their story below:

 

1. Tell us briefly about your store.

As well documented, we were formed out of the ashes of the retail arm of Beggars Banquet.  They decided they no longer wanted the retail arm of what they do.  The shop (there was only one left) got given to the then boss, but after numerous failings we were about to go bust when Mike and I bought the business from the then boss.  It became Banquet as we know it today 7 years ago.

We try to be more than your local record shop, with the over the counter business of the shop being about a quarter of what Banquet Records does.  The other parts being mail orders, shows and clubs, and our label.

2. What got you into the independent record store business?

Some 15 years ago I saw that the then Beggars Banquet was a the heart of a bustling music community.  I started working here part time, then full time, then managing, then owning.  It was never a life plan to own a record shop, it was way more organic.

3. Who are some of your favorite contemporary stores?

Are we talking record stores or stores?  Record stores, I like what Spillers, Rise and The Rock Box do.  Otherwise there’s a lot of parallels between us and skate stores, so I’ve a lot of time for Slam City and Reskue, for example, and proper DIY businesses in Kingston like Natterjacks and The Fighting Cocks.

4. How have things been going from a business perspective?

We’ve never been busier.  It’s a nightmare sometimes.  You have to work harder to make the same amount of money, and you’re never ‘away’ from work.  But then, in some ways, you’re never at ‘work’.  Wouldn’t change it at all.

5. What do you think spells the survival for an independent record store today?

It seems that you have to do way more than just be a shop   The stores that seem to be doing that seem to be doing alright.  So that might be a coffee shop, being a distro, putting on gigs or whatever.  Its all valid, and its all added value for the customer.  Cant wait for the VAT loopholes to be closed allowing us to compete with play.com and amazon.com  but I’m sure there’ll find a way around it.  Having said that the biggest problem we have is high street rent and rates.

6. What are some of the coolest thing labels have done with you? Instores? Promotions? Sales?

There’s been loads.  We do loads of great shows many of which are tied in with album releases, so stuff like Vampire Weekend, The Mystery Jets and even Rizzle Kicks playing for us have been great!  Some of our rogue gigs and instores have been super fun.  The 8AM Frank Turner instore will always be remembered.  We’ve had some UK exclusives on some releases from some of our fave ever bands.  That’s fun.

7. Why do we need record stores?

Music communities need music stores.  So many great gigs and great music scenes happen in part because of the central place in the music community to help their growth.   Opinion, care, knowledge, quality control, economies of scale, choice are all intrinsically tied in to an indie store.  Be it a record shop, a hardware shop or a skate shop.

8. What kind of taco is your favourite?

I love a chomp.

9. Who are your top 3 favorite bands right now?

The Mezingers, The Wonder Years, Spycatcher.

10. What is your favorite thing about your store? And you can’t say the customers. That’s like saying Einstein or Ghandi when asked “If you could meet one person, living or dead…”

Just being that close to so many great bands, great music and great gigs.  It’s a buzz.

11. What are your goals for the future of your store? Long term and short.

Just wanna keep doing what we’re doing really.  We have plans for a festival in June, the labels picking up, and we do loadsa shows (last year we did over 200) but we are and always will be a record shop, and that’s the thing we always wanna look after most.