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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.