Vinyl Lives

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The Vinyl Lives website includes three chapters from my first book: Vinyl Lives: The Rise and Fall and Resurgence of the American Independent Record Store (Aventine Press, 2010).

Cheapo Records


Photo courtesy of Cheapo Records

A Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts landmark, Cheapo has been a familiar sight along Mass. Ave. since the mid-1970's. Wedged between the campuses of Harvard and M.I.T., the neighborhood has seen gentrification --they now have a Starbucks-- but retains its roots and gritty appeal.

Over the years, Cheapo has moved from its original location, where starting in 1948, it was known as The Cambridge Music Box and later, Albion Music. In 2006, longtime owner Allen Day moved the store two blocks east. "We've been Best of Boston in Boston Magazine, many, many times," Day explains, referring to the popular local glossy that conducts annual reader polls.

A classic record store environment, Cheapo's vibe is equal parts cultural crossroads and music industry time capsule, one that would be sadly missed by those who've depended on Cheapo for solid deals on music for all these years.

What record stores like Cheapo possess goes way beyond music. Not long ago, they were vital conduits for the flow of musical information within the culture. Trends --the rock 'n' roll revolution, for one-- owe their existence in large part to record stores. While digital technologies attempt to mimic the physical features of community, they are, sadly, empty substitutes. For true believers, the value of record stores can never be downloaded.

Cheapo 2

Photo courtesy of Cheapo Records

Talk to Cheapo's Day for more than thirty seconds and you get the impression that he knows a lot of people. Mention an era of music and he might offer a story about a performer that he worked with when he was promoting a lot of Boston area concerts. Ask a question and you will likely receive a candid insight or thoughtful observation.

When asked about what we as a culture lose if record stores like Cheapo disappear, Day is quick with his response: "Specialized information. It doesn't disappear entirely, but there's no way to disseminate it. Perhaps the Internet's taken the place of all that."

Day isn't being sentimental or nostalgic --just matter-of-fact. To further illustrate the point, he adds: "If you wanted to know how to sew a shirt, fifty years ago, you went into the store where they sold sewing stuff. If it wasn't too busy, you said to the lady, 'I'm having trouble with these cuffs,' and she knew how to do it. It didn't matter whether you were in Huntsville, Alabama or Anchorage, Alaska. That person knew how to do it. And that's gone --because you buy that stuff in Wal-Mart now, or, the equivalent, and often you have your young minimum wage people there that never really learned anything. I find in that type of store, you look for somebody that's my age or older, and most of the time, they might look decrepit but they'll have useful answers."

Day, born in 1944, grew up in nearby Lynn. The world we find ourselves in now is vastly different than how it was then. Simply put, the mixture of small businesses is absent and the look and feel of many of our nations streets has grown colder and more sterile. In today's global, corporate business model, a bland sameness covers much of the world's urban and suburban streets. There's more upscale dressing on everything.

Not only are there very few Mom and Pop types of stores around, overall, there is less character. "When we were kids, we could take the bus and the subway into Boston and we could walk around to the stores and look in the windows. And you could walk around forever --just forever-- and it's all gone."

Cheapo 3

Photo courtesy of Cheapo Records

A keen observer and self-professed accumulator, Day can affably relay both what has happened and what is currently happening. A valuable resource in his own right, he can wisely put things in their proper perspective. Surprisingly, he is a little self-deprecating about it all too. His concert promotion days, his record store years, even all that experience he offers: "You put it all together, it doesn't amount to much." And yet, to hear him tell it, you know there's more. He's an interesting character.

His years of concert promotion were good times for Day. "One, two, three, four, five times a year we would do a moderate concert. Something that might bring in 500 to 5,000 people. And we'd always bring in oldies acts --depending on the time period-- because we could afford them. So, in the '60's it was more, 'Gee, who were the big groups when we were teenagers?' Well, The Five Satins, The Jive Five, The Chantells, The Harps. You know, something like that. They all lived in New York then. Not everybody, but it seemed that way. And, gee, you could get people for a couple hundred bucks --they'd drive up. So I'd get together with one, two, three friends. And, at different times, key disc jockeys --particularly in the '60's and '70's-- were friends. So we'd get a lot of free publicity. Whamo! It was always excitement. Bringing in The Dramatics; Ray, Goodman and Brown --soul acts of the '60's and '70's --I used to go see these people when I was in my twenties-- all the time. That's what I liked. It was great doing shows."

Famed Boston DJ Little Walter was a friend; and Day knew New York show promoters Ralph Newman, and the Marshack Brothers. He is also good friends with singer and writer Billy Vera. Through him, Day says, he met Ronnie Spector. "She's a very nice person. She knew Frankie Lymon when she was in Junior High --just full of interesting stories." And through Day, Vera met Richard Foos and Harold Bronson of Rhino Records.

"'Let's get together,'" Day suggested, explaining that, "Harold was a fan" of Vera's. The Rhino Records label, widely respected for their thoughtful and thorough product line, helped Vera re-package an album of his, then languishing on the Japanese record label Alpha. "Alpha didn't work in the U.S.," Day says, "So, Billy negotiated the deal for Rhino, who had a hit record." Day also helped Freddie Cannon, of "Palisades Park" and "Tallahassee Lassie" fame, put a deal together with Rhino.

Cannon, also born in Lynn, and four years younger than Day, was a well known entertainer. "He was a big star --locally. Before he had the national hits, he was the big guy in the surrounding towns where I lived." Even though he wasn't particularly a fan of Cannon's music, Day always appreciated him as a person and a very good entertainer. "He was a wonderful gentleman. He was calm, wouldn't make any demands --no limousine, no baloney. He was just a little, nondescript guy in the crowd. Then he gets up on stage and puts on a stupendous show."

Legendary Rhythm and Blues artist Jackie Wilson was a personal favorite of Day's. Wilson's career spanned from 1957 until 1975 and included such hits as "Lonely Teardrops" and "Baby, Workout." A master showman, Wilson's performances were known for their fevered excitement --he drove audiences wild. Day remembers him well. "He always struck me as a gentleman --he was good to kids, I'll tell you that. As a performer, he was as good a singer as any."

One of Day's mentors was Swan record label owner, Bernie Binnick. "He was my Godfather --a wonderful person. He didn't screw anybody. When Dick Clark got blown apart," Day quips, referring to the Congressional hearings regarding the Payola --or pay for (radio) play-- scandals of the late 1950's and early 1960's, "the Italian went to jail, the Jew [Binnick] lost his money, and Dick Clark came out clean." In a convincing show of just how clean, early on, Clark famously divested himself of many of his music related holdings (record labels, pressing plants and distribution companies, etc.) while maintaining his innocence. Many others, like Rock 'n' Roll pioneer Alan Freed, were not so lucky. "Bernie said [Clark] was a good guy --he stood by them.

"Bernie treated his artists respectfully. Freddie Cannon spoke very, very well of him. Bernie's the one who told him to own his masters. This, at the time, was unheard of. Bernie told me years later that he knew that Cannon's masters would have some value--although he didn't realize how much. But he said he still thought it was the right thing to do. Other people just spoke well of him."

The importance of those relationships, the connectedness that Day is talking about has a through line: stores like Cheapo have long functioned as gathering places, where musicians, music industry people and music buyers interact, creating the animated conversations that serve as another form of background music heard in active and well-liked stores. "Twenty years ago, all day long, seven days a week it would be like that. There would be different age groups and different interests represented." These days, he notes, the conversations in the store tend to be less animated. "It's a different world --there don't seem to be as many music people around."

Cheapo 4

Photo courtesy of Cheapo Records

But in addition to longtime Cheapo customers, some younger musicians and their friends like to visit, on their way to weekend shows or gigs at another nearby Central Square landmark, The Middle East, "a major A-, B+ venue for national acts," Day says. "Often, I'm impressed. They're interested. They'll stop and talk, either to me or one of the employees that knows more about new music."

Day's story of how Cheapo came about is the result of two formative experiences: getting drafted; and, a dream.

In 1965, Junior year courses at nearby Tufts University were going well --until a physics course put him squarely in the sights of Uncle Sam. The Vietnam-era draft was on, but that one pesky course messed up his chances for staying in school. Failing the course "for two consecutive semesters, dragging my already not-so-hot grade point average below a certain level and becoming 1A," --a prime candidate for the draft-- his academic track hit the skids. "The moral is, don't fail nuclear physics," Day quips.

After his tour of duty, Day returned to civilian life and soon started a small business selling flowers. One night, he had the dream.

As a way of illustrating the life changing transitions that lay ahead, Day mentions a famous Gahan Wilson cartoon that he saw which originally appeared in a February, 1967, issue of Playboy. Wilson's sketch showed "a desert diner on a highway --let's say Nevada. A desert setting --mountains in the background-- and the diner was just shown as a little teeny drawing with a sign that said 'Eat.' --and a couple of cars and people. On the horizon was a monster --drooling---a monster obviously as big as two Empire State buildings and his eyes were directed at the diner.' With that image in mind, he says, "That night, I had a dream that I owned a chain of gas stations called 'Cheapo Gas.'"

Contemplating graduate school on the GI Bill, Day's flower business included a couple of trucks. Somebody mentioned that he should start a moving business, which he then did, calling it Cheapo Movers. Coincidentally, a friend of his was a consumer reporter working on the Johnny Carson Show. Carson and company ended up using bits in their on-air routine that doubled as plugs: 'A tip from Cheapo Movers: Make sure you don't put breakable stuff in the boxes without first…' It was "a little silly," Day remembers. But he got good --and free-- publicity.

Day, who'd taken up record collecting, says he "kind of fell into selling 'cutout'" -or slightly imperfect-- records. "I had the idea that you could have an all cutout, all discontinued record store --which nobody was doing in New England. People were doing it in New York, but they were mixing --they'd have records and other discontinued goods. Beacon Hill Music was in existence then, so I wasn't the first 'used' store in Boston," he says. "We did well, and I decided to call it Cheapo Records because I had Cheapo Movers. That's how the name came about."

His first store was too small. Day wanted something bigger. He found it in Central Square. Negotiating a deal with then owner Sid Rivco, --who wanted to get into the restaurant business-- he opened Cheapo with "about 1800 square feet" of retail space. By adding a stairway into the basement, the store grew to just under 3000 square feet, the way the shop at 645 Mass. Ave. remained for almost twenty years. Then, the rent shot out of sight, the building got a facelift and Cheapo got pushed downstairs --into the basement. In 2006, Day moved two blocks east to his current location.

Cheapo 5

Photo courtesy of Cheapo Records

Known locally and worldwide for his all encompassing music selection, Cheapo remains, for many true blue music fans, their first stop when visiting the Boston area. With his current store site of just under 2000 square feet, Day always impresses with his knowledge and savvy. Though times are tough for independent record stores like Cheapo, Day perseveres.

Reflecting back on the period in his life when he was doing concert promotion, Day says, "We always tried to do things right. That was because we were fans --and ultimately, not businessmen. In the long run, you succeed by cheating people, and I just still see myself as --whether it's the retail store or the concert-- I'm looking people in the eye. I'm not going to look somebody in the eye and say I brought in a fake Dramatics or Five Satins. I'm just not gonna do it."

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Independent Records and Video: Colorado Springs, Colorado


Courtesy of Independent Records

"I think it's a great time to be in the music business and to distribute music and do all kinds of things like that because there's a model that's yet to be created."

Not the kind of thing one commonly hears in the music business these days. But this is the sentiment and deep conviction of Judy Negley, part-owner of Independent Records, a seven store Colorado chain. Judy describes herself as "an eternal optimist," someone who doesn't conform to what gets passed off as conventional wisdom--she doesn't subscribe to the sentiment that the sky is falling.

"As long as we remain culturally relevant to our communities, then we're gonna be fine. There's been a leveling out of the power game when it comes to the consumer versus the distributor or record label or whatever. That's awesome. You can hear anybody. Everybody has pretty much an equal chance of being listened to. You can go out and buy that music over the Internet or in a store or whatever. It's out there, it's available. Anybody can make a CD. It's cheap, it's easy. Anybody can put an MP3 on MySpace. That just has made everything much more in the fan's favor. That's really exciting. I think people are hearing more interesting things than they ever have before; they certainly have a voice in it, more than they ever have before."

For six of Independent's seven store locations, the buildings are owned by the company. Only one store is rented, which helps the business financially. Independent is always looking for other places in Colorado to open new stores. Negley mentions that Colorado Springs, where their main store is located, has grown tremendously in the last twenty years. With the increase in population comes the other side of the question about being centrally located. Now there are larger areas of town to cover, more market area to serve.

Independent Records Colorado Springs

Independent Records on West Colorado Avenue in Colorado
Courtesy of Independent Records

For Negley, there is more opportunity--even taking into account the state of the music business, the costs of doing business, and the declines in CD sales. "We're actually looking for locations now and looking at opening other stores, if we can afford it. I should couch that in terms that I've never been able to afford to open locations, but we've done it anyway."

The Colorado Springs area has long been her home. Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1956, Negley was the daughter of an Air Force serviceman. The family moved frequently. When she was very young, her father built a vacation house in Colorado where she spent vacations and summers. When she was ten, her dad retired, moving the family west.

In the mid to late 1970s--her college years--she managed Misty Mountain Music in Salida, Colorado, then returned to Colorado Springs in 1981, three years after Independent first opened. Taking a part-time job there, she was contemplating going to law school when she realized: "I just couldn't give it up." After becoming manager, Negley says, "I just decided to make it my calling." Within a year and a half she became a partner, with one-third interest in the company.

Since there are more than one or two stores in the Independent chain, the company takes a bit of slagging from consumers--those who want their retail as music industry-free as possible. But Negley doesn't hold with the idea that small chains can't be vital to consumers. "This is an indie store," she says.

Independent Records Colfax

Independent Records on Colfax in Denver.
Courtesy of Independent Records.

Anyway, retailers aren't agents of the industry. For her, the music industry has always been mired in its own problems. At Independent, the approach to that dilemma means that they try very hard to overcome industry policies and tactics that effectively ruin music for consumers. "I think the biggest danger to the music industry has always been the industry itself. That's more pronounced now than it ever has been, but it certainly has always been a huge issue. The adversarial relationship that the industry has with consumers is unprecedented. It's so bizarre. If Toyota blamed their buyers for everything that went wrong with their cars, or because somebody bought some other car, it would be ridiculous."

At Independent, "We really try to appeal to a broad spectrum. Our foundation is in urban music and heavy metal, but particularly urban." The stores' demographics skew younger--meaning under 30. Unlike the music industry, predisposed as they are to force-feed consumers with the next platinum selling wish-it-could-be, Negley says, "We don't just choose the flavor of the month for our customers--we let the customers choose."

If they couldn't sell music anymore, there's plenty of other types of merchandise that draws people in. "If music was off the face of the earth tomorrow, that'd be a huge bummer for everyone involved. But we've always considered ourselves a lifestyle store, so we've always carried a lot of things besides music."

CDs are actually an expensive product for retailers to buy and sell, Judy explains. "So many new releases are selling at cost or below cost." Trying to compete and hoping that customers purchase quantity is a long shot, so other goods in the store offer better chances for profits.

Vinyl in the store

Vinyl in the bins at the Independent
Annex, Colorado Springs. Courtesy of
Independent Records.

"Smoking accessories, our boutique section, t-shirts"--these are good sellers with good profits. "We sell adult video, which the margins are astounding on. So we have other things besides music." If music were ever to be out of the equation, she says, "I don't think it would be nearly as much fun, but we would be able to keep going.

"At this store currently, new music is a little over 50% of our sales; used music, right around 30%; and smoking accessories and boutique lifestyle items would be about 20%. We've kind of gone against that downward music industry trend. Overall, our CD sales--as a percentage of sales--are holding pretty strong. We've dropped some percentage points there, but not phenomenally, so we're still running, overall, throughout the chain, about 55% new CDs.

Independent CDs

CD product at Independent's Colorado Springs (Platte Avenue) store.
Courtesy of Independent Records.

"We just went through Record Store Day [April 19, 2008]. It was such a positive event. We had so many people coming in just telling us how wonderful it was. We had stores that were up 78% on that day. We got this sense of…positive energy. People want to hear something positive. Why the record industry continues to get pulled out, selected as the failure of the decade, is beyond me because many things are threatened by many potential foes--not just the music industry. It's just like payola. I mean, you walk into any doctor's office and everything they have in there is given to them by someone, whether they're sending them on some junket or whatever--it's never about the drug companies.

"But we always have been on the leading edge of being responsible. That just means that the art form is more important--that people expect a certain threshold to be raised."

Independent's Platte Avenue store

Independent's Platte Avenue store in Colorado Springs.
Courtesy of Independent Records

The threat to brick-and-mortar stores posed by the Internet isn't one that gets a tremendous amount of her attention. Negley feels quite certain that people will always need actual places to shop. "I look out my window and there's thousands of cars going by on the street. I don't know about you, but I do look on the Internet--shop for things, research things--but I don't wanna be just sitting in my house all the time. I love to go out and look at stuff and get it in my hands--the whole instant gratification thing. There's something just not as fulfilling about that [sitting in front of the computer]. I definitely feel that resurgence--I hear a lot of people talking about that, a lot of our customers."

Younger generations--those Negley feels the music industry chose to overlook in favor of marketing almost exclusively to the baby boomers-- may not have the same feelings for physical stores that the boomers do. "There is a feeling of 'Oh, my God, this segment has totally dropped out.' There's no question that that's a part of it. But I think that it has always taken a tremendous amount of gumption to depend on a record store for your music--whether you own one or whether you work in one--it's always taken a certain degree of courage because it's never easy. I'm sure that maybe some people have done it better, and it's been easier for them, but for us, every day has been a little dicey. That's part of what I love about it. The record store business is always kind of edgy."

The Dresden Dolls

Brian Viglione and Amanda Palmer
of the Dresden Dolls with unknown fan at autograph
signing. Courtesy of Independent Records

Edgy or not, owning their own buildings has proven to be an essential piece of their business plan. "The smartest thing we did was get into the real estate aspect of it." The costs of renting, along with numerous other expenses, easily make the idea of operating a music store frightening--with good reason. "If I were signing a lease and it's twenty five dollars [or more] a square foot--that would have me freaked out a little." The associated costs of doing business in this day and age is "just enormous," Negley says. There's "a lot of overhead, tremendous inventories--it's very cash intensive, it's very labor intensive. There's a lot of things like that. I think there's so many things, yeah, that scare the living crap out of you."

Being a woman in a male-dominated field isn't one of those scary things. "I think most industry is male dominated. It's changed somewhat over the years, but not a lot. There's still a huge disparity between women in the workplace and men; and I feel it's more pronounced than possibly anything else, whether it be race, creed, color--whatever. I think the gender thing is a bigger thing. I wasn't raised that way, with those parameters, so I was never really intimidated by it.

"But there were certain things back in the old days that were much more obvious. Sony, for example, as a distribution company--they were blatantly sexist. It was always a good old boys club--lots of sexual innuendo and that kind of stuff. It doesn't bother me. I think it's ridiculous. I think we have a lot bigger concerns than somebody making an off-color joke. I'm anything but politically correct. There's a lot more hideous things happening than that.

"My partners and myself, we like young people. If I had to go to work somewhere where everybody was my age, I don't know, I think I would just slash my wrists. I like working around a youthful environment. It's fun and it's creative and it's innovative--they generally have more open minds."

Butch Walker     Sick Puppies

Butch Walker (l) and Sick Puppies (r) at Independent Records on Colfax in Denver.
Courtesy of Independent Records.

Negley sees more positive steps for Independent in the upcoming years. "We don't know how to do anything else. So, one way or another, we have to keep it going."

Independent Logo 2

Courtesy of Independent Records.

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Louisiana Music Factory

Photos and text apply to the former location for the Louisiana Music Factory. Their new address is: 421 Frenchman Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70116.

Louisiana Music Factory Logo

Logo courtesy of Louisiana Music Factory

Many of us know that New Orleans is the birthplace of Louis Armstrong and jazz. Most of us also know that this fabled city is home to two of the biggest ever annual parties: Mardi Gras, and the Jazz and Heritage Festival. And almost everyone who's ever been to New Orleans knows about Bourbon Street and the decorative wrought iron and stone of the French Quarter.

At 210 Decatur Street, just two blocks from the Mississippi River, across from the House of Blues, there's another great independent record store: the Louisiana Music Factory.

Well appreciated by visitors to this great city and residents alike, the store enjoys the distinction of being one of a few stores of its type in the French Quarter. Unlike some of the other area shops, at the Louisiana Music Factory, the accent is on local musicians and bands who live and work in this music rich city.

The store first opened in 1992, on North Peters Street. At that time, Jerry Brock, a locally known WWOZ radio personality, writer, and producer had the initial idea. In 2001, current owner Barry Smith, born and raised in the Crescent City, took on the full responsibility for the store when Brock left the area. Later, Smith moved the store one block to its current location on Decatur, where it resides in one of the few five-story buildings left in town.

Much like everywhere else, the musical landscape in New Orleans has changed. These days, not only is it difficult to find a record store, it is also difficult finding a music store, where musicians can get supplies or buy instruments. How ironic, that here in the birthplace of jazz, the home of much of America's own music, it is difficult for musicians to find a store that caters just to them.

Louisiana Music Factory owner Barry Smith explains that after Werlein's, "one of the oldest music stores in the country", vacated its longtime location on Canal Street, it moved right next door to him on Decatur. Though Smith is not familiar with the specific problems they faced at the time, a few years ago, Werlein's closed and is no more. "With all the live music and all the musicians here in town coming to the general area to play, it's kind of crazy that there's no instrument shop right nearby for people to get just basic things," Smith says.

Louisiana Music Factory

Photo by Linda Abbott

So, in an effort to fill the void left by Werlein's, the Louisiana Music Factory stocks a limited amount of music supplies, "like guitar strings and drum sticks --just a basic selection," Smith says. CDs, Books, DVDs, and t-shirts are also part of the product mix at his store, as are vinyl records. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina finding local sources for that format became extremely difficult.

What was once "the vinyl room" has been downsized. Overall, Smith estimates, his current floor space for vinyl is about 20% of the store's total, with yearly sales no more than 10% of the store's total.

Louisiana Music Factory

Photo by Linda Abbott

Since many local bands and musicians are on small, independent labels, their favored format is CD. This format comprises about 70% of store sales. Locally based musicians depend on the Louisiana Music Factory to promote them. Smith actively and enthusiastically supports them and stocks a multitude of locally made music.

"When we opened...we just really felt that there was a need to highlight the local music and focus on it. We definitely wanted to develop as many direct relationships with musicians as we possibly could --and we certainly have done that over the years. So I'll get a lot of musicians that come in and not only shop, but, of course, place their independent CD's in the store on consignment and play concerts in the store. I definitely have had an ongoing relationship with the local musicians from the moment we opened." With a hundred distributor relationships and 2000 local consignment accounts, there's never been a music shortage.

Louisiana Music Factory

Courtesy of Louisiana Music Factory

Born in 1960, Smith has his heart in the right place. He knows his store has an important economic role in the community.

But he is also a realist. Keeping the Louisiana Music Factory alive in the digital era, he says in his soft spoken manner, is "definitely a challenge."

"Unfortunately, the general trend tends to be against us...I want to remain a traditional, hands-on record store with physical product, where people can come in and listen and get advice and touch the CDs, which I used to enjoy so much growing up, as a kid going to stores."

In his early years in New Orleans, Smith remembers a number of locally owned stores where he could visit and find records. In the 1970's, there was Leisure Landing --with one location in New Orleans and another in Baton Rouge. In the 1980's, there was Metronome Records, Smith recalls, uptown. "That was a good store, then the oil bust came to the region and they wound up moving the store to Atlanta or somewhere.

"For the most part, I hate to say it but there weren't that many great places to buy music in the city, it was more just typical mall stores and chain stores, until Tower Records came along in about 1990. When they finally came to town, that was definitely exciting news for the music buyers, because at that point, there was just really a poor selection." At that time, Smith says, there were also a number of smaller shops for used vinyl in the French Quarter.

Later, Virgin Records came to town too, but left after Katrina. Tower is now gone as well, but there are still a few locally owned shops --in addition to the Louisiana Music Factory. "There's another store that just finally got reopened called Odyssey Records, on Canal Street downtown. In more recent years, [they've] dealt a lot with the urban market --rap and hip-hop. They [also] carry local music and oldies."

Uptown, there's Jim Russell's Rare Records. "He's primarily more in used merchandise and [rarities]. He does have a lot of vinyl and 45's and 78's."

Within the last year and a half, a new Peaches opened two blocks away from the Louisiana Music Factory, in the former Tower store location, on North Peters.

Echoing the sentiments of many store owners, Smith says he has difficulty envisioning a world where everything relating to music is computerized. "I've just been kind of stubborn about embracing some of the new formats and new technologies --especially the downloading, which is totally unappealing to me. I just feel, if it comes down to everything being computerized and electronic and download[ed], then I don't think I really want to be a part of it anymore."

Saturdays in the French Quarter are big in-store concert days, featuring local and nationally known bands. Mardi Gras in February is, of course, a big, rollicking time in New Orleans. But a little later on in April, when the city's annual Jazz and Heritage Festival happens, "That's our Christmas," Smith says --his yearly, big selling time.

Louisiana Music Factory

Rockin' Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters take the stage for Jazz and Heritage Fest 2009. Photo by Linda Abbott

With the arrival of hot and humid weather during summers, the number of visitors to the area dwindles. It's also Hurricane Season throughout much of the tropics --and in Bayou country.

Facing overwhelming devastation and loss of life in Hurricane Katrina --one of the most notorious tropical cyclones to ever come ashore on the continent-- New Orleans has been a city slowly rebuilding and coming back to life. In contrast to many who lost everything in that summer storm of 2005, Smith recounts that he was fortunate, and his store spared.

"I actually had two employees [John and Allison] who decided to stay [in the store] for the hurricane. They didn't have a way out of town and weren't comfortable staying at their house uptown, so they wound up staying here. Fortunately, when things really started happening and water started coming through, they were able to cover records and move product. They were able to board things up from inside and keep any potential people from breaking in. They were trapped in here for at least a week." Shaken by their experiences during Katrina, the couple has since moved away. "They really helped me out," Smith says.

Oddly, phone service to and from the store --during the storm and in it's aftermath-- went mostly uninterrupted. "Communications were down in so many places." Smith says. "For some reason, I could call the store and get through on a pretty consistent basis, so I was able to stay in touch with them [from] where I was evacuated to and just make sure things were OK."

The Ninth Ward, one of the most heavily flooded and ravaged communities, "took one of the biggest hits," Smith recalled in January, 2008, as did the mid-city and Lakeview areas. But, he said, there are also a few "bright spots scattered around."

Musician's Village --Habitat for Humanity's' Ninth Ward community rebuilding effort-- is one of those. "Musicians Village is definitely starting to help in bringing people back home. It's a great thing, a great idea. They [recently] broke ground on the community center that they're gonna build there, under Ellis Marsalis' name, where musicians can get together, play, practice and teach the younger kids. It's a great project. I'm really happy it's coming together."

Well known music clubs like Tipitina's, The Maple Leaf, and House of Blues are doing OK, Smith says. Many re-opened soon after the storm. Sadly, others --the Saenger and the Municipal Auditorium-- were still inactive by the summer of 2008. At that time, the Mahalia Jackson Theatre and Orpheum were undergoing renovations. Smith estimated that the Jackson and Orpheum both might reopen within a year.

The slow return to life after the storm could've stopped the city's lifeblood cold. By pitching in and helping get things going again, locally run businesses gained a tremendous amount of good will from the citizens of New Orleans. For their efforts, many business owners experienced a huge surge of appreciation. Included in that honorable light was the Louisiana Music Factory.

The big chain stores, Smith says, were "just nowhere to be seen. Mainly, local people and local businesses were buckling down and doing whatever it took to get back open --whether it was restaurants or hardware stores or just basic things that you need each day."

For many residents of New Orleans, the ordeals of Katrina have been slowly replaced with the daily challenges of rebuilding and reclaiming what once was their former city. The return to normalcy includes a return to the rhythms and melodies of life in the Mississippi Delta.

As one of only a few record stores currently operating in New Orleans, the Louisiana Music Factory continues on.

"We're kind of the only store that truly focuses on the local music. We have won Best Record Store I think, 12 or 13 years in a row, mainly [by reader polls in] Offbeat Magazine, [and] other publications like Gambit Weekly."

But even with an audience of enthusiastic supporters, it remains unknown whether younger people coming up will join the ranks of devoted record store visitors. "I don't know. The younger kids just definitely seem to be way more interested in purchasing online and downloading and don't come to record stores."

Louisiana Music Factory

Photo by Linda Abbott

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