The U.S. economy is getting better, observers say. Maybe slowly, but it’s getting better.
The Great Recession and the changes wrought by the digital age decimated many industries, and the market for brick-and-mortar record shops has long been on the deathwatch list. The situation was made perfectly clear in Louisville in 2011 when Ear X-tacy, the city’s biggest (10,000 square feet in what’s now the Panera Bread on Bardstown Road) and most famous record shop, closed.
Smaller shops have endured in Louisville. And a new one is coming from an unlikely place.
Guestroom Records is expected to open in Clifton in October. The new shop, at 1806 Frankfort Ave., will be Guestroom’s third location. The other two are in Oklahoma—the owners currently have one in Norman and two in Oklahoma City, but one of the OKC shops is closing.
Co-owners Justin Sowers and Travis Searle will launch the Louisville shop along with Sowers’ partner Lisa Foster, a Kentucky native. The trio took a few moments to jointly answer some questions via e-mail about the new shop.
What exactly attracted you to Louisville? It seems, uh, distant?
Travis and Lisa had been contemplating a personal and professional move for a while when they visited Louisville last March. During that visit we were honestly overwhelmed by how much we liked the city, and how much it reminded us of other cities we have lived in and visited that we loved.
Louisville seems to have an excellent blending of music, food, culture, diversity and progressive spirit. While sitting in the Silver Dollar we felt a bit like we were visiting Austin. The hillside view to the river on Frankfort Avenue reminded us of San Francisco. Hanging out at Zanzabar reminded both Lisa and Justin of nights spent in Minneapolis. And we all love the Louisville Beer Store on Market (to be very honest, our first visit there back in 2011 probably put Louisville on our radar). Ultimately, Louisville was attractive precisely because it’s not distant; it wraps all these elements of places we have loved and/or called home into one package. The fact that we get to move to the city where Lisa was born, where she has friends in town and family down the road, is icing on the cake.
What experiences have you had in Louisville? What do you know about the city?
Most of our current experiences have really been talking to people, eating excellent food, and just getting a general feel for the city. We learned about Louisville from excellent Louisville ambassadors. During that first visit we stopped in at the Garage Bar on Market and simply talked to people about what they liked about their city. They were gushing and that really stuck with us. You could tell that people loved living here. We could never have considered this move without the help of local Louisvillians (special thanks to our new friend Jake Philley).
What attracted you to the Clifton neighborhood?
While sitting at the Silver Dollar bar on our first trip, Lisa and Travis noticed that the music for the entire restaurant was a turntable playing a host of country and rockabilly records. We loved it. And then, incredibly, the bartender put on a record by our friend and Oklahoma native J.D. McPherson. After dinner we took a walk and coincidentally wound up at the American Printing House for the Blind, where Lisa’s mom worked over 40 years ago. It all felt serendipitous. (Plus, Jerry’s collection of memorabilia around the corner? Oh my God, who doesn’t want to walk past the Nixon Statue of Liberty on their way to work each morning?)
So when we spotted the retail space across the street on this last visit, we were hoping it would be a good match for us. Frankfort Avenue is an interesting blend of historic Louisville and new commerce. From a business perspective, there seems to be a lot of movement in this neighborhood—there are awesome established independent businesses on this street with new local bars, restaurants and shops opening. We also liked the idea of being able to participate in end of the month Frankfort Avenue Trolley Hops.
Plus, it didn’t hurt that local people whose ideas we came to respect also suggested we look into retail spaces on Frankfort Avenue. For us, Frankfort Avenue just made sense. We’re excited to be there.
How big will the Louisville Guestroom be?
Approximately 1,500 square feet.
Describe the atmosphere of Guestroom? What sorts of music are you guys most into, and do the stores reflect a certain taste? Or is it a pretty wide variety?
Guestroom tries to keep a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. There are sitting areas with listening stations at both stores. Original album cover artwork by Brooklyn artist Steve Keene, shelves of LPs or old show posters cover the walls. In our OKC location, you can entertain yourself with the friendly obese store cat name Tony! Toni! Tone! (or just Tony for short). We value a wide variety of music in both our personal tastes and in our choices of store inventory. When you walk in, it is just as likely that you’ll hear NWOBHM as the latest indie release.
What are your thoughts on the market for a record store in Louisville?
What struck us on our visits was the range of record stores currently in operation in Louisville.
You have long-standing histories with Underground Sounds and Better Days records. We were really impressed with Astro Black and how great a collection Jim had tucked back behind Quills (We hear he’s opening new space soon and are excited about that!) and the folks at Please and Thank You are doing something we’d never seen before, mixing vinyl with coffee. We liked that vibe; it’s definitely the kind of coffee shop we’d like to hang out in, and their record collection was cool too.
While Ear-X-tacy may have closed its doors, it’s apparent to us that its spirit, and the way it connected the city to music, is still very much alive. We hope we can give Louisville even more of what it seems to want—a place to find a broad range of music, help learning about new artists to listen to, and a site for creating community.
Favorite Louisville musicians—go.
There are many awesome bands coming out of Louisville. It would be silly not to mention My Morning Jacket, Bonnie Prince Billy/Will Oldham/Palace, and Slint. Pajo’s Misfits cover record was in our listening stack for well over a year. Houndmouth’s (out of New Albany) new album on Rough Trade is totally solid too.
We are equally excited about going to hear live local music in Louisville. We’ve really liked what we have gotten to experience thus far. Native was great when they opened for Wire last month. Mote let us listen to rough mixes of a new single they have coming out soon, and we are looking forward to hearing more from them.