Despite the loss of some great indie record shops over the years, record stores are not dead. In fact, one is opening soon in Bay View, right up the street from what is likely the longest-lived record shop in town, Rush-Mor.
Ken Chrisien, better known to local music fans as WMSE DJ Shopkeeper Ken, is living up to his on-air moniker and opening Acme Records and Music Emporium soon at 2341 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. He hopes to be open by the middle of September.
If anyone knows the business well enough to make a go of a vinyl-focused record shop in 2012, it's Chrisien. And he's not worried that he's diving into an empty pool.
"Record sales – actual records, vinyl – have skyrocketed in the past couple years," he says, and he'd know, having worked for nearly a decade at Bull's Eye Records and its predecessor, Farwell Music.
"There has been a rejection of sorts of non-physical forms of music. I myself have an iPod (and) iTunes and listen to stuff on Bandcamp, but there are still plenty of releases that are necessary to me – and others – in a physical format, whether it be for the artwork/packaging, spinning out at a DJ event or on the radio, or simply because I deem it too good not to have. I think a lot of people feel the same way."
While for many, format doesn't affect how music is enjoyed, for others, Chrisien included, there's more to it than simply audio signal; something that nothing can deliver quite like vinyl.
"I've never been one to nerd out on the whole sound quality of mp3's versus vinyl – or the CD versus vinyl for that matter," he says. "To me, it's about being able to hold something, see it, touch it, etc. (There's) so much more to be said about this, but that's another reason why people want/need/like record stores – it's a venue for this sort of discussion."
Chrisien says that Acme will sell high quality vinyl and CDs – new and used – and will also buy used records and CDs from the public. He also plans to host live music performances in the shop at least once a month and on Gallery Nights. He may also exhibit some visual art in the shop, too.
Rush-Mor co-owner Bill Rouleau has seen a similar boost in interest in vinyl and says his store will soon reflect that.
"Currently it's 70-30 (percent) in favor of CDs," he says of Rush-Mor's inventory. "We are however, finalizing floor plans which will tweak that rate to about 50-50 to reflect the growing re-interest in vinyl."
Rouleau says he's not worried about Acme affecting his business.
"Ken is our friend," he says. "We are fellow DJs at WMSE, we pick each others brains from time to time. He brings with him a wealth of knowledge and great vinyl. It's gonna make record shopping in Bay View even more fun for music-heads. It's always nice to have others join you in tilting against windmills."
Chrisien has a long history as a record collector, buyer and seller. He started out scouring rummage sales and thrift shops and began selling at record shows, something he no longer does.
"I realized that there was money to be made," he says. "These early sales of mine were probably nice money makers for others, as well, (since) I was only 18 years old and didn't know much about the collectible value of records. Ijust sold them at a profit from what I paid for them."
After he sold a big chunk of his collection to Luke Lavin at Farwell Music to raise money after he lost his job at a cabinet shop, he became a regular in the store above Landmark Lanes, making money through used records.
"One day (Lavin) offered me a part-time job at Farwell Music. I stayed there until it closed and then made the move over to Bull's Eye," Chrisien recalls. "For a brief moment, Luke had decided to end his career as a record store owner, but after about two weeks he reconsidered. In that time, I entertained the idea of my own shop, but wasn't ready."
But things have changed for Chrisien, who lives in Bay View. He's decided it's time to take the plunge.
"I decided it was time to venture out on my own," he says. "This idea has been in the works for several years, I just haven't been able to raise the capital needed until this year. I've been hoarding records for about five years now, probably have around 12,000 or so for stock."
Chrisien is putting his cabinet shop skills to work, building out the space for the new store and constructing all the racks and fixtures himself. He did the same when Bull's Eye opened about seven years ago on East Irving Place.
"I've lived in Bay View for five years now. I want to walk to work. I love this neighborhood and I think it's ready and eager for Acme Records," he says. "At least that's what people are telling me. There are lots of good and exciting things happening around here these days and I'm excited to be a part of it."
So, how will Shopkeeper Ken remain a shopkeeper in an era when record companies are folding and rethinking their approaches and you can count Milwaukee record shops on one hand?
"Know your customers, know what they want and get it for them in a timely fashion," Chrisien says. "Keep your inventory fresh; quality product. Be involved in the community. I plan on booking shows (at local clubs), and hopefully some of these acts will be open to performing in-store, as well. That will certainly give people a reason to stop in the store when they otherwise may have stayed at home and ordered records online.
"The shop needs to function as sort of a meeting place for like-minded people; it needs to be more than just 'a store.' Hopefully, I can achieve this goal."
Acme will be open noon until 7 Tuesday through Saturday and noon until 4 on Sunday. The phone number is (414) 882-9797.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.