Walk into Farwell Music, 2218 N. Farwell Ave. on any given day and you'll see a wide swath of Milwaukee's music lovers represented.
There's a goth couple at the counter hoping to nab some ready cash for their unwanted CDs. Ten feet away is the now-retired former journalism bigwig flipping through the used jazz CDs. Over there, looking through the rock and roll compilation CDs is a long-time East Side fixture whom you can see in the shop nearly every day.
What they all have in common is that they love not only music, but also the act of perusing album covers, scouring bins for treasures and talking with others who share their passion.
"The focus of the corner 'collector' music shop like this one is pretty different from what a lot of people who listen to music are looking for," says Luke Lavin, who opened the shop about eight years ago in the space that formerly was home to Earwaves East record shop. Lavin had cut his teeth in the business as the only employee at the now-defunct 2nd Hand Tunes on Murray Avenue.
"Granted, anyone who likes music can pop in and find a CD or record for reasonable cash, buy it, take it home and listen to and enjoy it. But for a lot of people who shop here, they are looking for something out of the ordinary that they can't always find at the big chains or they actually like flipping through racks of CDs and records and looking at the covers and reading liner notes or using the listening stations, instead of browsing lines of text online and checking out 15 or 30 second sound clips."
So, is Farwell Music something of a haven for music junkies?
"Absolutely," says Lavin. "Saturdays especially, when a lot of people don't have to work and want to debate or just shoot the breeze about music. Any time you're selling something that people can be passionate about, it is inevitable that you'll meet some colorful personalities."
And at Farwell, there's plenty of music to debate.
Along with Atomic Records, Rush-Mor and Lotus Land, Farwell is one of the few places in town where you can pick up vinyl versions of new releases - usually imported. Lavin also brings in orders from the country's largest reggae distributor a few times each year, feeding the habit for fans of Jamaican music. Above all, he and his sole employee Ken Chrisien, spend a lot of time digging through the boxes of used LPs, 45s and CDs brought in by customers looking to get cash for their old music.
Both Lavin and Chrisien have encyclopedic knowledge of music of all stripes and aren't afraid to ask advice from regulars who are even more well versed in their areas of interest. The result is a well-stocked shop full of not only rock, but also jazz, classical, soundtracks, soul, blues and more. The shop also carries some used DVDs and videos.
"We don't always keep out tastes out of it," Lavin admits. "In some ways that is what makes a store feel the way it does. We always try to stock what we like, but the longer you're in the business, the more that list will change. I think we strive to have a little bit of everything, but the nature of the business -- dealing mainly in used goods -- dictates that variety is key."
Is that variety enough to keep the threat from downloading and chain shops at bay? Lavin, who opened the shop before Amazon and Napster were flourishing -- doesn't appear too worried.
"In some ways it's good when someone decides that since they have their whole collection stored on their iPod or their computer or whatever and they decide to sell their whole CD collection. I get some pretty good CDs, compared to someone selling off a handful of CDs they no longer listen to," says Lavin.
"For people who collect records, there are never enough good records to satisfy. Milwaukee has plenty of vinyl hounds and they come in all shapes and sizes. You have the audiophiles who will tell you straight up that they just sound better. You have the DJs who have to have it on vinyl -- have you ever watched someone DJ with CDs? It just isn't right. And you have the casual listener who has a CD player and a turntable and they'll buy it however they can get it."
And Lavin doesn't even see other local collector- or vinyl-focused shops -- like Atomic, Rush-Mor and Lotus Land -- as competition.
"They definitely all have their own character and specialties," he says. "I occasionally shop at Rush-Mor and Atomic myself as well as having their respective owners occasionally stop in here to find something. It's more like a good Italian restaurant in the same neighborhood as a good Mexican restaurant and a good sandwich shop. They don't really compete. They all offer something a little different."
Farwell Music's phone number is (414) 271-9033. The shop is open from noon until 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
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.