By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Dec 06, 2008 at 4:30 PM

The music business might be taking a hit from digital music distribution and illegal downloading, but vinyl fiends help keep local music hot spots like Bull’s Eye going.

Despite the crunch of the tough economy, Lotus Land, 832 E. Clarke St.,  celebrates its eighth birthday at The Mad Planet on Saturday, Dec. 20. The free event features music, food and giveaways.

Co-owner John Kuester admits that the tough economic times aren’t going easy on the vintage vinyl business, but says Lotus Land has a devoted following.

"In-store business is about a sh*itty as it can get right now but we have always been more of an online business," says Kuester candidly. "Sales online are steady but I'm keeping a close eye on things."

That’s a big change from when co-owner Andy Noble -- a local musician who currently plays bass with Kings Go Forth and did DJ gigs with his brother a Super Noble Bros. -- told us in 2002 that the store was doing the bulk of its business through the front door rather than the ether.

"As of now, we are still usually making more in the shop," Noble said. "It's swinging towards the Web site more every day, though. The people who are buying stuff in here are buying really different stuff from the mail order business. Milwaukeans are still really into like, shiny new records and the Europeans are really into rare black music."

The original shop opened on Center Street in Riverwest, across from Fuel Café, in 2000. But after closing for a few months to move earlier this year, Lotus Land reopened in mid-April at its current location near the old shop.

Back in ’02 Noble said, "It was a natural extension of what we were doing, acquiring insane amounts of vinyl and meeting more and more collectors and DJs that were looking for rare and exotic music but didn't have the time to go digging for it everyday in its natural element (houses, warehouse storage spaces, etc.). Also, the space kind of magically opened up in front of the apartment we were living in."

After that, Noble, Kuester and Noble’s brother Tom -- who was a partner in the store before moving out west -- got into the action of making records, too, reissuing ultra rare funk, soul, jazz and hip-hop. That side of the business is still growing, says Kuester, who performs as a rapper and DJ under the moniker Kid Millions.

"The record label has done six releases so far and we have a few things in the works. We are also about to sell six songs from our label to the new ‘Guitar Hero’ video game ‘DJ Hero’."

Lotus Land is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon until six. The store sells records on the Web at lotusland.gemm.com.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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.