When Mike Himes began selling records in the early ’80s, his business was slow to catch on.
“I would do crossword-puzzle books the size of phone books and just sit there,” he says. “But eventually, little by little, the word got out and we just kept growing.”
That phone-book reference sounds dated, now. And records and CDs, well, they seem to be going the way of the Yellow Pages. As a result, Himes’ record store, which in its prime had two metro Detroit locations and a famous clientele, closed last month.
“It’s been sad,” says Himes, the 52-year-old founder of Record Time on Gratiot near 11 Mile Road in Roseville. “But it was wearing me out trying to stay alive. It’s like I was paddling upstream, or bailing out water, or whatever analogy you want to use. We’ve been in survival mode for three or four years, really.”
After months of hope and denial, Himes decided just before Christmas that it was time to close for good. He stopped restocking the CDs and albums, stopped buying used records, trimmed the store hours, cut the staff. Discounts grew bigger by the week as he tried to clear the stock before the store’s closing, which happened near the beginning of March, when Record Time became yet another local record store felled by digital music.
Himes began working in record stores as soon as he was old enough to get a job. “When I was a kid, I’d get my paycheck and go straight to the record store,” he says. “So I wanted to work at one.” After stints at two other shops, he and a co-worker opened Record Time in 1983 in a little storefront on 10 Mile Road in Eastpointe with $3,000 and their personal record collections. Several years later, at its peak, the store was averaging about $3.5 million in sales annually for a few years.
He moved to the Roseville building in 1995, and things were so good he opened a second store in Rochester that moved to Ferndale in 2001. The two stores complemented each other and reflected the culture of each location. Roseville sold more rap and metal; Ferndale specialized in electronic and alternative. And both did quite well.
But the main store, a big brick box that hugged the sidewalk, was a must stop for DJs and local musicians. Once, in the early ’90s, a young Kid Rock was working the turntables and some pesky kid kept challenging him to a rap battle. He was so obnoxious that Himes stepped in, saying, “‘Hey kid, calm down. This is his day here. Maybe one day you’ll have a chance.’ ” He turned out to be Eminem.
Then digital music changed everything. If people weren’t buying songs online, they were swapping them for free.
“They basically just stopped showing up,” Himes says. “In a way, I don’t blame them. The record-industry stuff got overpriced. They’d gotten big and fat and they weren’t giving consumers what they really wanted. You just felt cheated and it felt good to stick it to them.”
The Ferndale store, specializing in more contemporary genres, was the first to see sales plummet. Himes closed it four years ago, figuring he’d have a better chance at survival if he consolidated and went back to his roots: used records, collectible classic rock, and special orders. It worked for a while, but there was no denying the trend. He went from having 35 employees at the peak to seven near the end and, even then, there were days when more employees than customers roamed the floor.
Clutching a stack of clearance CDs as he stood near the shrinking bins in the store’s closing days was 46-year-old Mark Chuhran of Fraser. He wasn’t taking the store’s demise well. “It’s horrible.” he said. Not a chain-store kind of guy, Chuhran doesn’t shop online much. He’s now reduced to shopping garage sales, flea markets, and trade shows to get the kind of music he likes, in the forms he likes.
Mostly, though, it’s the banter and the expertise Chuhran will miss, the interaction that an old-school record shop offers. “Ask anybody who works here about any artist, and they know who they are, Chuhran said. “You go to Best Buy, they have to look it up on a computer.”
Dan Tolliver, also 46, echoed a similar sentiment. “Some of the stuff I like is out of print, and it was nice; you could come here and maybe you could find it,” he says.
No more, though. No more rush on Tuesdays, when the record labels would release new albums. No more intimate in-store concerts by touring artists. No more samples of unfamiliar music through the store’s headphones.
Himes already got himself a job at a local framing shop, his first work outside the record business since he was a teenager. It’ll be awkward at first, he guessed, to work for someone else after being his own boss for so long. Then again, no matter how much technology has advanced, at least people still like to print photos and put them in frames on the wall. At least there’s job security there.
It took a while, but in the end he accepted that a lifetime of selling music was over, even if some customers were reluctant to move on.
“They’re bummed because they hate to see an independent guy go, they hate to see a part of Americana go,” Himes says. “Some people just don’t want to use the computer. They want to buy their music and hold it. They’re going, ‘Where are we gonna go now?’ ”