Sandwiched between Avandro Beauty Salon and a discount cellular store, right on the cusp of where south Minneapolis threatens to become Richfield, the dated and faded storefront of Know Name Records belies the living, breathing and — in recent years — modestly thriving business inside.
Of course, the interior of Know Name looks as uniquely old-school as the outside. “Footloose” and Anvil picture discs from the ’80s hang on the walls. The smell of 5,000 different basements that soaked into the used vinyl collection fills the room. In the headshop part of the store, there are pipes that look like they’re begging for a Foghat comeback tour.
As he slapped $100-plus price tags on some rare LPs on a recent Monday morning, though, Know Name co-owner Bruce Benson made it clear that the business has drastically changed yet again — this time for the better.
“We went from selling eight-tracks and LPs to CDs to the death of both CDs and LPs, and now we’re back to LPs,” marveled Benson, himself a relic from the store’s original 1977 opening. “The rebirth of vinyl has been very good for us.”
As music lovers celebrate Record Store Day nationwide Saturday, Twin Cities stores will once again cash in on the trendy retail holiday, which started 10 years ago as a way for independent shops to fight the tide of streaming and downloading music.
Like Know Name, though, many local record stores have proved surprisingly resilient and refreshingly oblivious to music industry trends that go back decades. They survived the great digital scare of the 2000s, stiff competition from locally headquartered big-box retailers Best Buy and Musicland in the ’80s and ’90s, and all the aforementioned changes in listening formats.
The Twin Cities has a plethora of record stores that have been in business three decades or longer. There are at least nine, if you count shops that changed names like Treehouse Records in Uptown (which opened as Oar Folkjokeopus in 1973) and St. Paul’s University Avenue mainstay Urban Lights Music (originally Northern Lights, when Hüsker Dü first rehearsed in the store’s basement in 1979).
Minneapolis’ nationally recognized stores the Electric Fetus and Hymie’s also fit that old mold, with 49 and 29 years, respectively. Each has been at the forefront of the resurgence in vinyl LP sales, which hit a 28-year high in 2016.
Perhaps more impressive, though, is the fact that off-the-beaten-path shops have stuck around all these years, too — like Know Name, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Saturday.
“We even outlasted the religious bookstore that used to be next door,” Benson wryly noted.
Another old one in an unhip corner of the cities, the original Down in the Valley store in Golden Valley is housed in an old strip mall along Hwy. 55 that would have made a great location for the second season of the “Fargo” TV series (set in 1979). It actually has outlived its original proprietor.
Steve Hyland, who also sold waterbeds in his shop when he opened it in 1972, died in October at age 65. His family is not only keeping the business alive — including satellite shops in Maple Grove and Crystal — but they’re upgrading the original store with about a 30-foot-square expansion and a new sign.
“Steve was obviously a great businessman to keep it alive all these years, and right now business is great again,” said general manager Scott Farrell.
Both Down in the Valley and Know Name credit their “other” specialty items for helping keep them in business during the lean years. No, not waterbeds. They have also always sold pipes, bongs, incense and other doohickeys assorted with head shops and Willie Nelson.
“That side of things has never gone down, and is doing better than ever,” said Benson.
You won’t find any smoking items at Richfield’s old destination record store, Homestead Pickin’ Parlor, but you might hear some sizzling mandolin picking when you’re shopping there. Now in its 37th year and similarly located in an old strip mall — yep, there’s a salon next to it, too — the Pickin’ Parlor sells musical instruments in addition to CDs and LPs, all centered around folk, bluegrass and acoustic Americana music.
“I think being more of a specialty shop has maybe helped us,” said co-owner Marv Menzel, who is thankful for another trend of late.
“Younger people are getting into music again, thanks to groups like Trampled by Turtles and Pert Near Sandstone locally and the Avett Brothers nationally. That’s nice to see, and nice for business.”
Know Name also has seen more young customers coming in, shopping alongside the many old regulars who have gone there for decades.
“It’s mostly people from around this neighborhood, including many we know by name,” Benson said. “That’s one thing that hasn’t really changed with record stores. It’s still a local, neighborhood kind of business.”
Twin Cities mainstay record stores
Electric Fetus, opened 1968, moved to current site in 1994 (2000 4th Av. S., Mpls.)
Treehouse Records, 1973, originally Oar Folkjokeopus (2557 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.)
Cheapo Discs, 1972 (71 Snelling Av., St. Paul, a few blocks from its original site)
Know Name Records, 1977 (6009 Portland Av. S., Mpls.)
Down in the Valley, 1972 (8020 Olson Hwy., Golden Valley)
Urban Lights, late ’70s, originally Northern Lights (1449 University Av. W., St. Paul)
Homestead Pickin’ Parlor, 1979 (6625 Penn Av. S., Mpls., Richfield)
Roadrunner Records, 1986 (4304 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.)
Hymie’s Records, 1988 (3820 E. Lake St., Mpls.)