Ten years ago Bob Roets was more than a little concerned about the financial viability of his business. And with good reason. In seven years he had to shutter three of his six Wooden Nickel Records & Music stores. The rise of big box stores and file sharing websites had sucked the life out of independent record stores across the country. The sun, it seemed, was setting on a once vibrant and thriving industry.
But one day Roets got a phone call from some other independent record store owners who were facing the same challenge. By the end of the call, an idea had been hatched to make a last effort to save their businesses. That idea was Record Store Day. In 2008, 140 members of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores participated in the first Record Store Day.
Saturday, April 22 marks the 10-year anniversary of Record Store Day. On that day more than 1,300 stores worldwide will fling open their doors and welcome their customers with exclusive releases from some 400 artists, commemorative T-shirts, pins and goodie bags and ticket giveaways.
The three Wooden Nickel locations - on North Clinton, North Anthony and W. Jefferson - will be among them. The Wooden Nickel store on North Anthony will also feature live music performances by local musicians all day. Doc West from 96.3 WXKE will be on-hand to introduce the bands and give away tickets to Foellinger Theater's Summer Concert Series.
Sixteen bands are slated to perform on Record Store Day. In-store performances are not unique to Wooden Nickel, but few have as many bands all day long. Roets sees the event as more of a community thing than merely a chance to make money.
"Most stores around the country think it's a bother and distracts customers from buying music," he said. "We want to be a part of the community. It's a great chance for music lovers to hear different local musicians perform while shopping for music at the same time."
All three locations open at 8 am with West Jefferson and North Clinton closing at 8 p.m. The North Anthony location will remain open until 9 p.m.
Not only is it the 10th anniversary of Record Store Day, but 2017 marks Roets' 35th year running Wooden Nickel and 40th year overall in the record business. During that time Roets saw a lot of changes in the industry, from the near death of vinyl to the rise of CDs and the wave of technology that altered everything.
Roets started working at Slatewood Records in Madison, Wisconsin in 1977 while working on a degree in marketing at the University of Wisconsin. When he graduated, the owner of Slatewood offered him the job of running the Fort Wayne Slatewood store, which was in the same location as the current North Clinton Wooden Nickel. But that gig was short-lived.
"He closed his stores to get into video rentals," Roets said. "I was out of a job."
But not for long.
Since he already knew the record business and knew there was a large customer base already in place, Roets did the logical thing and decided to open his own store. All he needed was a name. But he had that figured out as well.
"In 1974 I was a young man buying 45s. I bought "Lady" by Styx. Before Styx signed with a major label they were on a little record label out of Chicago called Wooden Nickel Records. Their logo had some little wooden nickels and the Indian head thing. About the time that Slatewood closed there were nine record stores in Fort Wayne. I had to do something to make myself unique. I checked around to see if I could use the name; I could, and then came up with the Wooden Nickel tokens. People are bringing them in all the time still today. People love them. It's not a huge discount but it's something that clicked."
Wooden Nickel Records & Music clicked as well, and before long Roets had six stores in Fort Wayne. But then in the late 1990s things began to change, and quickly. Roets said the threat from alternatives to brick and mortar music stores had been brewing like an unstoppable storm for several years before the potential impact became impossible to ignore.
"It started with Napster in 1998," Roets said. "It was the first time people had easy access to music online. I started having customers coming in saying they're weren't going to buy music anymore because they could go on Napster and download it for free."
At first, Roets didn't take it seriously. Then the cash registers started ringing less often. "We started losing kids who had been regular customers," he said.
Napster was one thing. But the behemoth that is the Apple corporation insinuated itself with its iconic lowercase "i."
"The second thing that really hurt us was iTunes," Roets said. "They came in shortly after Napster. We would give out Wooden Nickle gift certificates at Christmas because people really like to give music as gifts. Then I started noticing kids were starting to get iTunes gift cards."
Billboard Magazine began publishing disturbing statistics predicting that nearly a quarter of the music buying public was going to stop buying physical forms of music, which at the time was primarily CDs.
"The record industry was at its worst in 2007," Roets said. "In my case, I had six stores in 2000. In 2007 I had three."
Across the indie record store universe in the decade following Napster's online revolution, the lights in some 3,800 music outlets had flickered out.
Record Store Day changed all that, but it took about three years for the recording industry to get fully on board. The first year only 37 new vinyl releases and four CDs from just three labels came out on Record Store Day. This year that number is up to 400 titles. A complete list is available at the official Record Store Day website.
"These are exclusive releases for Record Store Day, and they will only be available at participating stores," Roets said. "That's a big deal. We have about 4,500 people float through our three stores on that day. A lot of them are looking for those special releases. We only have a limited number of them, so if there's something specific someone wants they'd better get there early."