Wooden Nickel is music to community’s ears
Record store ready to mark 40 years with celebration
On July 30, 1982, Wooden Nickel opened for business on North Clinton Street, fulfilling Bob Roets’ dream of owning his own record store. At just 23 years old, Roets had already worked at three record stores in Madison, Wisconsin, and managed Slatewood Records in Fort Wayne. When Slatewood closed, Roets and his wife, Cindy, took a chance and opened Wooden Nickel in that same location, beginning a lifetime of adventure.
Now, 40 years later, the record store is hosting an anniversary party on Saturday, July 30, at Baker Street Centre, with music from Sweetwater All Stars and Adam Baker & The Heartache, with WXKE’s Doc West hosting.
Ups and downs
The 8-track tape was still in demand when the Roets’ took over, and cassette tapes were emering. However, consumers really began to flock to the store as the CDs became readily available, causing a sales explosion and enough demand to allow Wooden Nickel to grow to six city locations that first decade.
Unfortunately, the emergence of file sharing services like Napster in the late 1990s and the creation of streaming services like iTunes led to decreased physical sales in the mid-2000s, leading Roets to downsize to the three current locations (3627 N. Clinton St., 3422 N. Anthony Blvd., and 6427 W. Jefferson Blvd.), before growing again by acquiring Neat Neat Neat Records at 1836 S. Calhoun St. in 2019.
A pillar of the community for four decades and a meeting place where music aficionados come to find the newest releases, rediscover classic albums or just talk about music, Wooden Nickel is truly a family business, as Cindy can often be found behind the counter of any of the Wooden Nickel locations, while their son, Christopher, operates the day-to-day business at Neat Neat Neat Records on Calhoun Street.
The stores have been an important part of the local music scene, and it’s hard to imagine where that scene would be if Wooden Nickel had never existed.
The stores played host to many meet and greets with national bands in those early years, but as record labels downsized, and meet and greets became less frequent, the Roets’ pivoted to hosting more local musicians, giving up-and-coming artists a venue to play while also hosting some of the more popular Fort Wayne acts like Sunny Taylor, Left Lane Cruiser, Skavossas, and Abraham (Jettingham).
Take a look at Wooden Nickel’s YouTube channel, and you’ll find over 3,000 videos, mostly of those local artists, dating back to the early 2000s, creating a digital scrapbook for the local music community.
“You know, nobody else was doing that at the time,” Roets said in a recent Whatzup interview. “I did it to help promote local artists. We developed really good relationships that way and a lot of that was fed by Battle of the Bands,” where he was a weekly judge before being given the task of overseeing the entire contest.
The annual Whatzup Whammy Awards, where he assisted for many years, was an invaluable tool as well, because it gave him yet another chance to interact with members of the scene, build relationships and collaborate on ideas.
Adapting to survive
Roets will tell you that only constant in the music business over the past 40 years has been change, but he and Wooden Nickel have managed to adapt and survive, he says, with some help from Record Store Day and the Coalition of Independent Music Stores.
At a time when thousands of independent record stores were closing nationally, CIMS bonded together over three dozen stores, giving them additional influence with labels while Record Store Day rekindled interest in vinyl, a medium once thought to be dead and buried, but now accounts for more than half of his stores’ sales, Roets said.
There’s little doubt, though, that the biggest reason Wooden Nickel has not only been able to survive in a difficult retail environment, but actually thrive, is one Roets might not readily admit: Roets himself.
Stop in anytime and Bob will be happy to talk to you about The Beatles, Metallica, and even Taylor Swift, what groups are hot at the moment, or just about anything else he’s seen and heard during his four decades in The Fort.
It’s not hard to catch him as he often works seven days a week, keeping on top of inventory to make sure every customer gets what they want when they want it.
“We’ve survived by just being stubborn and not willing to give up,” he said. “We talk to the customers every day, bring in the product that they want, and keep changing with the times.”
Along with music, the 40th anniversary party will feature food, drinks, and prizes.
Bob and Cindy Roets will serve free cake and commemorative “40 Years of Wooden Nickel” T-shirts will be available, with 25% of the proceeds designated for Community Harvest Food Bank.
“We just wanted to thank everyone who has supported Wooden Nickel Records over the years, especially the multigenerational families, who share with us their love of music,” Roets said. “One of my goals was to be Fort Wayne’s neighborhood record store, and I am proud to say I think that we have been fairly successful in making that happen.”
National acts were considered for the event, but most were booked through the fall, so local music became the focus. Roets could have picked just about any local band he wanted, as he has a relationship with just about all of them it seems, but he said he picked Adam Baker because “he’s been a huge supporter of ours, has done Record Store Day performances for many years, and is really invested in the music community. So, I thought he would be perfect as an opener.
“Then, the Sweetwater All Stars are a great choice.” he continued. “They have the best players at Sweetwater, and if we’re going back 40 years, a lot of the stuff they play are classics from that era that anybody who is into music will enjoy.”
West was one of the first people Roets remembers meeting when he came to Fort Wayne, and “we became fast friends,” he said. “Media-wise, Doc has been one of the biggest supporter’s we’ve had. The day we opened Wooden Nickel, he did a remote with us and he’s still one of my best buddies. There was nobody else we thought could do the job like him. WXKE was very important in our early years.”
What’s in a name
Roets said he often gets asked why he named his store Wooden Nickel Records. He said that in 1974, he bought a 45 single called “Lady” by Styx. The label on the 45 stuck out to him because it said Wooden Nickel Records on it.
“After ‘Lady’ became a popular radio hit, they got signed to A&M,” he said, so Styx left Wooden Nickel Records, and the label eventually went bankrupt.
With each sale, Roets’ customers receive wooden tokens, and with 10, they can be redeemed for a $5 credit.
“I liked the wooden nickel token thing, and I checked around to see if anyone was doing the wooden nickel in record stores and there wasn’t.
I decided that if I make the store “Wooden Nickel,” and I give them away, that it would probably work and it did. People still come in today, after 40 years of giving them out, and still love them like they did in the ’80s.”