B-Side and neighboring State Street businesses face possible displacement

The long-running downtown record store’s owner says he hasn’t heard from his landlord about a proposed development.

The long-running downtown record store’s owner says he hasn’t heard from his landlord about a proposed development.

Photo: Steve Manley, right, and his son Brendan Manley working behind the counter at B-Side on State Street. 

A planned development on State Street would likely push out B-Side, downtown Madison’s last remaining record store. Several other small businesses on the 400 block of State also face possible displacement. 

The Wisconsin State Journal reported on Friday that developer JD McCormick, LLC’s project would involve demolishing three buildings the company owns on the 400 block. Those buildings currently also house Freedom Skate Shop (which has been an instrumental anchor point in the city’s push to make skateboarding more inclusive), Sencha Tea Bar, and the City-run Culture Collectives pop-up shop program, in addition to apartments upstairs. In other words, it’s a part of State Street that actually still embodies what people like about State Street. (Full disclosure: B-Side is a sponsor of Tone Madison.)

Demolition would start in September if the City approves the project in time, the State Journal reports. There are still several steps  before McCormick gets formal approval to move ahead, including a Wednesday, February 9 meeting of the city’s Urban Design Commission.

Colin Smith of McCormick told the State Journal the company had been in touch with all the commercial tenants. But as of Friday, owner Steve Manley said, no one had reached out to B-Side. When I stopped by the store on Sunday afternoon, Manley still hadn’t heard from his landlord, but had gotten in touch with District 2 Alder Patrick Heck. (District 4 Alder Mike Verveer represented the location until January 1, when the city’s new Common Council district map took effect.)

“I first heard about it via Bob Koch at Isthmus, who emailed me Jan. 10, saying he stumbled upon a proposed demolition list on a City website, I believe,” Manley says. “I was taken aback but not completely shocked, as we were only allowed a month-to-month lease when McCormick Properties acquired our building(s) close to three years back. Not allowing a longer lease was a red flag indicator that landlord plans were afloat.” Staff at McCormick did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Heck told Tone Madison that he found it “extremely disappointing” to hear that no one from McCormick had been in touch with Manley. While Heck hasn’t come out fully in opposition to the project, he has several concerns about its potential impacts on affordable housing, the proposed demolition of historical buildings, and whether or not the proposal’s height and design is appropriate for the area.

Update (2/9/2022): After this story was initially published, representatives from McCormick did reach out to B-Side on Tuesday. Channel 3000 has more details.

Photo: An exterior shot of several buildings on the 400 block of State Street. In the foreground are two of the buildings that would be torn down to make way for a proposed development.

“From what I’m hearing there’s kind of a lack of communication between some of the business owners and the property owner about what’s happening and what their options might be, and that’s concerning,” Heck says.

If the redevelopment goes forward, Manley says he’d like to relocate the store. “Far from ideal but I’m not ready or able to retire,” he says. 

B-Side opened in 1982. Manley began working there a year later, became a manager, and eventually bought the store from founders Dan Jenkins and Ralph Cross. 

“I feel that B-Side will continue, somewhere, if not where we have been for nigh-on 40 years,” Manley adds. “Of course, it’s best and easiest to stay put, but [relocating] might not be a terrible thing in the long run.”

Madison still has an impressive variety of independent record stores for a city its size—MadCity Music and Sugar Shack on Atwood, Strictly Discs on Monroe Street, the electronic-focused JiggyJamz on Fordem Avenue, the punk- and metal-heavy The Door in Monona. They have adapted, and at times even thrived, during the pandemic and before that decades of upheaval in the music industry. The Door actually opened a few months into the pandemic.

B-Side used to have a lot more company. Ear Wax, just around the corner on Gilman Street, closed in 2018. On the 500 block of State Street, a location of Oshkosh-based chain The Exclusive Company closed in 2012

This would also not be the first time one planned development single-handedly displaced several long-time independent downtown retailers. On the 300 block of State Street, Core Spaces has proposed a 10-story project that would take up most of a city block. Businesses within its footprint have already relocated, closed permanently, or closed in anticipation of relocating, including Community Pharmacy, PowerNine Games, Casa De Lara Restaurant, and A Room of One’s Own. Madison needs more housing and density, and at this point the ongoing wave of ambitious redevelopment seems inevitable. But it’s not clear whether the City really has a plan for managing that change in a constructive way, getting out ahead of the ongoing displacement of existing businesses and housing.

“Do we just sit back and take what comes our way piecemeal or is there some greater vision that can help guide our decisions related to redevelopment?” Heck asks. “Oftentimes we’re in reactive mode.”

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