A time of survival and rebirth for record stores.
In the past few months, bad news about Madison record stores has somehow directly turned into good news! Twice!
B-Side, as we reported in February, is being forced to relocate while another large-scale, small-business-sweeping development bears down on State Street. But this week, owner Steve Manley announced that the store has already figured out a new location—and that, perhaps miraculously, it won’t be going far, just scooching down to 514 State St. in September.
“I thought about going elsewhere and looked around but my preference and intuition said stay downtown, despite the highest lease rates in town,” Manley says. “It’s a tradeoff for proximity to UW students and general high foot traffic.” (Full disclosure: B-Side is a Tone Madison sponsor.)
This happy development follows last week’s news that Atwood Avenue’s Sugar Shack Records will live on in some sense as Madison musician and artist Maggie Denman takes over the now-closed store’s inventory and opens her own place, Boneset Records, at 2565 E. Johnson St.
This, of course, still leaves B-Side as the only record store in downtown Madison.
Freedom Skate Shop is currently B-Side’s neighbor in one of the same buildings that developer JD McCormick plans to raze in order to make way for a five-story mixed-use project. In an Instagram post, Manley noted triumphantly that B-Side’s new location will put it on the same block as Freedom, long-running local head shop Knuckleheads, and artisan jewelry and clothing store Art Gecko: “For those that say locally-owned retail is gone from State, we will be in a super-cool cluster of locals.”
This is reassuring at a time when it seems harder and harder for small businesses to stay downtown at all, much less on State Street itself. It feels like a triumph over the odds, amid the State Street area’s cultural churning and the uncertainty around rising commercial rents and housing affordability across Madison.
B-Side’s new location will be about twice as large as the lovably compact space the store has occupied for nearly 40 years. Manley promised in an Instagram post that it will have a “similar rustic vibe.” When asked to elaborate on that, Manley told me: “We hope to use the same bins, cabinetry and displays for the most part, plus many of the vintage posters.”
He also plans to use the additional room to carry more merchandise—”probably posters, T-shirts, more hi-fi equipment, other music-related gift items”—as well as expanding the store’s core inventory of vinyl and CDs. Manley says he’s “happy to have a less cramped store plus actual storage space for the first time.”
It will be just a couple of doors down from a storefront that once housed a location of The Exclusive Company. The Oshkosh-based record-store chain closed that location almost a decade ago (at the time, there were plans for another location, which never panned out). The Exclusive Company just recently announced that it was shutting down entirely. This has also spawned some rebirth amid destruction: Two managers at the chain’s Milwaukee Exclusive Company location are turning it into a new store, Lilliput Records.
In a strange way, Manley will also be reconnecting with a former employer at B-Side’s new location. “Fun fact, I worked at 514 [State St.] when it was a sub sandwich place 40 to 45 years ago when I was in college,” Manley says. It was called Suburpia—part of a Milwaukee-based chain with a long and weird history.
“It was popular,” Manley recalls. “The lunch meat was not special but I enjoyed the tuna and especially the veggie, which was shredded cheddar and provolone, melted in a steamer, then lettuce, tomato, onion, and spice blend. That was a kickass sub.”
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