The small record store focuses on metal and punk.
The Madison area’s newest record store occupies an elusive notch in a Monona strip mall. To find The Door, you go down a short alley at 4509 Monona Drive, through a dark hallway, and into a small room where owner John Sands deals in a compact but impressive selection that focuses heavily on punk and metal LPs, both used and new.
To go with the strange space, there’s also a warped sense of humor. An old gas-station sign reading “NIGHT LUBRICATION” hangs ominously over a case of DVDs, and the store currently has a Limp Bizkit CD on sale behind the counter for $699.99. Sands jokes that when new customers succeed in finding the store, “they’ll be like, ‘oh, I know why the rent’s so cheap.'”
The Door opened in June 2020. Currently its hours are a little sporadic and announced through The Door’s Facebook page, as Sands balances the business with his responsibilities as a stay-at-home dad. Sands would eventually like to have the store open Thursday through Saturday.
To some extent, The Door fills the void left behind by downtown’s Ear Wax Records, which closed in fall 2018. Most of Madison’s record stores carry at least a small selection of heavy music, but like Ear Wax before it, The Door is the only one that treats metal and punk as its first priorities.
“On a business aspect, I know the loyalty of punk and heavy metal people and the genre,” says Sands, a longtime record collector who has previously worked at record stores in Carbondale, Illinois and St. Louis. “I know the collectibility of that genre compared to other genres, and I feel like the love of it is not as disposable.”
Of course, within metal and punk are endless variations, subgenres, and niche audiences. Considering the space, The Door reflects that variety pretty well, from black metal to hardcore to post-punk to more mainstream corners of hard rock to post-metal. Sands says he has to be “a little tight on how much new vinyl I bring in,” and The Door doesn’t quite have the space to go as deep with its selection as Ear Wax did, but a cursory browse will hit a lot of the important pockets of the vast realm of heavy music. On a recent visit I picked up a new LP copy of Sumac’s May You Be Held and was definitely tempted by a lot of other things, from a Big Black 7-inch to doom-metal standouts Yob’s Our Raw Heart.
“Everyone affiliated with Ear Wax has come through and has been really nice to me,” Sands says.
The store also has smaller selections of jazz, blues, country, folk, and rock on used vinyl, plus used cassettes and CDs, and a sideline of trashy horror movies on VHS and DVD. Sands collects everything from action figures to Simpsons memorabilia (and also has a stall at the nearby Monona Antique Mini Mall), but says that music sales are about 90 percent of The Door’s business right now. Sands was planning the store before the pandemic, which luckily has yet to shutter any of Madison’s other record stores. For now, Sands is confident that word of mouth, low overhead costs, and focusing on serving a specific audience will see him through.
“It’s insane how much record collecting has come back,” he says. “Every time I think it’s gonna plateau, it doesn’t.”