Goodbye, Corner Records. Hello, Satellite Records. The shop at the corner of the shopping center on West Main Hill is moving closer to it customer base in the Vine Neighborhoods.
With wavy '60s font and a warm splash of pastel colors that spell out "Corner Records," a painting by a local artist welcomes patrons into this musical nook on West Main Street. While the store’s stacks of cassette tapes and bins of vinyl records may cater to aficionados of seemingly outdated music formats, the store’s also a hub for local culture.
The burly alto saxophonist who leads Saxsquatch and the Bridge Band, Jared Seldner, was cutting a block of Swiss cheese before performing free jazz. The banter soon ensued. "Twenty-two dollars for Radiohead B-sides? What is this shit?"
A local experimental noise artist, Sid Redlin, became the store’s temporary salesman when he convinced customers about the groundbreaking studio recording techniques by the Moody Blues. Everyone becomes friends at Corner Records.
The flannel clad co-owner Sean Hartman, with a scraggly
blond beard that rivals Azlan’s mane, envisioned Corner Records as not just a record store, but as a doorway into the Kalamazoo music and arts community. The store books bands, hoists up local art, and distributes local music.
Hartman first moved to Kalamazoo from Battle Creek in the fall of 2009. His friends from home began to attend Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, so he moved with them and started finding jobs. "I got connected, started doing shows, formed my band, and got a job here."
He tours at least once a year, whether it’s across the East Coast, throughout the Midwest, or in the heart of the South with his experimental rock band Forget The Times.
Since working at Corner Records in 2009 he has honed the store’s aesthetic to recreate a late-‘60s ambiance.
Between posters of Bob Dylan and a turntable churning out James Brown funk tunes, the store has become a worthy successor to Boogie Records--Kalamazoo’s nationally renowned record store throughout the ‘70s to ‘90s. (Even Robert Plant once bought records there.)
To help meet the rent, the store sectioned off a space to fit a makeshift barbershop for a man for whom English is a second language. The staff began a search for a new place with cheaper rent in a more pedestrian friendly neighborhood where students can meander over.
Hartman wants the store to better serve local music fans by moving Corner Records to where a bulk of them live: the Vine Street neighborhood. By the end of June, Corner Records will be moving from West Main to South Westnedge.
Hartman sums up their reasons in a staccato list: "Closer to student housing. More foot traffic. More street visibility. Better parking."
As it will no longer rest on a corner, the store will be renamed Satellite Records. He says, if all goes according to plan, they’ll open doors July 1.
A New Local Record on Record Store Day
Corner Records opened its doors to a line of more than 30 customers for National Record Store Day on April 19, an informal holiday to celebrate local record stores. After hauling in a shipment of more than 1,300 records, Corner Records brought in pastries from Fourth Coast Cafe and costumed DJs from the local college radio station WIDR 89.1 FM.
"For the first two hours people could barely move," says co-owner Flip Miller. He tips his Detroit Tigers cap down while printing off a receipt, then says, "We matched last year’s sales within the first hour."
The store is most popular among Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University students, but it attracts a full range of customers. Regardless of age, music junkies want their fix of R&B, soul, and rock music. Steven Sexton, a Kalamazoo College sophomore, says, "every time I go there I get an overwhelming sense of how much Sean cares about music."
Hartman’s goals shifted after the arrival of his daughter, who just turned 1 year old this spring. "I’ve had to prioritize a bit more and learn to say no to more projects," he says. When he first moved to Kalamazoo he not only worked at Corner Records, but also for the local music venue The Strutt and gigged more often with his band. Roles since then solidified among his collaborators and coworkers. Other band mates stepped up to handle booking while he stepped down from most day-to-day tasks with his record label, Already Dead Tapes.
Hartman’s many projects and his vision seem infectious to the local arts and music community. As Sexton says, "given the fact there's not only a space for live music in the building, but also a record label running out of there, it's hard to not get a sacramental sense about making purchases there."
The work of Hartman's label can be seen immediately past the cashier where a shelf of independently distributed cassettes lies wrapped in either plastic, paper, or canvas. Each tape is customized differently, and Hartman noted his preference for this medium because "tapes are cheap, easy to produce yourself, cost effective, and there’s an aesthetic appeal over CDs."
He’s scoured the country’s record stores for new ideas. "I don’t try to make the Corner Record Store different from everybody else; in fact, when I’m looking at other record stores I’m thinking about the things they do that I like and adapt it."
Music as Active Listening
Whether selling cassettes or vinyl records, Corner Records primarily caters to those seeking a vintage format of music listening. Though their choice of music formats are rigid, the genres they offer are not. Jazz, blues, R&B, World, classical, bluegrass and country, indie, and rock all have their own sections. "I appreciate as many genres as I can, and I have no problem selling something whether I think it’s cool or not," says Hartman.
At Corner Records music is an active pastime, not a passive experience that provides a background for dull moments of the day. There’s little skipping around songs with vinyl records and cassettes, customers listen to music as the artist intended it to--from Side A to Side B. So customers are also making a statement with their purchase.
Hartman says, "if nothing else, I try to put in a lot of effort into this place." Between repainting the space, constantly renewing its stock of records and tapes, displaying art work by locals, and booking bands into the space, Hartman reshaped the record store into more than just a store that sells records. Welcome Satellite Records to the Vine Neighborhood this July.
Colin S. Smith is a Kalamazoo based writer with experience in a wide variety of publications.
Photos by Colin S. Smith