Dearborn’s Stormy Records tests out new business model during the pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused severe anxiety for many business owners, but for the owners of Dearborn's Stormy Records, it's a positive opportunity to test out a new model for their business' future.


Windy Weber, who co-owns the record shop with Carl Hultgren, says the pair had been contemplating closing their shop at 13306 Michigan Ave. and focusing on their online business for about a year before the virus hit Michigan. The duo has been making ambient music together as Windy & Carl since 1993, and Weber says they've "spent the last 20 years promoting other people's music through the store and not giving our own creations enough attention." Their lease is up in about 18 months, and Weber says that it could make a logical endpoint for the physical storefront.


Weber estimates that Stormy currently makes 30-50% of its income from online sales on its website, eBay, and Discogs pages. Now, Gov. Whitmer's executive order closing nonessential businesses has forced Weber and Hultgren to rely solely on those sales for the first time.


"One, this is a very good test for us to see how much we can still accomplish without having the doors open," Weber says. "And two, we are generally very careful with our money. So things might be slim, but this situation has not given us any fear of having to close our doors or go out of business."


Weber says she was grateful for the announcement of Whitmer's executive order this past Monday. The record store was unusually busy March 14-16, but Weber says traffic plummeted from there and she began to question both the safety and the financial sense of staying open.


"While we wanted to stay open for the option of people coming into the shop because they didn't have anything to do, we also were relieved with not having to make the decision ourselves anymore," she says. "You know, a couple of extra dollars each day is not worth getting sick."


Weber says online business has stayed steady so far this week, and customers from across the country are now buying records that she and Hultgren normally would have chosen to spotlight in the physical store.


"I like that part," Weber says. "I'm grateful for the option to still have some income."


She and Hultgren are also taking the opportunity to clean and organize the shop, including "boxes and boxes and boxes" of used records that they've bought but never gotten around to processing.


"We've been doing this for 20 years and we have lots of stuff that's just been crammed in places," Weber says. "... So we're never short of doing work on the computer."


Weber is far more dismayed that the March 27 release of Windy & Carl's new record, "Allegiance and the Conviction," happened to fall during the outbreak. Weber says a new album is "usually quite a celebration for us," but this time it's "sort of weird and foreboding."


"It's like, 'Gosh, we haven't done a record in eight years. Now we've put one out and the world's in the middle of a pandemic,'" she laughs. "It just feels strange."

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Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @patrickdunnhere