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QRD #34 - Record Store Special - June 2008
about this issue
Record Store Interviews with:
The Old School Records
Angry Young and Poor
Music Saves
aQuarius recOrds
Bull City Music
Bananas Music
Luke's Record Exchange
Aural Innovations Mailorder
Musique Cité Sherbrooke
The Lazy i
Flat, Black, & Circular
Mod Lang
Two If By Sea Records
Sweat Records
Cheeky Monkey
Sloth Records
Ars Macabre
Carrot Top Distribution
QRD - Thanks for your interest & support
QRD - Advertise
Silber Records
Silber Button Factory
Cerebus TV
Silber Kickstarter
Record Store Owner interview with Chaz Martenstein of Bull City Records
September 2008

Store Name: Bull City Records
Slogan/Motto: (havenít really thought one up yet)
Year Established: 2005.  November 12th to be exact.
Address: 1916 Perry St., Durham, NC.  27705
Store Hours: Tues-Fri: 11-8, Sat:12-8, Sun: 12-6, Mon: CLOSED
Phone Number: (919)286-9640
Website: www.bullcityrecords.com
Email: bullcityrocks@gmail.com
Do You Have a Listening Station: nope, not yet.  hopefully soon.  something.
Musical Styles You Specialize in: punk/indie/garage
Musical Styles You Exclude: probably too many.  gotta work on that.
Other Items You Sell: some posters, dvds, t-shirts, zines/books.
Do you do special orders: of course!!
Do you do mail order: yes please!!
Do you do web orders: of course!!  more geared towards punk & garage vinyl.
Number of Employees: 1.  Just me.
How often do you have in-store performances: canít do Ďem anymore.  broke the floor.
Number of New CDs in stock: approx. 3850
Number of Used CDs in stock: approx. 1000
Number of New LPs in stock: approx. 400
Number of Used LPs in stock: approx. 850
Number of New 7Ēs in stock: approx. 600
Number of Used 7Ēs in stock: approx. 150

QRD Ė Why did you start your store?

Chaz Ė It was time for a move & a change of scenery.  Iíd spent the previous 5 years or so working in record stores & Iíd known thatís exactly what I wanted to go out & do.  I wanted to open a record shop for some reason in the midst of everything closing down & selling to corporate chains.  I just love music & since I canít write a song to save my life, itís the next best way of being in the business.  My girlfriend had moved to Durham & had settled in, so I followed after she enticed me with a cheap space for rent.  I visited Durham & fell in love with it.  Maxed out some credit cards I applied for online & pulled the shop together.  I always loved the idea of not having a boss, even if it meant not taking a paycheck.
Also, the fact that new releases hit the shelves every Tuesday is exciting.  Itís the only job Iíve ever come across that stays fresh & exciting.  Music is never going to just stop being made & Tuesdays are never going to decide they no longer want to release new albums unto the world.

QRD Ė How does your store particularly appeal to your city?

Chaz Ė Not too sure, guess you gotta ask my customers.  I guess the fact that Iím an independent shop run by one guy who just likes music helps.  Durham has a great music base & I just happened into a great city with great music.  Thereís a rich history here!

QRD Ė Whatís a mistake youíve made with your store that youíd warn others against?

Chaz Ė Maxing out credit cards that I applied for online.  Ouch.  Iíll be paying that interest back for a while now & it keeps the shop from new orders a little too often.  I wish I had not gone into debt.  If I could have just started small with a distro run out of my house or online & then used that to steadily grow a stock, I would have.  I hate sending so much money to the banks each month.  But hell, if it means I have a store now, it canít be too bad.

QRD Ė What do you think indie record labels could do to best help both themselves & indie stores?

Chaz Ė Honestly, I think the relationship they have right now is amazing.  & getting better.  Theyíre both paying more attention to each other & deepening their relationships as major labels & chains flounder.  Itís a great bond to see strengthen.  Iím lucky here because I have one of the best labels in the country in my backyard - Merge Records.  Itís been great having them around when I get a little jaded by the whole system.  Itís great watching them do what they do.  & itís inspiring.  I have a great relationship with my label reps, even if itís just over email, you still feel a sense of camaraderie between ya.

QRD Ė How was the representation of indie storeowners & customers in the movie High Fidelity accurate & inaccurate to your experience?

Chaz Ė Heh.  Again, I guess ask my customers - at this shop or any of the ones Iíve worked at.  Itís honestly pretty accurate in my opinion; someone definitely did their research.  Even down to the small part where Rob has the fantasy flashes of scenarios for beating up Ian (Ray) while heís in the shop with that smirk on his face.  I get those flashes more than I should.  But then you just smile & say, ďThanks for coming in.Ē  The customers are pretty dead on.
Iíd say the only inaccuracy is Robís massive record collection at home.  Címon, no record storeowner that young has that good & large a record collection yet.  Weíve all sold all our records in our shops.
The year I opened my shop, my brother gave me the coolest gift for my birthday that Iíve ever gotten.  For obvious reasons High Fidelity has been one of my favorite movies for a long time.  He went to a book signing for Nick Hornbyís new book (A Long Way Down) in Seattle & picked up a hard copy of High Fidelity instead & got it signed instead of the new one.  The inscription reads - ďTo Charles, Good luck with your new enterprise.  (Youíll need it).Ē My real name is Charles.
How rad is that?!

QRD Ė What type of research do you do to decide what to put on the shelves?

Chaz Ė Just base it off what people are asking for & what labels sell the most.  Itís hard to stay on top of things as so many people have different tastes.  Thatís the fun of the game though.  Since I run such a small operation, itís hard to have exactly what everyone wants when they want it, so I end up doing a lot of special orders.  Iím pretty thankful & lucky that people donít get more frustrated with me when I consistently donít have exactly what theyíre looking for.

Chaz Ė I like music, so I read about it all day anyway.  Pitchfork, Razorcake, MaximumRockíníRoll (yup, itís still around), webzines, friends, & lots of blogginí.  You can be on top of every trend, but youíre still not gonna have everything everyone wants.  It takes a while to get comfortable with that when youíre a new shop owner.  I still take it personally when Iím lacking something in the shop.
I just got a subscription to Rolling Stone too.  But I donít think thatís helping.

QRD Ė Is it ever difficult to find the right distributors to get something you want to stock?

Chaz Ė Not really.  I try to order from a lot of different places to keep new stuff moving through the shop.  This week Iíll place a garage order with Norton & Crypt & then next week Iíll place a punk/hardcore order with No Idea or Ebullition.  I order directly from all the big indie labels too & a lot of them keep distros on the side.  The only stuff thatís impossible to get is the self-released stuff & the out of print stuff.  Everything else is accessible if you need it & have the time.  A lot of smaller DIY labels are happy if you order directly from them, as long as you pull in a few copies instead of just one.  Every now & then though Iíll hit dead end after dead end & just give up.  Hmm.

QRD Ė What do you wish labels or bands or distributors did more of to work with you?

Chaz Ė I think it works well how it is.  Theyíre very interested in indie shops, even ones as small as mine, Ďcause weíre in it for the same reason.  We just love music.  At this point in time the music business is correcting itself.  No one in the music business strictly for the money can make it in the game anymore.  Weíre all just foolish people who love music too much.  The business is weeding itself out.
I could always use more promos though!  Thatís my payment for being in the business.  I do wish I was on more promo lists.  Free records still give me a thrill.

QRD Ė What do you think is your storeís all time best seller?

Chaz Ė I donít know if I have one.  Thatís a tough question.  Too small of a store & I only keep track with pen & paper.  I guess a good one would be Neutral Milk Hotelís In the Aeroplane Over the Sea; I havenít sold a ton, but itís one of the most consistent sellers.  Usually sells within a couple weeks of me restocking it.  Thatís a pretty awesome sign.  Velvet Underground always sells.  Beirut does real well.  Just Gulag Orchestra though.  Iím sure Iím forgetting lots of obvious ones.  Theyíre all pretty much indie releases though.

QRD Ė What do you think most leads to a particular record being a good seller in your store?

Chaz Ė A little hype.  Also if itís a record I really like, Iím more inclined to push it on someone or list it when someone asks, ďWhatís new & good?Ē I tend to force my friends to buy records I like a little too often.  Local bands sell really well because theyíre always playing out.  Plus, I guess the band has a lot to do with it too.  I am peddling their art after all.

QRD Ė How does one get an independent release into your store such that itís recommended to the clientele instead of just sitting on the shelf?

Chaz Ė Good follow up question.  Thatís a tough one.  I think itís kind of random, especially if thereís only one person working at said record shop.  If I really like something, Iím gonna recommend it a lot.  Itís also easy for stuff to get lost on the shelves because I forget to listen to everything.  Wow, yeah, I guess it depends on if the employees like it or not, theyíre your best arsenal.  You canít force it though, Ďcause then theyíll badmouth your band.
Write a record geared toward your favorite record store clerkís style of choice.  Ha-ha.

QRD Ė How do you feel about so many stores closing & how does it affect you if at all?

Chaz Ė Man.  It sucks.  Itís an interesting time.  Shops with heavy overheads for running their stores are really hurting.  I donít know if them closing affects me too much at all, aside from me just being sad for them.  Iím a small shop in a small town.  Once Best Buy & Wal-Mart finally decide to stop carrying records, Iíll be extremely psyched.  Iíll have a huge sale.  Iím too worried about keeping my own shop treading water that I canít really put too much thought on other shops closing.  Otherwise you focus too much on the negative.

QRD Ė What type of competition do you get from the big box stores (Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc.) & is it difficult to compete price-wise - i.e., do you find that potential customers will shop at the chain because they can afford to charge less for the same discs or do they support you if the disc is a dollar higher in price?

Chaz Ė The competition sucks.  But itís a part of owning a record store these days, so you canít dwell on it.  You just have to beat them in other places.  Like customer service & actually knowing your product.  I donít mind hearing what people like & then trying to match them to a new record theyíve never heard.  I get a thrill out of it.  The employees at the chain stores, though theyíre nice people, arenít there because they have a passion for music.
Itís plain & simple.  I just canít compete with them as far as the dollar goes.  I just gotta stand there & take it if a customer puts one of my CDs back on the shelf & tells me they can get it for 5 dollars cheaper at Best Buy.  So be it.  I canít ask that someone shop at my store, they do if they want to & itís awesome when they do.  When it comes to back stock, Iím actually amazed how similar our prices are.
Iíve had roommates & friends buy CDs at Best Buy because theyíre low on cash, thatís just how it goes.  Though, people are finally starting to come around to the whole thought of keeping the economy local.  Which is great.  Just remember, the more you shop at chain stores, the more your money is sent out of your local economy.

QRD Ė With portable MP3 players & iTunes, is the concept of the album (in any form) dying?

Chaz Ė It was.  But I think itís correcting itself now.  People love convenience at first, but then they start getting sick of it sometimes.  I think in the indie, punk, & garage world; itís actually having a positive effect.  Bands are trying to create more reasons for you to get their full albums.  That means better packaging & more focus on songwriting & concepts.  Itís great.  If you asked me that question two years ago, Iíd have had a totally different view.

QRD Ė How has the downloading scene impacted your sales - do you find that people buy less CDs now because they can download them for less or do you or do you think illegal downloads are more of a culprit?

Chaz Ė Luckily I opened on this side of the downloading revolution, so I havenít seen any direct effect.  I opened up after it had taken its toll.  Shops are adapting & evolving as they open up on this side of what happened.  We open up expecting the lower sales, so any sale is a good sale.
People are starting to get tired of only owning MP3s anyway.  Itís not tangible.  You never feel like you actually own it.  Your computer crashes & your collection is totally gone.  Used to be that only a fire or flood would do that, which happens way less often.

QRD Ė Record & CD buyers tend to be of a certain age (21-34), as the upcoming people who will be of that age group are mostly download-buyers, would you like stores to eventually have ďiPod filling stationsĒ hooked up to an indie network that stores can be part of?

Chaz Ė No way.  Whatís the point of the record store then?  Why would someone fill their iPod there if they could do it at home while surfing the internet?  Doing what they do on there.  I think itís a waste of time & money.  Record stores are meant to deal in the interaction of music.  The buying of a piece of wax & talking with the clerk.  Thatís their job.  I donít think those stations are gonna happen, but leave it to Wal-Mart & Costco if they do.  The music buying experience has become sterile at that point & doesnít belong in record stores.  I think it was an idea hatched a couple years ago that has missed its chance.  Itís too late, people are already getting back into physical copies again.

QRD Ė With the increase in digital downloads, low prices in mega-chains, & so many online specialty stores; what is the job of the local indie shop now compared to in the 1990s?

Chaz Ė Same as itís always been.  Weíre just seeing a return to how it was in the 60s & 70s... & 90s for that matter!!  Smaller mom & pops with knowledgeable clerks.  We might not have exactly what you came in for, but weíll recommend ya something youíll like if you donít want to leave empty-handed.
Itís still to put something new & good in your hands if you want it.  Itís still there as a gathering spot for those of us of geeky stature & unsure of normal or grown-up life outside the doors.  Itís there to put the flyers for the upcoming gigs in your face.  Itís a music spot for music kids & people like us will always exist.  So, the shops will always exist if they need to & theyíre smart.
Record stores werenít designed to make a killing as far as money goes; theyíre designed to offer an alternative to your everyday routine.  Same as itís always been.

QRD Ė What are the biggest misconceptions people have of record stores in general & yours in particular?

Chaz Ė That weíre all mean, opinionated people who will laugh at your request.  I really do want to know what youíre looking for so I can grow the shop.  Even if you think itís silly, Iím not in a position to judge, I have my guilty pleasure records in highly accessible spots at home next to my record player.

QRD Ė What is the most frustrating &/or frequent question you get from customers?

Chaz Ė Ha!  The obvious & worst one of all - ďWhatís new & good?Ē  If youíre in a bad mood, that question is like fingernails on a chalkboard.  You want to throw something at the customer.  If youíre in a good mood, it gives ya a thrill.  Itís strange that such a short & common question can carry so much weight for a record store clerk.
The customer is asking you that because they trust your judgment, it should be a flattering question.  I have no idea why it turned negative.  Iím really working to get over that though.  It boggles my mind why I have a hard time with that question!  Itís a packed one.  In thirty seconds I have to come up with a $16 album thatís gonna blow this personís mind who I know nothing about.  Itís a daunting question!  I donít want to sell them something for that much money that theyíre going to hate.

QRD Ė How do you decide who to hire as an employee & when you need one?

Chaz Ė Man, Iíd love to hire one right now!  Just canít afford it.  Gotta pay the bills first.  When you start getting burned out is a good time to decide you need one.  I passed that point a little too long ago.  Luckily I have a handful of friends that are willing to watch the shop for a couple records if I need to go outta town.

QRD Ė If you werenít in the music business, what would you do?

Chaz Ė Be in a crummy job making a paycheck that I complain about & making excuses to the boss why I didnít get whatever I needed to get done done.  Pretty simple.  Right back where I started.  Iím glad to be at where Iím at.

QRD Ė How did your schooling & previous work experience prepare (or not prepare) you for your store?

Chaz Ė Ha-ha.  I graduated college with an Art History degree from William & Mary in Virginia.  This is where I am now.  I guess while I was getting that degree, I was working in a Barnes & Noble music department, I guess that got me motivated.  I studied business books at the library while I was writing my business plan a few years later, that was kind of schooling.  I also helped manage a record shop - Bartís CD Cellar - out in Boulder, CO & that gave me more experience than I needed for doing what I do.  I took a lot of distributor contacts with me from that job.  I also helped out at ACRAT (Atlantic City Records & Tapes) in Cape May, NJ & that gave me the confidence to order.

QRD Ė Have you ever refused to sell something purely because you disliked the music, even if it was popular & would sell?

Chaz Ė Ouch.  Can I pass?  Iím stubbornly opinionated, more than I should be.

QRD Ė What is your personal ďholy grailĒ?  (i.e.  the one rarity youíve been looking for forever.)

Chaz Ė Changes from day to day.  Whichever out of print LP influenced my favorite band at the moment.  Iíd love to get back a copy of the Flesh Eaters - Minute to Pray, Second to Die on vinyl.  & maybe that Plugz record.  Thatíd be cool.  I think I only have one more Replacementsí album to go on LP & then Iíll be complete with that.  But none of that stuff is really super duper rare.  It would not be good for me to dwell on hard to get records.

QRD Ė What makes you feel like you had a good day at the store?

Chaz Ė Good conversation, good sales, no stress, the majority of my customers finding what theyíre looking for, minimal phone calls & a soda.  If I leave with a smile on my face & Iím still happy that I own a record store, itís been a real good day.  Luckily, thatís the majority of the days.

QRD Ė Anything else?

Chaz Ė I donít think so.  Thanks for letting me do this!  It was quite therapeutic.  & thanks for being patient with my lazy ass too!!!  Time to go to sleep!!!

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