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January 31-February 6, 2007

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On the Corner Music

Analog vs. digital: Can On the Corner Music win with a vinyl strategy?

Cornering the Market

Two first-time record store owners challenge the MP3

By Mike Connor

JUST LAST YEAR, Tower Records—one of the world's largest chains of music retailers—went out of business. To many, it was a sign that records, tapes, CDs and DVDs are becoming a thing of the past. But rather than accepting that the teraflop servers at iTunes have won, Jeff Evans and his business partner Lori Braithwaite did some well-timed looting of Tower to start a small record store in Campbell.

On the Corner Music opened last November in an old auto parts store, across the street from Bradley Video. While they do carry a small, albeit exceedingly hip selection of CDs and DVDs, the focus is on new and used vinyl of all genres except classical, plus a few other exceptions.

"We're not selling music for someone that wants the new Justin Timberlake," explains Evans. "It's sort of like a real paring down of a Streetlight or Amoeba. I like both of those stores, but with the vinyl in particular they're starting to carry less and less."

Meanwhile, more and more music is becoming available in MP3 form. Many DJs still prefer spinning records, and OTCM certainly caters to them. But Evans says he's been selling a lot of classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to the early 30s demographic who grew up listening to records.

"It is, admittedly, more of a curiosity to a lot of people because you hear about [record stores] closing down," says Evans. "But there's still something physical to buying [a record], holding it, opening it. I mean I don't know about you but when I get burned CDs, I'm like, 'Oh, that's cool—skip.' It's so disposable."

Thirty-three-year-old Evans has been living in downtown San Jose for over a decade, working first at a coffee shop, then IBM. He's still connected to the downtown scene, in which he played drums in bands and DJ'd parties for years. When he needed business and financial advice, he talked to people like Johnny V's owner Johnny Van Wyk, the Blank Club co-owner Corey O'Brien, Circle A Skateboards owner Bob Schmelzer and Good Karma owner Ryan Summers. Conceptually, both retail and live music venues are purveyors of culture; they traffic in a sense of place, which they create with mostly local people (and maybe the odd tourist/transient) in mind. Music venues guess at what kind of music they want to hear; retailers guess at what kind of products they want to buy.

So far, Evans has enjoyed the challenge of making those guesses.

"You're constantly working on that plan, figuring out new things, number crunching, you're seeing what's going to be practical," says Evans. "I'm doing all these things I was supposed to be learning about in college and applying all of it."

He's also hoping some of the people he knows will make the trip out to see his shop.

"I have my list of people I'm waiting to see come in here," says Evans, his tone twisting. "I'm thinking, 'You go to Streetlight, but you won't go a couple more miles to check this out—what I'm doing with my life?' But you can never rely on your friends to back you up 100 percent when you're opening a business. I mean they might give you support mentally, but they're not gonna be buying everything."

Ultimately though, it all boils down to a gamble on a simple theory:

"I think the average person likes having an item," says Evans, "as opposed to just a storage blip on their hard drive."

On the Corner Music is located at 530 E. Campbell Ave, Campbell, and on the web at (408.971.0305)

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