Archive for Monday, September 28, 2009

Record store retains relevance in digital age

Downtown fixture now taking a spin in street-level Mass. Street location

Josh Mahoney, Lawrence, thumbs through the record bins at The Love Garden, 822 Mass. The store is moving from its longtime second-story home at 936 1/2 Mass. to new street-level digs.

Josh Mahoney, Lawrence, thumbs through the record bins at The Love Garden, 822 Mass. The store is moving from its longtime second-story home at 936 1/2 Mass. to new street-level digs.

September 28, 2009


Vinyl records still make up a large part of the inventory at Love Garden.

Vinyl records still make up a large part of the inventory at Love Garden.

So, in walks this kid with the perfect name for an optimistic college student — Will Pass.

Really. That’s his name. And he comes flying through the door of the Love Garden, a borderline iconic record shop that has called downtown Lawrence home for nearly 20 years now. He’s obviously in a hurry and obviously a man on the move.

“I’m about to go on a five- to six-hour road trip,” he says by way of an introduction as he blocks the view of a beautiful Gordon Lightfoot album jacket that is getting primo space on the shelf. “And I need a good CD.”

These are the types of moments the guys working the Love Garden counter live for. Somebody comes in and throws them a ball of clay and tells them to mold. Not even two seconds go by before Kelly Corcoran, the store’s owner and operator, provides the answer.

“You’re going to buy this,” he says pointing to the CD that he’d just stuck into the store’s player a few moments earlier. “Relatively Clean Rivers. You don’t know it, and it rules.”

Say what? Relatively Clean Rivers? Is that a band or a half-hearted EPA slogan? Surely Mr. Pass will take a pass.

But no, he throws his debit card on the counter without hesitation.

“Rock on man,” he says. “That’s exactly what I was looking for.”

And then he’s off, to hit the road, no more than two minutes after he arrived.

“You just witnessed a transcendental Love Garden moment,” Corcoran said to a visitor. “Those are our favorite moments, when somebody just comes in and says ‘help me.’ He didn’t have to spend an hour researching it on the Internet, and he wouldn’t have found it anyway.”


It is a moment that has been playing itself out time and time again. But this time it was different. To get his copy of Relatively Clean Rivers (1975 country-rock, by the way), Mr. Pass didn’t have to climb up perhaps the most famous staircase in Lawrence.

For nearly 20 years, the Love Garden has been one of the few retailers that has figured out a way to make a living from high above Mass. Street. The store has occupied the second-story space at 936 1/2 Mass., directly above The Toy Store.

And to get there you had to go up that staircase wallpapered with jacket covers ranging from Pat Benatar, Neil Sedaka, Pat Boone Sings Irving Berlin, and of course, Arkansas Traveler’s Banjo Favorites.

When you reach the top, it gets no less eclectic. 1970s-style paneling covers the walls, some of it still stained walnut, other parts primed purple. Band posters, T-shirts and even an old sign advertising a $350 bass that is guaranteed to get you the ladies, line the walls.

“We would just keep putting up another layer, and we never took a layer down,” Corcoran said.

Until now. About two weeks ago, the Love Garden moved down to the ground level of Mass. Street. The store moved into the former Old World Pottery Building at 822 Mass. The old location at 936 1/2 Mass. will remain open for about another two months.

Better visibility and a better chance of attracting spur-of-the-moment shoppers drove the move, Corcoran said.

“I felt like that space looked like Lawrence 20 years ago,” Corcoran said. “It always reminded me of how Lawrence felt back in the ’90s when I was running around downtown. It still reminds me of that time, but I think it is a time that has kind of passed us by.

“There will always be a nostalgia for that space, but if nostalgia is the only reason to stay, then it’s time to go.”


Discounting nostalgia is a funny thing to do for a guy that stares at a six-foot neon Johnny Cash sign that hangs from the store wall, and is surrounded by about 25,000 vinyl albums.

Love Garden sells a little bit of everything, but vinyl albums are the bread and butter. Out of the 40,000 pieces in the store (the tally is expected to grow to 80,000 in the new location) about 60 percent of the stock is big records that spawned both big hair and big bands.

But Corcoran may be correct that it is not nostalgia that fuels the sales. At the old location, Nick Riley paints a very non-nostalgic scene. Tattooed and armed with an iPhone, Riley stands over the stacks of vinyl Googling information about albums that interest him. He’s not trying to relive the past. He just thinks vinyl gives music a new dimension.

“With everything going so digital, this is a way to have a physical experience,” said Riley, who is a drummer for the Cleveland-based band Mystery of Two. “With a record, you have to sit down and deal with it.”


The records help keep places like this going in the Digital Age, but Corcoran is convinced the repartee plays just as big a role.

People come in wanting to talk all the time. Most aren’t nearly in as much of a hurry as Mr. Pass. Most love to linger and laugh about, well, almost anything music related: How many times a song has been remade (or covered, if you want to sound cool), lyrics from the Stones, or about the days when the counter help used to spin tunes at KJHK.

“Music hounds are our primary customers,” Corcoran said. “We rely on them to come and dig through the store.”

Sometimes what they are looking for may surprise you. Yes, psychedelic rock is still big in this town, but these days Corcoran likely would pay you more for an African band album than he would for Pink Floyd. The reason: Because he’s heard Pink Floyd before. He hasn’t heard many of the African bands, which are all the rage on the vinyl scene.

“The rule is, if we don’t know what it is, we want to know what it is,” said Corcoran, who said he couldn’t even estimate how many hours a day he listens to music.

That type of musical curiosity may be the biggest magnet that keeps people coming in even during an era when they can listen to nearly anything on the planet from their home computer.

“I call it the sickness,” Brad Shanks, a 33-year old store employee, says to describe the music bug he’s caught. “People come here because they want to go to someplace where they know they can talk to other people who have the sickness, too.”

Corcoran doesn’t think a cure will be found soon, even in an age where the Internet fiercely competes for people’s entertainment time. Yes, music isn’t the “juggernaut” it was in the ’50s. It isn’t what it was even 15 years ago. But most people still have the beat in them somewhere.

“I think I’ve got at least 10 more good years here,” Corcoran said. “Maybe then things get weird. I don’t know, maybe we’re just an antique store by then. We’ll see.”


CLARKKENT 8 years, 8 months ago



Bill Lee 8 years, 8 months ago

I'd say the most famous staircase downtown is the one at the Jazzhaus, especially with the musicians who have to lug their equipment up it in order to play.

Love Garden's stairs were a pain to climb, but when I came down I was almost always carrying music, so it was worth the trip.

puddleglum 8 years, 8 months ago

yeah, but the difference is jazzhaus blows and love garden rox.

Mike Wagner 8 years, 8 months ago

The love garden is cool IF you dont mind cat hair all over everything! (No Thanks!!) I prefer Kief's Downtown Record store... They have been locally owned since 1959...

ps. The Jazzhuas is Easily the best bar in this town!!!

basil 8 years, 8 months ago

The new space is great and is on its way to being a new Lawrence icon but the old space was fantastic, and I'm betting Corcoran thinks so too. You don't move tons of records on a redecorating whim. More to the story here. But whatever: viva Love Garden wherever it is!

Tex 8 years, 8 months ago

Weaver's looks like Lawrence in the '90s, too--1890s!! Do they need to move? I think there may be more to the story, and the LJ-W either didn't get it or didn't print it. I agree with basil; I bet Kelly's sad to leave 936 1/2 and that's why it sounds like he's giving short shrift to the old location. The new place will be a fine home, but let's not so quickly forget all the famous, were-famous, and never-will-be-famous bands that graced the floor at the original location, not to mention the sometimes wonderful, sometimes cranky, sometimes pretentious counter jockies who made it what it was, not to mention the four-footed furballs that enlivened the dusty old barn, not to mention the tens of thousands of records that changed hands there, not to mention the thousands of wonderful customers who didn't have to climb those stairs but did, repeatedly, not to mention Everything But Ice, not to mention...

Tex 8 years, 8 months ago

R.E. Love Garden vs Jazzhaus:

I wonder whether there have been more disappointed people who climbed the stairs to the Jazzhaus expecting jazz, or people who climbed the stairs to the Love Garden expecting a garden store (or, for that matter, love).

Sigmund 8 years, 8 months ago

Good people, great store, the only problem with the Love Garden is the missing time.

I can't tell you the number of times I trekked up those stairs just to look at the new arrivals, 10-15 minutes at the most, and walked out 2-3 hours later. Doesn't happen every time, just often enough to have convinced me there is a warped vortex in space/time. And don't think for a moment that the owners are not aware of the problem. I have talked with reliable sources (who for obvious reasons refuse to be publicly identified) who have privately admitted to me that they are aware of the problem and that is has existed for years. Nor is this impact isolated to just a few unfortunates who are ultra sensitive to such rips in "time", such reports are quite widespread.

Can any of this be true, you might ask in hushed tones and, why has none of this become public? Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. No matter how improbable it may seem the reason none of this has been widely reported is because of a giant cover up by those in "power" (including the LJW) that has gone on since the 60's. Those few who know the secret can be identified by their octopus tattoo and those who are then given special privileges and discounts. Those few who discover the secret, but refuse to be marked, just suddenly disappear without any trace, not even as a faded memory.

Best of luck to Love Garden in their new location but be warned, if I discover that rip in space/time follows you from your old location it will be added evidence that none of this was "accidental."

Mel Briscoe 8 years, 8 months ago

love garden is cool. my boyfriend is definitely one of the people w/ "the sickness". i don't like going w/ him to the love garden because of it... he just stays up there, rambling on and on and on and on...

oliveoyl 8 years, 8 months ago

Loved the old space, love the new space. Best of luck guys! Those of us with the 'sickness' will follow you anywhere.

thelonious 8 years, 8 months ago

"The sickness" - yeah, that's exactly what it is.

Many times I have thought of popping in on my lunch break to check out the new CD arivals, only to keep walking on as there is no such thing as a quick visit to Love Garden. Once in there, a check of new CD arrivals suddenly expands to a check of the vinyl racks for a copy of a treasured old recording, then a random browse through some more vinyl and used CD's to see if anything random pops up, etc. Before you kow it, an hour or more has gone by. So most of my visits have been on Saturdays when I had no pressing obligations.

I also check out used record stores whenever I travel (most recently St. Louis this summer), and I have never found a record store as good as Love Garden. Lawrence is blessed to have such a great record store - rock on, Love Garden!

Celeste Plitz 8 years, 8 months ago

I'll miss the old location, but I look forward to getting to know the new one. It's one of the first places I go to when I get back into town. It's unique, a real Lawrence treasure for sure.

sad_lawrencian 8 years, 8 months ago

I hate to be the lone dissenting opinion on this page, but I made the mistake of walking into the old (upstairs) location while some guys were packing boxes and carrying them out of the store (it was the early afternoon on a weekday and someone on the phone told me they were open).

No sooner did I have a foot in the door, when one of guys practically shouted at me that the store was closing and I should visit the new store. I said, well do you have (insert name of artist/genre in question) and he said, "Yes we have it, but that disc is here in this (old) store and so therefore you can't buy it. You'll have to wait till we get it moved to the new store before we'll let you go through the inventory."

I asked if I could just get the disc from whatever box it was in and purchase it and be on my way. Then the employee went into this speech about how I'd have to wait till such-and-such a time when the new store has the entire inventory and everything is sorted and cataloged and blah blah blah.

After talking and arguing with this man for five minutes, I finally thought, screw it, I'll go somewhere else. I walked down the street to Kiefs, they didn't have the album I was looking for, so I got in my car and drove down to Hastings, and sure enough, it was there.

Moral of the story: just because it's a famous local institution, doesn't mean it's always going to be a good experience for the customer. That employee could have spent 2 minutes helping me find that disc I was looking for, let me pay for it, and I would have been on my way. But that didn't happen, and now I have a bad taste in my mouth.

If they didn't want people coming into the old store, why did they tell me on the phone it was open for business? And why was the door unlocked? No signage anywhere also?

I did visit the new store later that day, and it looked like a big (nearly empty) room with record bins strewn here and there. Couple of the guys gave me awkward looks as I walked in and looked around. I stayed for about 3 1/2 minutes and then I left. Probably won't be going in again.

pizzapete 8 years, 8 months ago

The Love Garden is a great record store period. One of the best I have been to and I have visited many in the U.S. and Europe. Best of luck with the new location. I am eager to get in there to get my fix.

jafs 8 years, 8 months ago


If they're not open for business, they shouldn't tell people they are open.

Simple solution.

A restaurant wouldn't be open for business if it was relocating.

I found the Love Garden staff to be arrogant and unhelpful when I went there some years ago, and have not returned.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.