The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

June 30, 2010

Tune Town at home in Old Town

Record store owner never felt right in mall

MANKATO — Some might think Carl Nordmeier’s a little crazy. After all, what smart businessman pulls up stakes on a successful store in the city’s commerce center and moves?

Well, Nordmeier might well be crazy. But he’s also a guy that knows his business and, more importantly, knows his customers.

Nordmeier owns Tune Town, Mankato’s only record store to survive the digital revolution when others have failed. Ernie November has been gone for years, as have Musicland and Sam Goody. But Tune Town remains.

Now, after vacating its space in the food court area of River Hills Mall, Tune Town is up and running in its new store in the Old Town area of Mankato across the street from the Oleander Saloon.

Early customers already like it better.

When asked what the value is of having an independent record store in town, Megan O’Toole said, “Greater than you can put into words.”

O’Toole and her companion, John Pietz, agreed they didn’t care for the River Hills Mall version of Tune Town.

“The new location is great, for sure,” said Pietz, a few seconds before Nordmeier handed him the special order vinyl copy of Growing’s latest release. “I hope they make it.”

Now that he’s here, Nordmeier has big plans for the place. But it took him a while to find it.

He says his plan all along was to spend a few years taking advantage of the good deal the mall offered him to get a record store in the building. Eventually, however, he knew he wanted to move to the downtown area.

Tune Town began, by the way, in Faribault. Nordmeier, who hails from Morristown, had been traveling to Burnsville as a teen and young adult when he wanted to buy music. After failing to win an MTV contest to win a record store, he resolved to save the money necessary to start on up in Faribault. The dream became reality in 1993.

Later, he opened his store in University Square near the Minnesota State University campus. It was tough going there, he said, because no one could see the store. But it developed a loyal following.

Once he opened the mall store, he closed the doors on the original store in Faribault, which had been seeing lagging sales. And now that they’re out of the mall and into Old Town, Nordmeier says he’s hoping a resurgence in that part of town, as well as a resurgence in vinyl, will help turn this version of Tune Town into his most successful.

When customers walk in, they’ll see about 1,200 square feet of new and used CDs and records, DVDs, posters and T-shirts. They’ll also see a checkered stage that Nordmeier hopes will occasionally be occupied by musicians doing in-store performances.

Eventually, shoppers will start to see more gift items. That’s where the industry is heading, Nordmeier said.

It’s impossible to survive solely on the sales of new CDs. To survive, record stores have to evolve. In Tune Town’s case, that will mean more, for example, Beatles coffee mugs, Rolling Stone Magazine handbags, etc. By this fall, record players will be available at Tune Town.

As for sales, Tune Town isn’t like a typical mall record store.

“Our No. 1 seller is Mumford and Sons, not Justin Bieber,” said Nordmeier.

And that may have been why the customers didn’t care for the mall location. Mumford and Sons is a hot seller on college radio charts, but a definite no-show on Top 40 radio. Mall shoppers are much more likely to be of the Top 40 persuasion than alternative rock.

Nordmeier says his clientele has changed a little bit. Whereas he used to see a lot of customers between 15 and 25 years old, now he says most of them are between 20 and 55.

Nordmeier said that probably sometime next year he plans to knock out the store’s back wall and expand into the rest of the space at his new location. When he does, the gift items will occupy the front of the store while used records and CDs will be in the back.

For now he’s trying to get the word out. He’s using Facebook and Twitter to communicate with friends. Even then, he said, sometimes it’s hard to let people know. When he opened on Riverfront, one customer came in thinking Tune Town had returned after being gone for several years — the person was unaware of the mall store.

Nordmeier said his store is a destination, meaning he won’t have to rely much on foot traffic. Having said that, he’s thrilled about what appears to be a spark of activity in Old Town.

Several new businesses have opened, including his, and Riverfront Park has just opened. While it hasn’t materialized yet, Nordmeier said he hopes Old Town’s growth will help his business.

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