Tucked out of the way in a strip mall in Oak Park, Street Corner Music is a bit unassuming and relentlessly excellent. It's by no means in the middle of nowhere, as it sits in-between the Bread Basket (who offer up a fabulous Reuben) and Book Beat (which has easily been the best independent book retailer in the area for years now). The shop is made up of about one third CDs and two-thirds vinyl, with a consistently great dollar bin. The selection is heavy on jazz, R&B, rock, and dance 12-inches. Most of it's used, but they do consistently order the best new releases and reissues. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and chill.
Co-owner and store manager Chris Flanagan will be known to most in the Detroit music community, and not just because he and Mike Rome have owned Street Corner for 23 years. Chris began working at Sam's Jams in Ferndale, starting in 1982, when he was just 22. Flanagan was also in a handful of the most fun, innovative punk bands in the 1980s, notably the 3-D Invisibles, who released three LPs and a handful of 45s. "All these other bands were being so serious and political, and that wasn't us, so we were doing this kind of monster-themed punk rock, before we'd ever heard of the Misfits or groups like that," Flanagan says. I ask if he thinks he runs the record store any differently because he's a musician. "I don't think so. We just try to be sensible, and to not piss people off and make them never come back because the prices were too high."
Metro Times: Your prices are consistently on the low side. This is one store that doesn't seem to price off of the very highest price on the Internet that one person paid for a record, one time.
Chris Flanagan: There was a record dealer from England named John Anderson who started buying out the entire inventory of closed stores, stuff like that. One thing he said that I always liked is that a lot of records that are common also happen to be great. And that many of the best records in any store are actually dollar records. And there's this idea that if you sell a really expensive record, there's a lot you can do with that money. How much good can you do, how many records can you buy, just for the cost of that one kind of silly trophy record? Like when I sold an original of the Index record a few years back for $2,000.
[At this point, longtime employee Aaron Anderson speaks up.]
Aaron Anderson: Chris once told me when I was pricing records too high "This isn't a museum; you put the records out, and you price them to move. Then you can get more records in."
Flanagan: I started buying records for myself in the late '70s, and I got a job at my first record store in the early '80s, when a lot of the records that people covet now were more common. Some records I've seen over and over again through the years, so I feel silly putting a really high price on them. I do put the wrong, high price on something sometimes. I know [I made a mistake] when the record is still there, in the bins, three months later.
MT: I like that you still carry so many CDs.
Flanagan: CDs still sound great, and there are so many used ones out there. Anyone who says CDs don't sound great is just riding some bandwagon of hearsay. I prefer records myself, and that has to do with how they sound. But I like them as objects as much as anything. As far as used records go, if I buy $5,000 of used records off someone, I'll be hurting for records in a month, again. It's hard to buy enough to satisfy all the people who would buy them.
MT: What does it take for you to sell a record online?
Flanagan: If it's a $500 record, I'll sell it online. But even $150 records, we'll just remove the cost of fees and hassle and stuff like that, mark it at $100, and out it goes, right out the door.
MT: You must meet some interesting people in here, on occasion.
Flanagan: There's lots of characters, yes. On the buying end of it, you meet music business people a lot. It's a small town, really; you can't throw a rock without hitting someone who knew the Temptations or is Smokey's cousin, and they have really cool stories, whether they're all true or not. On the selling side, you meet these collectors who are so focused and into these specialized things. It's amazing how many people have obsessive collections. It's not as unusual as you might think to find a guy in Livonia who has 20,000 bebop albums. And so many of these collectors, they're just amazing people; they freak you out.
Street Corner Music is located at 26020 Greenfield, Oak Park; 248-967-0777; Open 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday - Saturday, noon - 5 p.m. Sunday.