Economy Mutes A Longtime Louisville Record Shop

Part of a monthlong series

In Louisville, Ky., local businessman John Timmons is trying to figure out what’s next after selling music for more than a quarter of a century.

Timmons owned ear X-tacy records for 26 years here. The shop closed at the end of October. On a recent visit, dead roses, farewell notes and other mementos are taped to the glass doors. Fans of the shop have also been slipping notes of support under the door.

“It’s tough to let go; after 26 years, this has been my child,” Timmons says. It’s the first time he’s been inside since the store closed.

It was a child born with a cash advance from a credit card and Timmons’ personal record collection right out of college. He named the store after the British band XTC, one of his favorites in the ’80s. Recently, Timmons went into personal debt again to try to keep the store afloat.

“In the last year I rarely listened to music in my office. It was more about fielding phone calls, talking to creditors and figuring out how to make the rent or how to make payroll this week. That’s not why I got into this business,” he says.

When Timmons closed the store, he had to let go of the 10 people who worked here. It’s a big store: 6,500 square feet, packed with CDs, DVDs, cassettes, albums — just about any medium on which you can listen to a song of any genre.

Timmons thumbs through the vinyl section: Todd Rundgren, Johnny Rivers, Santana, Boz Scaggs.

“We run the gamut here. We go from AC/DC to Frank Zappa and who knows,” he says.

There’s even a stage for live performances. National acts including the Black Keys and the Foo Fighters played free shows here. “Most people when they think of a record store they think of a department at Best Buy or Wal-Mart or wherever they’re going,” Timmons says. “This was more of an experience where you could come in and share your love of music with everybody.”

Now, ear X-tacy joins the ranks of hundreds like it — another independent music store that just couldn’t make it.

“Music industry is one thing. I’ve been able to survive the changes in the music industry,” he says. For example, with the advent of digital downloads, the store started an online download service.

“Kids are buying records now. Vinyl’s making a resurgence, and that’s a growth area. But I have to believe it’s the economy,” Timmons says. “The last few years have just been brutal for us.”

So brutal that last year, he made this public plea for business during an emotional news conference: “I’m not asking for a bailout. I’m not asking for a handout. I’m asking for that proverbial hand up.”

Today, alone in the store, he is thankful for the customers who stuck with him through the hard times.

“I know you’ve only got X amount of dollars. I don’t have money to spend like I did five years ago. People have priorities, and music is just not a top priority right now. That’s what’s really taken its toll on us,” Timmons says.

The timing of the economic downturn couldn’t have been worse, Timmons says, given the other pressures on his business. He says while iPods are handy, he still finds pleasure in vinyl.

Walking to a record player near an empty cash register, Timmons fires up the turntable and pulls out an album by the Louisville-based band My Morning Jacket. He chooses a song called “I’m Amazed.”

“I am blessed and I’m amazed that it’s been a great ride,” Timmons says.

But contemplating the future is daunting.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do for a real job now, since I’ve been doing this for 30-something years. I’m 56 years old. I’m so associated with this store. I’m the ear X-tacy guy. Ear X-tacy goes away, and who am I going to be?” Timmons says.

Trying to look up, he says at least he’ll have time to spend with family this holiday season. He won’t be behind a record store counter for the first time in 33 years.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.