Like with before a concert, the crowd shifted as the house music ended. Something big was about to happen. The crowd of 150—including local musicians, politicians and members of the press—watched as Ear X-tacy owner John Timmons stepped up before the microphone, armed with boxes of Kleenex that he handed out to the crowd, and addressed the rumors that his landmark record store would be closing.
“The last thing I want to do is close the store,” he said. “As the owner I see this store totally differently than you do—what it can be, what it is.” He added, “I don’t want to close the store. I will do everything I can.”
Timmons explained that he has been in negotiations with the managers of the property at 1534 Bardstown Road, with whom his lease ends in two months.
“I’m not asking for a bailout. I’m asking for your business. The store can survive, but it’s just not up to me anyway.”
Interest in the future of the store has swelled over the last few days, as a Facebook group, SAVE EAR X-TACY!, had gone live, attracting more than 19,000 fans in its short life. In contrast, Timmons said, Ear X-tacy’s own Facebook page has barely 4,500 fans. Timmons said that the power to save the shop is in the hands of those very people who’ve emerged over the last week to voice their support. “The only thing that will save us is you. If everyone on that Facebook page spent a dollar a day for a month, this store could live for a few more years.”
The culprit, of course, Timmons said, is the economy and the state of the music business. “Oh, the music business has been in the toilet for a long time,” he said. “I know the business is out there. We saw it for a week at Christmas.” He acknowledges that people have lost their jobs and are scared, but “the only thing that’s going to save the economy is if people loosen up a bit with their money.”
Timmons has already put his money where his mouth is: Over the past three years, the owner has used his retirement account and own personal savings to keep the store afloat while his staff has drawn lower-than-standard wages (“They could probably make more flipping burgers at McDonald’s, seriously,” he said) and no raises during that time. “I can’t let employees go; I’ve cut back store hours, as you know,” he said. “I tapped out my resources and I’m asking for support and help of people who love this store, people who made this store. Whether I’m here or not I want this store to continue.”
Timmons has options, albeit difficult ones. The current incarnation of Ear X-tacy has been at the same address for 15 years, and Timmons still has a five-year option, “but I can’t afford the rent.” He has received offers of reduced or free rent, albeit not on Bardstown Road—a strip Timmons feels to be essential to the spirit of Ear X-tacy. There has been talk of subdividing the space—800 square feet of upstairs space, which used to showcase t-shirts and posters, is now closed to the public and used for storage—and another option is to incorporate another business into the current one, "but it has to be the right fit. First and foremost we want it to be a great record store.
“I’d prefer not to move. This store belongs here on Bardstown Road.”
Timmons thanked his staff and customers. “The staff are the ones on the front line—but customers, you’re the one who made the store possible.” He talked about his love of music and how seeing the Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show” solidified his belief in the power of music. “It touched my soul,” he said. In addition to the store, Timmons’ Ear X-tacy record label has released 54 “great” records by local artists, and the store's download site, Timmons said, has “better-quality downloads than iTunes—but you can’t compete with Apple. iTunes is great, but I don’t know how much longer we can keep up the downloads site.” He is proud of Ear X-tacy’s status as a mecca for big names and unknowns, from a (very) young John Mayer playing to a crowd of 100 to the Foo Fighters appearing just hours before performing for a sellout crowd at Freedom Hall.
Still, despite his store’s impressive reputation, Timmons admitted that he was a little embarrassed. “It’s hard for me to ask for help,” he said. “The economy has killed us.” He stressed that shopping at Ear X-tacy just this week isn’t going to sustain the store—or the rest of the businesses along the Bardstown Road corridor. “I just decided to put a face on what’s going on in the Louisville community,” he said.
“I’m not a businessperson—I work in a record store, “ he said. “I just wanted to be the kid behind the counter selling records. Thirty-seven years later, I’m still selling records.”
Ear X-tacy is located at 1534 Bardstown Road. Its Web site is at www.earx-tacy.com, and you may also call 452-1799. Get out there!
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Photo: Courtesy Ear X-tacy Records