A CD retailer tries to buck the trend

David Calkins

Photo By Dennis Myers

It took a certain amount of faith and nerve, not to say foolhardiness, to open a CD store, Discology, in 2006 when they were dropping like flies (www.discologyreno.com). David Calkins took that risk amid a certain amount of skepticism that he would still be operating in a couple of years. He still is.

This has got to be an uphill kind of thing. The technology leaped over CD stores. What made you do it?

My original intention, while more than 10 years in the making, was to bring to the store people that loved to shop, people that loved to treasure hunt, people that like to talk about music. And unfortunately, to a greater or lesser degree, you can’t do that online. So for me, a lot of this is about [the] social aspect of being in a music store, shopping in a music store, learning about new artists and new music and having that full experience that unfortunately you just don’t get.

So has it worked out that way? Do you get people in here shooting the breeze about music?

Definitely. My best clientele are the ones that I was able to develop that come in here every week, and we talk about what’s new. We talk about what they’re interested [in] or they’re trying to find. I do a lot of research so usually when they come back the next week I’ve got information for them, or I call them, but usually it takes place here in the store, and we end up having a powwow about it. I learn something about an artist that I otherwise would never look deeper into. They get what they want in terms of what they’re buying or what information I provide them. So for me, it’s more than just, “Give me your 15 bucks. I’ll see you later.” There’s an exchange, so for me that’s the value.

The location’s not bad—Sierra and California—but you’re on the second floor and out of the line of sight.

I would definitely admit that being upstairs is not everybody’s first visual for the store. They don’t always think to look upstairs unless you’re in a mall that has two stories. So definitely it’s been a handicap, but I also believe that for the people that have come and found the place—word of mouth being the best advertisement ever—that’s what it’s going to take the next person to come upstairs. … It’s definitely a challenge, but I think once people have been here, then after that it’s not as big of a deal and then the word of mouth makes it easier for the next person to get here.

There are places like the big box books stores that offer CDs and a social setting, coffee bars.

I worked in bookstores for years. … When I go to bookstores, I don’t see people talking about music and huddled in clusters. I see it as just an adjunct, kind of a side business that just happens to be under the same roof. And I’ve noticed in recent months the scaling back of stock and quantity, which to me doesn’t indicate that it’s necessarily doing as well as they’d like it to do, either.

What did you do before you were doing this?

Just prior, I was working for an independent cell phone company, but before that I worked for three major record stores over the last 10 years. I worked for Tower Records back in the mid-90s, I worked for Recycled Records for over three and a half years, I managed a Wherehouse before they went bankrupt, and before that I worked in bookstores. So I’ve had a lot of retail experience and a lot of experience in running a store—buying, selling, trading, doing the numbers at the end of the night, taxes.

And what happened to Tower and Wherehouse didn’t discourage you?

Everybody asked at the very beginning, “So why are you opening a store when everybody else is closing?” And I still come back to the mantra of, “It’s something I think that people will miss if it’s not here.” … For everybody that says, “Thank God you’re here. I’ll come back,” that makes my day.