After three years as a unique vendor for counter culture paraphernalia and an influential member of the underground music scene in Tulsa, local record store Under the Mooch, 1425 S. Harvard Ave, is closing its doors.
Like most small businesses across the country, owner Bart Ford can trace the beginning of the end back to its origin. It started more than a year ago when an economic recession hit the nation and turned the international financial system upside down.
The store's customer-base of music enthusiasts and local business supporters kept Under the Mooch open comfortably for the first two years of commerce. But once the small band of patrons began watching their wallets, or lost their jobs, things like 7" rockabilly singles and Joy Division posters held less of a priority in their budgeting. And Ford felt it immediately.
Poor sales limit a business's ability to re-invest capital back into new inventory, which means less new merchandise, explained Ford. So, the few diehard supporters that continued to visit the shop began seeing the same familiar album art time after time.
"I would look through my shelves and see I have the same old stuff," he said.
Thus, began the downward spiral where people buy less as a result of a small selection, which further limits the offerings. The cultural premise of 'The Mooch' also limited Ford's ability to draw new customers.
"Tulsa is not that huge of a market for what I wanted to do," Ford said. "When you're in a niche market, it's hard to pick up new customers."
Stuck between debt and a hard place, Under the Mooch did not close in 2008 or even the beginning of 2009. Ford is quick to attribute the extended livelihood of the store to the support of his girlfriend Emily Paschal who runs EP Waxing Studio next door to 'The Mooch.'
"We would've closed down a year ago," Ford said. "Without her support I would not have been able to keep (Under the Mooch) open as long as I did."
The sensation resulting from the planned closure of the store is, for Ford, both bitter and sweet. He said that in hindsight his personal finances and career might have been knocked off-track by the business venture. But he refrained from resentment or regret when discussing it.
He was quick to praise the store for the social access it has given him. Under the Mooch, acting as a communal conduit, introduced Ford to bands, small business owners and individuals in the Tulsa area and beyond he would not have met otherwise. He reminisced about unfamiliar touring bands who would book an in-store performance at 'The Mooch', and they would astonish him and become fast friends. These stories and friendships cannot be muddied by words like liquidation or debt.
As in any chapter of life, though, there are lessons to be learned, such as whether he would still open the store three years ago with the perspective and knowledge he had today.
Ford largely declined.
"I would have spent the initial money for inventory or something else that I was interested in. Something not downloadable."
Under the Mooch, like many music retailers throughout the past decade, has suffered under the digitization of music and the expansion of its distribution. Music is available to consumers on their computers, in the comfort of their own home--often at little or no cost. Ford used a particular analogy:
"You don't see cobblers on every corner, but everyone wears shoes," he said. "Well, everyone listens to music but not everyone goes to a record store to get it."
The increased availability of the medium threw the entire supply and demand scheme for the market off balance. Of course, Ford knew this before he opened the store, but he also knew he could rely on avid music collectors and repeat customers until the recession compromised that, too.
For those brave enough and interested in opening their own record store and carrying the torch that Ford held aloft for years, he had some advice:
"Open a clothing store with records in the back. Or a video store or a book store."
Ford confesses that while the potential profit on record sales is good, in a town the size of Tulsa, it is often not consistent enough for good business. So, he suggests having an alternate focus and sell the albums on the side. He espouses the business model of a company like Amazon.com: An entity that started selling books over the internet but quickly branched out to offer music, software, clothes and much more.
A local example Ford offered was the music retailer Starship Records and Tapes, a store that has successfully branched out far beyond the typical record store fare.
The closing date of the store remains a little hazy for Ford. He plans on shutting the doors for good by the end of January but if the space is leased for February it will shut down sooner.
Because of the scheduling, he is currently unable to plan some kind party commemorating the life of Under the Mooch. But that does not make it impossible. He requested that interested parties periodically check the store's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/underthemooch). The page will also feature information about available discounts and deals as the final days of the store approach.
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