When John Timmons announced that his music store Ear X-Tacy was closed for good on Monday, it ended the speculation that began on Saturday, when the store didn’t open.
But there’s more uncertainty around Ear X-Tacy’s closure, though it’s not all coming from fans. Promoters, venue owners and other retailers could all affected by the loss of one of the city’s cultural landmarks.
It’s not entirely surprising Ear X-Tacy closed. This is 2011 and it was a brick and mortar store (a large one) that sold records—CDs and actual vinyl records—put out by an industry that’s undergone massive changes over the last decade. And John Timmons repeatedly told the public his shop was struggling.
But Ear X-Tacy’s end caught people off guard. Even the employees.
“Early Saturday morning I got a phone call from the store manager. ‘John says we’re done,’” said employee Randy Bolton in an interview with WFPL’s sister station WFPK.
“I thought we’d maybe make it through Christmas,” he says, noting that closing seemed inevitable at some point. “December’s always a decent month. We’d pay off some bills and call it a day.”
Like so many Louisvillians, John Wettig grew up shopping at Ear X-Tacy. Now he’s part owner of Zanzabar, a club in Germantown.
“We think [the closure] really sucks.”
Wettig and other venue owners relied on Ear X-Tacy for more than shopping.
“They helped us out a bunch doing what we do here and selling tickets for our shows and that kind of stuff,” he says. “Basically we’ll all have to work a little harder now that they’re not here anymore.”
Ear X-Tacy also helped lure artists to Louisville. When an album sold at the store, it carried more weight with SoundScan, the system that tracks music sales. If an artist was popular at Ear X-Tacy, the SoundScan numbers made them look even more popular. (Ear X-Tacy manager Rebecca Mercer told WFPL SoundScan will likely start weighing sales at other local shops.)
But Rebecca Kessler, who owns the venue Uncle Slayton’s, isn’t worried about her booking power diminishing.
“Whenever I was in Ear X-Tacy, there were certainly people who bought things regularly. But they were browsers or they didn’t buy music. They bought posters or the goofy gag merchandise they’d have,” she says.
Kessler says she’ll miss Ear X-Tacy, but in some ways, the relationship her venue had with the store was similar to the one Ear X-Tacy had with people who got their music through free downloads.
“They were doing so many in-store [concerts] there,” she says. “Sometimes more than one in a day. And this is all free. And for venues such as ourselves, we don’t do free shows. It got a little wiggy sometimes.”
Based on Kessler’s assessment, the void Ear X-Tacy will leave is going to be more of an emotional one.
“No one will have that experience of walking in to Ear X-Tacy for the first time,” says Jason Pierce, the owner of Please and Thank You on Market Street.
Please and Thank You is also a cafe, and music only makes up about a quarter of the profits. Pierce’s decision to sell vinyl records is driven by the same feeling that makes people buy them. He likes the look and feel of vinyl and the large record sleeves. Many fans also prefer the quality of vinyl over digital tracks.
Most of what Pierce sells is used. There’s no need to order weekly shipments of the latest releases to appeal to both music aficionados and passers by. Other shops that sell only music in Louisville are typically smaller than Ear X-Tacy in size and selection, or they’re more specialized.
On Ear X-Tacy’s Facebook page, people have said how unique the store was and how lucky Louisville was to have it. But not many have said how unusual it was that a store like Ear X-Tacy still existed today, or that it lasted for 26 years.