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Hoodlums owner sees future for music store in digital world

STAYIN' ALIVE: Even with the onslaught of iTunes and online music, Hoodlums now located at Guadalupe and McClintock is still doing well. (Photo by Jessica Weisel)
STAYIN' ALIVE: Even with the onslaught of iTunes and online music, Hoodlums now located at Guadalupe and McClintock is still doing well. (Photo by Jessica Weisel)

As online music distributors like iTunes are making brick and mortar shops seem obsolete, one independent record store owner sees opportunity for success.

Seeing blessings in disguise is nothing new for Steve Wiley, owner of Hoodlums Music & Movies.

After six years in ASU’s Memorial Union, a fire closed down the entire complex in fall 2007, and Wiley used the window of opportunity to take a gamble and move instead of renewing his lease.

The new location, at 6434 South McClintock Drive next to Changing Hands Bookstore, is different and the same.

It still sells music, but the customers have changed. At ASU, Hoodlums was swamped for five hours a day on four days a week, and dead on the weekends. Now, it has a steady flow of customers throughout the week.

The students that used to weave lines around the store and buy hundreds of the latest pop album have been replaced — Wiley’s new customers have mixed tastes. They want rare editions and obscure artists that can only be found with special orders.

It’s these new customers that will make or break the new store. On a Saturday this month, Wiley helped an elderly woman find a Christian CD she had been looking for. Not having it in stock, he offered to special order it.

“You can’t afford to have tons of random titles, hoping that the one fan of a band will come in and see it,” said Wiley. “You have to be able to special order.”

Wiley knows he can’t compete with the ease and selection of digital music sources like iTunes, but he isn’t fazed.

Instead, he is selling to the collectors — people who need to hold something in their hands to feel an attachment to the music they love.

“The thing about [the MU] store is, no matter how much you loved us, you’re gone in four years. Here we can build more of a customer base.”

The new Hoodlums opened right before the current economic slump, so Wiley said he still doesn’t know his store’s full potential is.

“Who knows what could happen if [the economy] turned around tomorrow,” he said.

Even with this, Hoodlums is making up for previously high new release sales by expanding into used music and movies.

In the MU days, new releases would sell 600 copies daily, but a large part of the profit from new releases goes back to the record label. With used merchandise, the label doesn’t take a cut.

“We get way more used product out here,” Wiley said. “You’re not going to carry nine pounds of records in your backpack. Here people can pull their cars up with nine crates of albums.”

The results of this new approach are easy to see. The South McClintock Drive location doubled the floor space of the previous store. Used records line the walls, with everything from Lady Gaga to Led Zeppelin on display.

The atmosphere is upbeat and contagious, said Damon Hintz, who was visiting from Iowa.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” said Hintz, with his new deluxe edition Whisky Town album in hand. “We don’t have stores like this in Iowa.”

Wiley said he thinks that Hoodlums’ attitude comes from two things — the employees and the fact they are independently owned.

Hoodlums received a Phoenix New Times Award for “Best Indie Spirit” in 2009, confirming Wiley’s philosophy.

“Our goal has always been to be involved with the community. It’s just a different community,” said Wiley.

Hoodlums regularly hosts concerts and record signings. In the past, the store would have to get permission from ASU to host events in the MU. Not so at the new location.

Last month, Ozzy Osbourne, stopped for a book signing at Changing Hands, which Hoodlums helped promote. Close to 4000 people waited in the shopping center for the event.

In the digital age, the future of Hoodlums is unknown, but Wiley said his store will continue to improve the community.

“Running this store is a labor of love,” Wiley said. “I try to wear who I am on my sleeve. I’m not in it for the money.”

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