On a warm evening in early April, Kimber Lanning, director of Local First Arizona, a non-profit organization working on improving local communities, stands in the tiny parking lot behind Stinkweeds, the Valley record store she has owned for 23 years. She’s wearing a business casual outfit complete with a dark shirt that complements her brown shoulder-length hair, a skirt and heels. Lanning appears to be taking a moment by herself before she ventures into the record store to greet customers.
The small Phoenix parking lot Stinkweeds shares with its retail neighbors — HTC Body Piercing, a body piercing and tattoo shop, Frances, an indie chic apparel and home goods boutique, Red Hot Robot, a vinyl toy store and Smeeks, an old-school themed candy shop — contains only seven cars, but that number would grow as the evening went on, as numerous people would come to file through the rows of CD’s, records and magazines Stinkweeds has to offer.
Lanning, who opened Stinkweeds Records’ original location on Dobson and Guadalupe Roads when she was 19, and also went on to open Modified Arts in downtown Phoenix in 1999, as well as spearheading Local First Arizona, has been active in the local community for well over 20 years. She is well known for being supportive of local businesses and artists of all kinds.
Once inside, Lanning is greeted by the store’s day manager, Lindsay Cates. Cates has been a friend of Lanning’s for 18 years and an employee of hers for the last 11. A few people are already waiting to speak with Lanning and she greats each one with kindness and interest.
Cates said in a later interview that Lanning is the most positive person she knows and is “a total pleasure to work with.” Cates also mentioned how Lanning is a “respected person in the community” and that occasionally she will meet fans of Lanning’s in the store.
“People want to support whatever she does,” Cates said.
Lanning first and foremost said that she views herself more of a social worker and less of a local business owner because she’s always willing to listen and usually remembers everyone’s story. A man Lanning hadn’t seen in five years stopped by Stinkweeds that evening, and even though so much time had passed, she remembered his name and family. Their conversation lasted over 20 minutes.
Lanning was born in 1967 in Okinawa, Japan where her father was stationed during the Vietnam War. A year later, Lanning’s family would move to Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, where her mother decided to stay with her three children while Lanning’s father went off for a third tour of duty.
Lanning’s family would go on to become permanent residents of Arizona, continuing to live in Glendale.
“I grew up in the neighborhood of 59th and Northern,” Lanning said. “And stayed there in the same house until I decided to go to ASU and study architecture.”
Lanning graduated from Apollo High School in Glendale in only three years. In 1985, she moved closer to the University for her studies. However, Lanning’s time spent at ASU was short.
In 1987, Lanning opened the first Stinkweeds store in Mesa. The business would go on to move two more times — in 1989, to Dobson Road and Baseline Road in Mesa and in 1996, to Apache Boulevard and close to Terrace Road in Tempe.
The Apache Boulevard location is where the store would stay until 2006 when the store was closed, and the then-semi-new second Stinkweeds location on Camelback Road and Central Avenue in Phoenix would become the one and only location.
Lanning said that closing the Tempe location was a part of “a giant transition” that she was going through and that she had never intended to keep both locations open. When Lanning found the current Stinkweeds location, she still had a year and a half lease on the Tempe building and after the lease was up she said that sold everything in the store (bins, signs, etc.) to a couple that now owns Slowtrain record store in downtown Salt Lake City.
Lanning said it was her passion for music and entrepreneurial spirit that first led her to open Stinkweeds. “My passion for music and entrepreneurial tendencies. I mean, school was just not for me and it’s still not for me. It just made perfect sense,” she said.
Lanning said that at the time there was a hole in the market and nobody was doing what she wanted to do.
“I just went for it,” she said.
Dario Miranda, an employee at Stinkweeds, said that Lanning has had a huge impact on his life and has given him a sense of responsibility.
“She’s a real gem for us to have in this city,” Miranda said.
Miranda, who also works with Lanning on Silverplatter, a concert listing website Lanning created, said that he thinks it’s great that she still attends shows and supports the local music scene.
“She’s pining for something she appreciates,” Miranda said.
He also said he’s not sure if Lanning actually sleeps, since she’s always so busy.
“I’m convinced there is more than one of her,” Miranda said.
In 1999, Lanning’s next project began when she opened Modified Arts in downtown Phoenix. Lanning described Modified as a place that dancers, performers, musicians, painters and film students could all share their work.
In late 2009, after 10 successful years of running Modified, Lanning handed over the business to husband-and-wife team Kim Larkin and Adam Murray.
Lanning said there were a couple of reasons she decided to hand the company over, one being her “complete submersion in Local First Arizona” and another being that “to have one person curate one show a month for 11 years” takes its toll on one’s personal creativity.
“I felt like I was repeating myself,” Lanning said. “And I’m my own worst critic, ya know?”
She said that at that point she felt she was no longer the best one for the job and decided to do a little “self-editing.”
“We need some fresh blood,” Lanning said. “We need the next generation to carry the reins for awhile.”
Larkin, who moved to the area with her husband in 2008, said she first reached out to Lanning because she wanted to get involved with the arts community. Larkin would later become involved in Local First Arizona as a volunteer and would also run sound as a volunteer with Murray at Modified Arts.
Larkin said she thinks Lanning is “an amazing time manager” and admires her for the fact that she is so involved with everything she does, specifically with Stinkweeds where she still works and isn’t seen just as the face of the company.
“I think she’s an amazing force in the community,” Larkin said.
Lanning, who still owns the building that contains Modified Arts, said she’s very proud of the work that Larkin and Murray are doing.
“They’re taking it in a direction that is important to them,” Lanning said.
Murray, who ran sound as a volunteer for a year and a half at Modified Arts before taking it over, said he thinks the space is a “great outlet for music performers.”
“I was honored to have her ask us to take it over,” Murray said with regards to when Lanning, who he described as “such a busy lady,” asked him and Larkin to run Modified Arts.
With regards to the “Big Indie Shows” Modified Arts became famous for over the years, but no longer holds, Lanning said she thinks there is going to be a new place opening up to meet that need.
“There’s a need in the market,” Lanning said.
As for now, Lanning said a lot of the shows are going to places like Fractal, 1301 Grand Avenue #7, The Trunk Space, 1506 Grand Avenue, The Rhythm Room, 1019 East Indian School Road, Yucca Tap Room, 29 W. Southern Avenue, Sail Inn and 26 South Farmer Avenue, all local establishments that hold weekly shows.
As for Lanning’s own musical career, she grew up playing the piano and guitar and would later move on to playing the drums later in life in a variety of bands.
“It’s actually easy for me to do, and I love it,” she said.
Lanning said that a friend once badgered her for weeks to come play a drum set that he had at his house, as he thought she would be a good drummer and a good addition to his band.
“I kept saying, ya know, I’m not a drummer,” she said. “Why do you keep asking me?”
Finally, after saying ‘no’ numerous times, Lanning said she agreed to come play with them, and ended up staying with the band Half String, playing drums for seven years. The group would go on to put out three CDs and tour as well.
Lanning’s musical career would continue to grow over the years and she would put out a CD with Hammertoes of Tucson, play in several improvisational bands, including Phoenix’s Nepal and would also do a few short tours with Los Angeles’ Scenic.
She said although touring was a pain in the butt at times, as well as “tedious and stinky,” she liked being able to play to a crowd of people that she didn’t know and where pre-judgment did not really exist.
“I like the anonymity of playing in other cities,” Lanning said.
Her current band is Letdownright, a rock/pop/indie band that she has been playing drums with for about the last four years.
Lanning said that the band rarely plays show, although they occasionally play at venues such as the Yucca Tap Room.
“We just kind of play for ourselves,” Lanning said.
Aside from making music and running her record store, Lanning has been spending a lot of time working on Local First Arizona, a charitable organization, working on economic development that she started in 2003.
“Local First came from feeling a sense of civic pride and noticing that most people don’t for Phoenix,” Lanning said.
She said Local First Arizona focuses on promoting local businesses and shopping locally. It also provides residents a list where they can find “cool local, independent places” in the area, which was the original intention of the website, Lanning said.
Cindy Dach, owner of MADE, an art boutique in downtown Phoenix, and general manager of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, said Lanning is fearless in what she does and never leaves until the job is done.
“She’s an incredibly hard worker,” Dach said.
Dach, who was on the original board for Local First Arizona and is personally involved with the organization through MADE and Changing Hands, said she thinks it would be foolish for any local business to not participate in Local First Arizona.
Lanning said that although the Central corridor where her shop is located is down three percent in sales tax revenue from last year, her business is actually up during the recession.
“I’m three percent up over last year,” she said.
Lanning also said she sees the area around her shop really growing and expanding in the next five years.
“It’s definitely going to boom,” Lanning said. “I’ll bet my life on it.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org