Wednesday, March 3, 2010

R.I.P. Metal Haven 1999-2010

Tis a sad fucking day people. Metal Haven, Chicago's premiere record store is closing it's doors after a decade of service. While I'm not totally surprised , it is a sign of the times isn't it? I am still really disappointed and will miss the place. I've linked some current articles focusing on the end of an era for Chicago Metal, notably one from the Chicago Reader.

I remember my very first trip to Metal Haven a decade ago. Max was all of 4 months old and we took a ride into the city to check the place out. What can I say? It was like finding heaven on Earth and I became a loyal customer from that moment on. Some might not remember, but back in 1999 there was actually another "Metal only" record store called Nightfall Records. One visit to Metal Haven instantly converted me, it was no contest.

Over the last ten years I've always loved bringing people from out of state/country to Metal Haven. People were always so blown away by over flowing inventory and selection. I was and remain proud of Mark for doing his part for such a long time. Metal Haven will go down in Chicago Metal history.

Here's an interview with Owner Mark Weglarz that ran on the Midwest Metal website back in 2007.

There’s several key ingredients that contribute to Chicago being the Metal capitol of the World and this is the first. Mark Weglarz owns Metal Haven. THE Metal record store in Chicago and one that’s been in business now for over eight years. These days they should age record stores in dog years because it’s a miracle each month they’re still here for us.

Metal Haven recently relocated to a new building located at 2003 W. Montrose and what can I say? It’s a major improvement seeing they outgrew the previous location probably six months after they originally opened back in 1999. Here’s Mark, check out the store either in person or on line at you’ll be hooked either way!

Midwest Metal: Let’s talk new location, how’s everything going?

Mark Weglarz: Things are good; we’re finally catching up to speed so I’m happy with it.

Was there a specific reason for the move after eight years?

The reason is really three reasons, my lease was running out and the last six months I was there I could hardly afford the rent. Another reason is I’d outgrown the place a long time ago, there was just no room for new merchandise and moving allowed me to get into a bigger store with cheaper rent! One of the biggest complaints of the old location was the parking and the new location has much, much better parking so that is a huge advantage and I’m pretty happy about it.

Do you remember what was the first record you sold at Metal Haven?

The first record? That is a very interesting question…I do remember the very first guy, he came in about an hour after I opened the store on July 12, 1999. He was a Hispanic guy who still shops at Metal Haven to this day and he purchased like five or six items which is why I can’t pinpoint a specific. However I told him I was going to ring him up twice.

I was going to ring up one item at $1 and then the rest at regular price. So it was a CD or LP that cost, whatever $14 or $15 and I gave it to him for one dollar as he was the first customer and I needed him to give me that $1 bill so I could hang it up on the wall. For the life of me I can’t remember what it was but he’s into old school stuff so I’m sure it was something classic.

What, if any has been the biggest seller over the years at Metal Haven?

Very easy, ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ from At The Gates.

Really? No shit?

The reason why that’s the #1 seller ever is because of the crossover appeal, at the old location I was very close to Reckless Records and they’d draw the punk and hardcore kids and I’d primarily draw the Metal kids and they all seemingly came to to buy it.

So for years and years would just sell, sell and sell. Now that the Metal-Core thing is dying it’s slowed down but for about five years I’d move at least a copy per week, 50 copies per year for five years!

Wow, for some reason that’s not what I thought it would be…

Yeah, it’s been wild. It’s been re-issued a few times once was with an EP, once with bonus tracks and then again with a DVD so that’s also spurned re purchases too.

Let’s talk about Mark the Metal fan…why a store? Some people do their part with a radio show, a magazine, promoting whatever but you chose to open a record store.

The reason why I do a store, the reason why I opened a store is because..well first and foremost I’m a Metal fan and because of that I was like everyone else into this music, I’d go around purchasing Metal wherever I could to find it. Over the years in my searches for Metal I came to this, you can find a lot of Metal at certain places but the prices sucked or you could find good prices for Metal with a horrible selection.

So I’d go all over the city and suburbs to buy Metal and after doing that for years I said to myself someone needs to do this the right way. You need a store with a lot of Metal with good prices. So with all my years of experience in working in music retail including eleven years working at Tower Records, that coupled with being a fan I’d be the perfect candidate to get it done, so I did.

You’re originally from New York, what were some of your favorite record stores growing up?

I used to go to a place in St. Mark’s Place, NY called Sounds. For some reason they had the best used Metal section I’d ever seen. A lot of hole punched promos which I never cared about I just wanted the music. So they always had the newest Metal releases which I always bought and the more you bought the cheaper they were, this was in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

I remember a lot of 4 for $20 deals so I was there every other week when I’d get paid and buy four to sixteen CD’s, that was my favorite place surely. At Tower I got an employee discount so I’d buy a lot there, I mean tons and tons there. So those were the mainstays but like I said it was years of going to wherever I could for Metal.

Were you surprised Tower went out of business?

Not at all. Tower started as a one man operation with one store back in the 60’s and it was run as a Mom and Pop store. As it grew and grew it became more and more corporate. The original owner was disassociated with how the chain was being run and those running it were simply not music fans, they were business people. There’s the disconnect.

I’ve been able to keep this store up and running when a lot of the others are closing because I’m a fan, I feel the same pulse as the people shopping here. I’m not an executive making decisions simply by looking at reports. I listen to what the people want, I know what I want as fan and you put that all together to keep it going. That’s why I’m not at all surprised they went under. I saw that place from the inside, I paid attention at all the meetings, the owner’s name was Russ Solomon who was a great man, his philosophy was stack em high and sell em low. Similar to a Wal Mart philosophy, Russ just got old and had to have other run the company for him and they ran it into the ground.

The fact that Metal Haven, an 100% independent all-Metal store has been in business for eight years is totally impressive. It’s a lesson in perseverance and hard work.

That’s one of the most important things no matter what you do is perseverance and hard work. Every time someone comes into the stores and maybe compliments the store itself or finding something they’ve been looking for or something they did not know even existed, all of that makes the hard work worth it.

Those words from people make me want to work that much harder. I work another job, sometimes more than 32 hours a week in addition to the store so I can pay my bills with that money. Keep the Metal Haven money going towards Metal Haven you know? So I make my own sacrifices to keep this alive.

Where’s the work ethic come from?

I’m Eastern European, Polish. I was raised by my Grandparents and they’re credo was “no one is going to give you anything for free, you have to work hard and earn it”. I’ve worked hard since I was ten years old and I have them to thank for it..

I was at the store one day when Casey Chaos from Amen/Scum called to have you gather, something like all of the latest Black Metal releases so he could just stop in and pay. Who else like that have you called a customer?

Quite a few actually, Krisiun, Mike Amott from Carcass and Arch Enemy but what’s funny is I don’t know who a lot of these bands are, I mean I know their names and the music but I have no clue as to what they look like. A lot of them look different than what I see in the magazines so there’s been a few I might have a guess as to who they were but, you know I just let em shop. All of the local Chicago bands like Cianide, Usurper, Venificum, Nachtmystium all come in. When bands come through town they’ll stop in.

The record store shopping experience is something I still love. It’s unexplainable but it either affects you or it doesn’t. What do you do to make the experience of shopping at Metal Haven unique or just memorable?

Well the store itself I feel is unique in itself, it’s ALL METAL, period! From CD’s to vinyl to DVD’s to magazines to collectables to cassettes from new to used, it’s all Metal. I’ve been doing more with T-shirts and now that we have the bigger store it’s allowed me to work that better than before. I’m also in the process of expanding a bit with some Sterling Silver jewelry items, more books and toys like the Iron Maiden “Eddie” figures and things of that nature.

I was doing that at the old location and it was good, but I lost contact with a few of the companies so that’s another thing to look forward to. In this day and age of downloading I have to look at things that people can’t download like clothing and the jewelry things etc. I’ve wanted to implement a frequent buyer program or something to that effect. I’ve thought about like membership cards but I’m not really into that whole thing. Regular customers I always try to give them a dollar off of their purchases. It’s a thank you for supporting me type of thing…so that’s something I’ve been wanting to do.

Have you felt the hit of downloading? I know people always say Metal is above it somehow as we need the real thing in our hands as well as how collectable minded a lot of Metal heads are.

Yes, definitely. There’s whole new generation of people growing up on their computers and they feel it’s their right to download you know? I can see it to a certain extent, I’m sure that had a lot to do with Tower’s downfall. I mean you can’t be selling CD’s for $18.99 when it cost $2 to manufacture, I can see the disgust in the eyes of the music fans when that happened.

This younger generation, as they get older they’re going to be so used to getting music that way they’re not even going to know what a record store is or was. That’s coming in five or ten years easily. The older generation are going to fall off and the new one will operate totally different.

What percentage of Metal Haven’s sales are vinyl versus CD?

I would say only about 10% is vinyl, but that’s in-store only. I have a list of people all over the country that I update when new vinyl comes in and those are website sales and that’s a good thing. There’s still a lot of people who want their Metal on vinyl only. The vinyl heads are the most loyal for sure.

But only 15-20% of what’s being released is coming out on vinyl these days. I do Ebay too and that’s usually just the hard-to-find stuff that I put up there, but it’s opened the door for me as far as the collectors out there.

What has been the single most expensive item you’ve sold at the store?

I’d have to say it was the [1998-nerd alert] Iron MaidenEddie’s Head” box set. I think it was $300 or $325 when it came out.

What kind of support do you get from the record companies?

They’ve been alright, they send promos for in-store play. Posters and stickers and even CD samplers the usual stuff to give away. That’s one thing that will never change the customers love that stuff and it’s apart of the experience we spoke about earlier too. I can’t tell you how many times people have come back in with the sampler in hand to find the full length that they were turned on to.

It’s like a cycle and I love it, I also like turning someone onto something that they really end up loving. A month or so ago I turned someone on to Agalloch and the guy came back in a week or two later to buy the rest of the Agalloch CD’s and he was just so happy to have been turned on to them it was great. That happens a lot.

Part of the Metal Haven experience is also your opinion, you’ve turned me on to stuff and your word has got to be true.

Definitely! Just because something is selling like crazy doesn’t mean it’s good. If someone tells me what bands they’re into I can usually point them in the right direction of a similar band and they usually like it. But I will tell them right off the bat, yeah it’s selling but I’m not crazy about it.

A band like Kataklysm is like that, sell like mad but I’m just not into it. Meshuggah, fuck, the kids love it but the last three have not done a thing for me. I try to be as honest as possible. The last thing I want is for someone to buy something, get it home, have it totally suck and think “he didn’t warn me”. Yeah it’s my job to sell, but I’ll tell someone, hey the new album ain’t that hot, the older ones were better or whatever. That’s how you lose customers, sure I’ll recommend a “dud” or two, but I really do try to let em leave and return happy.