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Record Store Thrives in Digital Age

Wooden Pickle

Photo credit: The Communicator Archives

Wooden Pickle
Written by: adminDecember 07, 2016

By: Nathan Smith

Band posters and tapestries plaster the wood-paneled walls, a vintage gumball machine sits in the foyer, and a friendly older man in glasses greets customers.

Bob Roets is the owner of Wooden Nickel Music, a local music store that has been in business since 1982.

Roets moved from Wisconsin to Fort Wayne right after college in the late ‘70s to become store manager of Slatewood Records. Things were looking bright for the first year and a half, until he got a phone call that all employees dread.

“The guy who owned it wanted to get into a new thing called video cassette rental,” Roets said, “so he closed all of the stores suddenly. I had no warning.”

Trucks came, loaded everything up, and shut the store down. Roets was jobless.

Luckily, he had an idea shortly after Slatewood closed that involved the use of wooden nickel tokens to get discounts on music.

From this idea Wooden Nickel Music was born.

Roets said he reopened the store in the exact location that Slatewood had closed. It cost him $8,000 and his own record collection.

“I didn’t take any pay out of the store for 18 months,” Roets said. “I worked for free.”

Roets said he kept reinvesting every penny the store made into building the stock and advertising.

Eventually, he said, he made enough money to open up a second store, then a third store, a fourth, a fifth, and finally a sixth.

In the ‘80s, Wooden Nickel Music was the first store to bring CDs to Fort Wayne, and was the top seller of the new medium, Roets said. Roets said those were the best years of his career.

The store’s success hit a speed bump in 1992 when Best Buy came to town. The new competition cost Roets about 20 percent of his business.

But all six of his stores survived.

“Things were going good until the latter ‘90s,” Roets said, “and that’s when Napster killed us.”

Roets said that around 3,800 record stores went out of business the decade after Napster appeared. Napster was a file sharing site where users could download music for free, taking money away from the record store business.

It also spawned imitators. After Napster came iTunes. The rise of the digital age had begun.

Every kid in Fort Wayne was getting a Wooden Nickel gift certificate for Christmas until iTunes came along, Roets said. Even at family gatherings he noticed kids starting to get iTunes gift cards instead of Wooden Nickel gift certificates.

“I could see it right there in front of me that iTunes was starting to kill us,” Roets said.

Three of his stores didn’t survive this time.

Roets was just about to close another store before he got a call from a group of record store owners in 2007. They asked if he’d be interested in taking part in Record Store Day–a day where record stores release limited edition vinyl records, host in-store concerts and do giveaways.

Vinyl started to make a comeback and simultaneously so did the Wooden Nickel. Roets said every year after vinyl sales continued to increase and the Record Store Day releases grew.

“We were saved by the fact that Record Store Day created this new genre of vinyl coming back,” Roets said.

Wooden Nickel Music now still has three locations all around Fort Wayne. Roets’ latest endeavor comes in the form of renovations to the Jefferson location, where his son has recently become store manager.