Describe that first store on Crawford Ave and your decision to open it:
I was always into music and records, and after repeated viewings of Empire Records, decided at the age of 15 that I wanted to open a record store. I also wanted to go to college first, so I began attending OU in 1999. I ran into Travis a few times at shows and at the dorms, but we really became fast friends when we both began working at Pizza Shuttle. Over the next several years, we realized that we had similar dreams of opening a record store. After incorporating, we pooled together a few hundred dollars and made our first order from a distribution company. Then, once a month or so, we’d load up the tub of records and travel around to friends and record enthusiasts, peddling punk and indie records.
The genesis of the name was that we thought that we were going to be so poor that we would have to live in the backroom of the store, thus the actual store would be our “guestroom.”
After six months of the tub, we had the opportunity to buy a sizable punk and classic rock collection. We then had move on to garage sales at my college house. We had 7 or 8 of these sales when Suzy from the Opolis, and future Forward Foods owner, told us that there was a small shop open next to the Opolis on Crawford Avenue. We had begun thinking seriously at this time about opening, as we were both about to graduate. The last two independent shops in Norman, Shadowplay and CD Zone, had recently closed, leaving not a single place in Norman to buy a record in 2003. aWe went to look at the building that was fantastically cheap, and after much cleaning and renovation we opened in the summer of 2003.
119 N. Crawford was previously an auto garage. We put up a wall to make a backroom (that we never actually had to sleep in), and painted everything bright blue. Travis, myself, my dad and bunch of our friends all pitched in to build the racks and the counter. For the inventory, Travis and I pitched in some savings and some inheritance as well as our entire personal record and CD collections. It was painful to part with our sizable collections, but we knew that we needed to make a splash with a ton of good used product to open.
After meeting Justin in 2000 and realizing we both had a similar interest in opening a record shop separately, it came together beautifully to pool our knowledge, taste, collection and desire. Plus, we were very close friends with a similar vision and it didn’t make sense for either of us to try it individually. After 18 months of very small scale distribution (taking 1 or 2 tiny record orders and a tub full of used records and CDs around to a growing list of friends’ houses and some shows), we were approached by our future neighbors at Forward Foods/Opolis about a storefront 2 doors from their business. We were relatively unfamiliar with them at the time (that would change greatly and I’ve got lifelong friends) but it made sense and the price was right. It was a great decision, though we quickly outgrew the Crawford street storefront.
As Justin mentioned, it was a big undertaking getting an old auto garage ready for a retail space. The space was cozy, smelly and wholly unable to keep clean with decades worth of motor oil in the floors. I have some lovely memories from that shop. Our grand opening party featured musicians that are still active today both in the Oklahoma scene as well as nationally (love ya JD McPherson!) The small storefront was the perfect opportunity for us to grow into something different and larger. In the landscape of music retail in 2003-2005 and with little competition, we were afforded the ability to start understanding our business and the needs of our customers. A lovely lesson from the time period is that my personal taste is to be used as a guide to what to stock and sell but ultimately you have to be willing to listen to what potential customers want in order to survive.
By early 2005, a little less than 2 years after opening the first storefront, our inventory had grown to more than what that 1000 sq ft building could accommodate. A lovely, historic building had recently been renovated 2 blocks away on a heavier traffic street and while the overhead was substantially higher, the space and landlord were great and hard to pass on. We moved the Crawford St. store to its’ current home at 125 E. Main in late summer of 2005.