The first sight of New Orleans' newest record store perhaps carried more symbolism than it intended. Posted on Facebook in May, the photograph depicted a makeover for the former Tavern on the Levee, located at the bottom of the Bywater on the corner of Chartres and Desire streets. "Euclid Records coming soon," announced a crude, black hand-painted message, which leapt off its electric background of fresh canary and Pepto Bismol-pink paint. In the foreground, parked in the grass out front, stood a lone tombstone.
If the recording industry isn't quite ready for its last rites, big-box music retail in Orleans Parish surely is. The last vestiges likely died in 2006, when Virgin Megastore and Tower Records, the iron giants of Decatur Street, each fled town five months apart. The prevalent feeling then was betrayal, a vote of no confidence in the city's prospects by two corporations that registered several million dollars in combined annual sales locally.
Hurricane Katrina wasn't the fatal blow for Virgin and Tower — the latter filed for its second round of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in August 2006, shuttering 90 stores nationwide; by March 2009, all Virgin Megastores in the U.S. had followed suit — but their death signaled a sea change for record buying and selling here. In other cities, the 50,000-square-foot carcasses were picked clean by shape-shifting vulture capitalists like Trans World Entertainment (F.Y.E., nee Camelot). New Orleans, as it often does, took a different route: returning its focus to neighborhood staples like the Mushroom on Broadway Street and the French Quarter Louisiana Music Factory, both of which benefited from ramped-up sales despite the smaller post-K population.
The February 2007 opening of Domino Sound Record Shack, next to the Community Book Center on a culture-rich strip of Bayou Road in the 7th Ward, solidified the trend. Matt Knowles' wedge-shaped shop is as far from the anonymous, cavernous environs of Virgin and Tower as it could be: an exorcism of cookie-cutter category killers and a return to the time when record stores, like booksellers, functioned as gathering places not just for purchasing art but for talking about and appreciating it.
Euclid is cut from the same cloth, co-partners James Weber and Brian Bromberg say. An extension of Joe Schwab's St. Louis institution, the 3,000-square-foot space will concentrate on popular and obscure used vinyl; a perusal of the opening stock, numbering more than 25,000, unearthed rare jazz platters like Serge Chaloff's Blue Serge (1956) as well as Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy (1968) and Cybill Does It ... to Cole Porter (1978). But there will also be CDs, consignment works, gear and a steady stream of in-store performances starting on day one: a Labor Day weekend blowout (noon-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 4-5) honoring 9th Ward neighbors (Guitar Lightnin' Lee, Happy Talk Band, Rough Seven) and area favorites (Tom McDermott, Meschiya Lake & the Little Big Horns, Susan Cowsill and Russ Broussard). Special guests include the Bottle Rockets' Brian Henneman, another St. Louis institution who will accompany Cowsill and Broussard on guitar; and Jay Poggi, aka MC Trachiotomy, whose down-the-road Desire Market served as an incubator for Euclid from January until June.
"He invited us to put our records on the shelves next to the food," says Weber, who immediately reconsiders the thought. "Records are food."