Let It Be Records Is Closing
Let It Be Records Is Closing
Faced with news that his building would be turned into 46-story condo tower later this year, Let It Be Records owner Ryan Cameron had two choices: relocate or close. "It was me who made the decision not to relocate," he says, speaking over the phone Thursday afternoon. "We might have been forced a little sooner because of redevelopment, but they didn't put me out of business. I just chose to go. I've been doing this almost half my life, which is a long time. I'm 45."
With plans to shutter sometime in June, Let It Be Records leaves behind 16 years on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, having opened at another location in 1987, on 7th Street near First Avenue, then moved briefly to where Joe's Garage now overlooks Loring Park. Since 1989, the store has been an oasis of crazed music enthusiasm in an increasingly sterile downtown. Everyone from the Beastie Boys to Thurston Moore has scoured the legendary records stacks in the basement. Everyone from Radiohead to Jimmy Scott has performed there.
Cameron says the development company, Nicollet LLC, offered to help him relocate, and he approached employees and friends offering to sell the business. But there were no takers. "It's a big risk, and I certainly can't blame them," Cameron says. "I don't think it's any secret that the last four or five years have been pretty devastating to music retail."
Ryan Cameron was 16 when he began selling records out of a Montgomery Ward's in Albert Lee, Minnesota--a post he describes as the "funnest job" he's ever had. "We were given carte blanche because our department did a ludicrous amount of business compared to the rest of the store," he says. "So we'd be blasting Sex Pistols and the Clash and Patti Smith in the middle of the Montgomery Ward, and no one could complain."
Moving to Minneapolis in 1978, he eventually became manager of the legendary Northern Lights store on 7th Street and Hennepin Avenue, before opening Let It Be Records in 1987. Bands such as White Zombie played in-store concerts at the early locations, and performances became a regular feature of the Nicollet Mall address, where appearances came to include Patti Smith, Radiohead, Robyn Hitchcock, the Gear Daddies, Jimmy Scott, Grant Hart, Eleventh Dream Day, Olivia Tremor Control, Soul Coughing, Spiritualized, Donavan, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, Laika, Ike Reilly, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Matt Olsen backed by Steve Bjorklund (before Balloon Guy), and countless others.
With a slew of DJs on staff, Let It Be became a connoisseur's haven of rare and import vinyl. PJ Harvey, Charlie Watts, and Harry Shearer all stopped by to admire the wares. One day, less than a minute after Keanu Reeves left, Matt Dillon walked in through the door. "They were both in town making totally different movies at the time," says Cameron.
Before Let It Be came along, stores such as Wide Angle Records had sold 12-inches to local dance records DJs, and Vital Vinyl and others picked up the tradition more recently. But no store has seriously catered to the dance market for as long as Let It Be Records. The shop fills other niches implied in its name, an homage to both the Beatles album and the Replacements classic. ("Usually when people ask me about the name," says Cameron, "I tell them it comes from the Voice of the Beehive record, Let It Be. But obviously that's not true.") Anglophiles, Europhiles, reggae heads, and lovers of the American underground have all made life-changing discoveries here.
Cameron will keep selling records through the Let It Be web site, which he plans to develop further. He has several million records to sell out of his climate-controlled warehouse in the suburbs, rare vinyl once available only to select customers out of the store's basement catacombs, which adjoined the former downstairs dance-records shop. Adam Horowitz of the Beastie Boys once spent three days down in the stacks with other members of his hardcore band BS2000.
"They would bury themselves down there, and clean as they go, which was helpful," says Rod Smith, a former employee and a City Pages contributor. "At one point, they had miner helmets with those little lights on them, and brought little portable record players down with them, playing records all over the basement."
Before a Rock the Garden gig with Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore spent three hours in the same basement. But there were hazards to subterranean record scavenging. Smith remembers one time when the sewer of a nearby restaurant backed up, and green sewage spewed out of the downstairs toilet.
"We were running around in a couple inches of poop water trying to save the records," says Smith. "A couple years ago [local music enthusiast] John Kass counted the collection down there, and he said there were two and a half million records."
Cameron has since purchased a warehouse full of unopened dance music stock from a longtime vendor, with some 350,000 records and 50,000 CDs. "It's all stuff from the late-'80s, early '90s," he says. "So I've been busy trying to get that stuff up on our web site. And I've been dealing with that, in addition to having about a quarter of a million 78s, and about a million other records besides that."
But wherever this music ends up--expect a sale this summer--customers will miss the physical storefront, whose loss represents yet another change for the boring in skyscraping Minneapolis.
"I've watched independent businesses get choked out of downtown one by one," says lifetime resident Dave Lofquist, who bought his first Sugarcubes and Glenn Branca records at Let It Be. "I can see both sides of it. A living, breathing city requires change, and we're going to see an explosion of the tax base. I'm just astonished at the degree to which development is happening."