Question: How many ex-record shop employees does it take to not only revive the dying dream of indie music retail but make it an integral part of an artsy Tampa-area neighborhood? Answer: Only two, apparently — Carl Webb and Keith Ulrey.
If you were turned on to jazz heavyweight John Coltrane, trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack or the screaming passion of Greg Dulli within any of his many band incarnations, chances are Webb is responsible. Not only did I work with him for nearly two decades during our tenure at now-defunct indie record shop Vinyl Fever, but I consider him one of the best friends anyone could ever hope to have. I can vouch for his character and passion for many things, and music is undoubtedly at the top of that list.
Ulrey is owner and operator of New Granada Records and NG Presents. I came to know him as the gung-ho supporter of the Tampa music scene from his weekly visits to the Fever to promote his many band projects, consign CDs, hang up posters and fliers and, most importantly, inspire anyone within earshot to get off their asses and support, support, support the talent residing right in our collective backyards. Many years later, he came on board as a fellow Fever-ite and starting preaching his local gospel from behind the counter to everyone who wandered in.
You can imagine the pool these two have to draw from when they unveil their joint venture in early December: Microgroove, an indie record shop in Seminole Heights. It's a neighborhood they not only call home but a place that they whole-heartedly believe a record store can thrive in. "It's a vibrant area," Ulrey stated when I sat down with both men a few weeks back. "It's a viable time to do this and we feel like we can do this."
From personal experience and spending time in the trenches with both of these guys, I can attest that if anyone can make something like this work, it's these two.
A recurring subject of our conversation was the idea of "community." Both feel that rather than setting their sights on opening a massive all-encompassing store, it's more feasible to present a smaller, specialized emporium. "We want this to be viewed as a neighborhood business, not so much a destination," said Ulrey, referring to the increasing foot traffic drawn to the particular stretch of Florida Avenue where Microgroove is located, within walking distance of The Independent and next door to Cappy's Pizzeria.
Based on the initial outpouring of support for Microgroove on Facebook, and the excited response from passers-by, nearby business owners and residents who've visited the under-construction art-deco/industrial space, it seems like there's already a built-in clientele. "It's been fantastic!" Webb gushed. Both he and Ulrey are firm believers in the power of word-of-mouth and it's the sort of endorsement that'll work in their favor for the type of store they're opening.
"We know a lot of the people who live around here and we're not the only ones who've wanted something like this in the neighborhood," Ulrey said. And he's right; the area and time is ripe. For those of us who've never stopped buying and collecting music, who've spent every dollar of disposable income we've earned on music since we were old enough to work, who've gone hungry after a massive LP-buying binge without regrets, who never cared about anything else quite as much as music and still don't, the widespread demise of record stores is more than a sign of a fledgling economy; it's a personal insult.
The question is, why now? "Why not?" Ulrey asked bluntly. "It's always been a fantasy of ours. We've done this for a long time and we think, we know we can do this." Their passion and determination is not only encouraging, it's intoxicating. Former Vinyl Fever owner Lee Wolfson has been especially helpful. Having both worked for Wolfson for several years, Ulrey and Webb are encouraged by Wolfson's words of wisdom.
Microroove will stock new and used vinyl, used CDs and new hot titles, re-issues and "Legacy" editions, among other select items. "No genres!" Webb declared, explaining that everything will be filed together so all artists, styles of music and titles get equal exposure — "You know ... some T. Rex, Al Green, Surfer Blood and maybe a classic like Dark Side of the Moon. It's like Louis Armstrong said, 'There are two kinds of music — good and bad.' We'll carry the good stuff."
"It won't be as much about our personal taste as carrying what people want to buy," Ulrey added. "We're here to supply their taste."
Both men have no shortage of ideas but the primary goal at present is to create a friendly, welcoming, engaging atmosphere that promotes a healthy exchange of ideas and interaction with the customers they're hoping to appeal to. "There are a lot of people who don't even know what a record store is," Webb said with regret. "We want it to be about nostalgia for some, but we want it to be a brand new experience for some others, too."
"This area is going to want to support a locally owned independent record store," Ulrey insisted. "And, c'mon ... we're a 'pop and pop' store!"
Microgroove opens for business on Thursday, Dec. 1, at 4906 Florida Ave., Tampa.
And who knows? It might even force an old record store veteran/music geek out of retirement.