Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Column #25: What does the future hold for Ear X-tacy?

I recently found a book called “Louisville Savoir Fair,” which billed itself as “a discriminating guide to the city's best shops, boutiques, restaurants, unique services and attractions.” Given that it was published in 1984, there is no Ear X-tacy to be found here; the section “Music and Home Amusement” only has one entry, Wilder Electronics in St. Matthews, which then sold stereo equipment “from well-known manufacturers such as Sony, Fischer, RCA, Zenith, Sanyo and Quasar.”

If that's not enough to make you think about how much has changed, the top restaurants listed included Casa Grisanti, Sixth Avenue and Kaelin's. Today, we have so many wonderful restaurants that if three of the best were to close, it would be a shame, but no one would be denied a special meal.

Last month, I attended a record release event. The band, Shipping News, had long recorded for the independent Touch and Go Records until the label, a mainstay of indie music since 1981, announced in early 2009 that it would no longer release new music.

The band's new album was recorded mostly at Skull Alley, an all-ages venue downtown that will soon close its doors after less than three years in business. On the way to the event, I also passed by Highland Records, which has now closed.

The host of the release party was Ear X-tacy, the record store that has been the center of the local music community since 1985, and twice this year has urgently asked Louisvillians to spend more money to keep it from closing.

Store owner John Timmons' pleas, which have been met with a combination of support and derision, demand, if nothing else, that we think more about the role that Ear X-tacy plays in this community and what future it should have — if any. (Disclosure: I once worked at Ear X-tacy.)

We still have a good independent record store in Underground Sounds, but it is much smaller and unable to host free performances by the likes of My Morning Jacket, The Secret Sisters and The Del McCoury Band. Though it has a more carefully curated selection, it doesn't have nearly as much product as Ear X-tacy. Nor does it have nearly as many staffers with knowledge and opinions about a wide range of culture. While doing so saves Underground Sounds thousands of dollars in expenses each month, it also makes it less of a central meeting point for the greater community.

Still, we've existed relatively happily for a few years now with only Carmichael's Books. Does this community also need another, bigger shop like Hawley-Cooke, which was absorbed into the Borders chain? At least there are no major music retail chains left that directly challenge Ear X-tacy; that victory has been won by iTunes, illegal downloading and big-box stores like Walmart.

Do we need a store like Ear X-tacy to exist as a community center? The radio station WFPK offers “Live Lunch” and summer concerts, which provide a social scene as much as a free show. We have festivals of varying quality. And 21c museum hotel offers a stream of art, music, food and drinks. So the teens who loitered outside of Ear X-tacy now annoy people outside Qdoba instead.

Some want to designate the Twig & Leaf diner a historic location. One mistake made by Ear X-tacy was in moving five times and never establishing an iconic location. Which business deserves protection more? Meanwhile, shouldn't we also be considering protection for the Louisville Orchestra?

If our city's leaders want to point to symbols of our city's awesomeness, do they need to do something to keep them viable?

The local radio and concert business will see a negative effect if Ear X-tacy disappears. Perhaps WFPK could host a pledge drive, and truly make Ear X-tacy the people's store. Perhaps it needs to merge with another business threatened by technology, like a book shop or video store.

There are many empty storefronts downtown that would welcome such a tenant. Perhaps it will take Ear X-tacy merging with one of the area's plentiful wig stores to keep it alive.

C. 2010 Velocity Weekly

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