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No sad songs: Hymie's record store thrives on vinyl in a digital age

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Dave and Laura Hoenack
Dave and Laura Hoenack, who own Hymie's Vintage Records, behind the store's front counter Monday, Apr. 14, 2014 in Minneapolis.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

A young couple with two small kids and an old dog buy a vintage vinyl record shop in the worst economy in decades, in a languishing part of Minneapolis, in an era when many teens wouldn't recognize an LP if you spun it at them.  

It sounds like a great, sad country song in the making, something Gene Autry might croon. Except this story turns out pretty well.

  "We bought the store in the middle of the recession. The business association loved us (but) they were like, 'How are you doing this right now? Nobody is buying businesses, nobody is moving in on East Lake,'" said Laura Hoenack, who co-owns Hymie's Vintage Records with her husband, Dave.

  Others jokingly called the pair crazy. But as Autry's voice, pressed on vinyl, fills the store during a recent visit, it's clear the Hoenacks have built something to last. Five years into it, they say Hymie's, named for its first owner, is making it.  

While the Internet has turned buying and selling vintage records into an international business venture, the Hoenacks prefer to meet customers face to face. They're intensely loyal to the neighborhood — it's where they live — and they've carved out a niche as boosters of Twin Cities-based musicians.

  Groups regularly perform on the small stage back in the store's rock and roll section. On Saturday, they'll celebrate national Record Store Day with a block party and 15 bands. It'll also be their fifth anniversary owning the store.

  Shoppers at Hymie's wander among bins holding blues, folk, rock and roll, and classical music. There's also a children's section.

  The store has on occasion sold an especially sought after disc for a few hundred dollars, though the vast majority of the store's 45's, LP's and 78's go for 50 cents to a few dollars. A vintage record from the 1970s — Spider John Koerner and Willie Murphy's "Running Jumping and Standing Still" — sells almost immediately when it comes in, said Dave, 36.

Hymie's records
The Hoenack's 10-year-old Boston Terrier Irene sits in the sunshine by the front door Monday, Apr. 14, 2014 at Hymie's.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

  People who don't have any intention of buying records drop by just to say hello to Irene, the Hoenacks' 10-year-old Boston terrier, whose picture appeared in a 2010 Rolling Stone magazine feature listing Hymie's among North America's great record stores.

  The Hoenacks attract enough repeat business that they see their customers' lives evolving.

  "It's a really fun thing to see a guy who, maybe, used to be a little more disheveled and not wearing very nice clothes and then three years later he looks a little nicer and here's his new girlfriend and his new wife and his new baby," said Laura, 32. "I do really feel part of my customers' lives in a way."

  Hymie's sits on a stretch of Lake Street that's become an incubator for businesses, many of them family owned.

  Lake Street in south Minneapolis runs about six miles from France Avenue on the west to the Mississippi River on the east, one of the longest commercial corridors in Minnesota. It is home to more than 2,000 businesses, many of them ethnically oriented, some of them spanning generations of family ownership according to the Lake Street Council, the corridor's business association.

  Hymie's holds about 250,000 new and used vinyl records. The Hoenacks buy the used ones from people who clean out their attics, basements and closets. They size up the collection and offer a price.  

Once in a while they hit a mother lode. Hymie's bought the record collection from WCCO Radio a few years ago when the station got rid of all its vinyl. The haul included lots of records and movie soundtracks, "which had not seen a lot of play, so they were all in perfect condition," said Laura.

  You never know what you're going to hear over the speakers when you walk through the door into Hymie's. Whatever it is, it's going to come from vinyl.

  "It's funny how often people will come in and say, 'Wow it's like walking into the past,'" Laura Hoenack said. "And me as a young person says, Eh? The past never left."

  If you go

  What: Hymie's celebrates national Record Store Day with a block party.
When: Saturday, April 19, 11 a.m to 9 p.m., 3820 East Lake Street, Minneapolis
More: Fifteen bands are lined up to perform. One is Corpse Reviver, a group that's immersed itself in American folk songs including their version of "Wagoner's Lad."