Long, strange trip: Electric Fetus marks 50 years of music, other stuff

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Austin Douglas and Stephanie Jeffrey browse a special Prince section.
Austin Douglas, left, and Stephanie Jeffrey browse a special Prince section inside Electric Fetus in Minneapolis on June 4, 2018. "I found out Prince shopped here and that made it even more special," Douglas, a north Minneapolis resident said. "This is history."
Evan Frost | MPR News

Push past the creaky wooden door to the Electric Fetus and it feels as though you've stumbled back to the Age of Aquarius, the smell of incense and the thump of a diamond needle on vinyl.

The Minneapolis record shop on 4th Avenue south of downtown is arguably the state's counterculture capital. It'll celebrate 50 years in business this weekend with a First Avenue show on Saturday night and an in-store celebration on Sunday. Doughnuts have been promised.

It's a remarkably long run for a store known for rock and roll, smoking paraphernalia and some scandal — at one point, even part of the name, "fetus," was too risque to print in ads, according to a history of the shop.

Stephanie Covart Meyerring and her husband Aaron
Stephanie Covart Meyerring and her husband Aaron are owners of the Electric Fetus.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

"The start of the store was my dad and a few friends," said Stephanie Covart Meyerring, daughter of Keith Covart, who helped open the first iteration near the University of Minnesota's West Bank campus. "They just knew there was a niche missing in the community and they had a love for music and they just wanted to make it happen."

Meyerring and her husband Aaron own it now. She started literally on the ground floor there, cleaning the toilets at one point.

The store remains packed with about as much recorded music as you can find anywhere in the real world: from used copies of obscure jazz recordings to vinyl practically hot off the press. It's the epitome of what its most famous customer, Prince, fondly called the "wrecka stow."

"There is a test to work in the music department. Honestly, I don't even know if I could pass the whole thing," Meyerring said. "We don't want everyone to pass everything, but it's just kind of a base on what you know and how we can make a good group of people here that can help with everything."

Electric Fetus retail music manager Bob Fuchs stands for a portrait.
Electric Fetus retail music manager Bob Fuchs inside the store where he's worked for 31 years.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The business has changed dramatically: it was once just knick-knacks, pipes and records, 50 bins of LPs at one point. It got down to about two bins of vinyl among rows and rows of CD's around the turn of the century. Now it's about a 50-50 mix again.

"There's been some ups and downs that's for sure, and boy that period, of about the year 2000, where you started to have iTunes and Amazon," said store manager Bob Fuchs. "The online competition has been difficult, but we've tried to have a business based on service."

For some, the scene is as big a deal as the service.

The creaky wooden shop floor was one of last public sightings of Prince, on a Record Store Day just before he died. It's a regular stop for musicians playing their new releases live on the tiny stage in the back and local bands have practically formed in the aisles.

Three works by collage artist Kristi Abbott hang in Electric Fetus.
Three works by collage artist Kristi Abbott hang in the store on June 4, 2018. The middle poster commemorates the store's 50th anniversary.
Evan Frost | MPR News

And its colorful history includes running afoul of the Minneapolis police for posting nude caricatures of Richard and Pat Nixon and a hippie version of the American Flag. Store managers have offered free LPs to naked customers and made regular, not always sly references to marijuana culture.

Andrea Swensson, host of the "Local Show" on MPR News' sister station The Current, worked there and says it remains a cornerstone for the local music scene. "There's just this lineage of artists that really treasure the space and hang out there," she said, "and it's definitely a community vibe."

Greg Tomala, a customer from northeast Minneapolis, has counted himself a member since the Electric Fetus opened. He remembers buying Cream's 1967 "Disraeli Gears" album there.

"Well, it smells wonderful when you walk in, first of all. And they generally have what you're looking for," he said. "The guys behind the counter are quite knowledgeable — and I can still find things that are exciting from the old days."

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