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Mill City Sound: New Hopkins record store contributing to vinyl boom

by Jay Gabler

February 24, 2015

Yesterday evening was overcast and grey, but it was cheerful and bustling inside Mill City Sound as a convoy of staff from The Current pulled up to the 115-year-old storefront in downtown Hopkins. We'd been hearing a lot about Rob Sheely's new record store, and we wanted to see what all the excitement was about.

Sheely, 59, has been collecting records since he was a teenager; his first jobs were running audio for shows, but when he got married and wanted to establish himself more securely, he said, he realized that "working for $20 a night plus all the beer I could drink wasn't going to work for me."

He then went into electronics manufacturing (he founded the Minnetonka-based camera electronics company Vaddio)—and he'd always said that when he retired, he was going to open a record store. Last September, that finally came to pass as Sheely and his wife opened Mill City Sound and an adjoining antiques store; the record business quickly became such a success that the pair decided to close the antiques side of the operation and expand the record store.

"Business has been twice what we'd expected," Sheely told me, saying that he's had success both with new artists—he listens to The Current's Chart Show and tries to stock the music that's popular with our audience—and with classic acts with cult audiences, like Alex Chilton.

"Hey, what was that you were playing when I walked in?" said a customer, walking up to the counter with an armful of records. "It kind of sounded like R.L. Burnside." Sheely produced a disc by the Reverend Payton's Big Damn Band, and the customer nodded approvingly.

"I walked in and I couldn't believe it," said the customer, Michael Deering. "Everything I see online that I want to buy, I find here."

As Sheely tabulated his purchases, Deering explained that he's been delighted by the vinyl resurgence—a movement that's only gaining momentum, with vinyl sales growing 50% last year and record plants backed up with months' worth of orders for pressings.

"I grew up on vinyl," he said. "Then everything seemed to disappear. Suddenly everyone was buying CDs, and they're like, 'Ooh, was it recorded in DDD?'"

Sheely explained that the Hopkins space originally held a pharmacy and a hardware store, and that the building's owner knocked down a wall and united the adjoining spaces in the 1950s. In addition to long racks of new and used LPs, Sheely stocks stereo equipment in a space towards the back of the store; downstairs in a basement are dozens of boxes of 45s, which will move upstairs as part of the store's expansion.

As the shop expands, Sheely plans to display some of his rock memorabilia. He showed me an original How I Won the War poster, and an uncut sheet of 1964 Beatles trading cards; he also, he said, has an original Concert for Bangladesh poster signed by artists including George Harrison himself.

Among the store's stock is a selection of classical music, and an extensive local music collection that includes an entire section of releases by artists associated with Prince. "Look at this!" said Andrea Swensson, lifting a record shaped like Prince's signature glyph. Soon, her arms were filled with discoveries. In record stores, that just tends to happen.

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Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.