Interview with Electric Fetus co-founder Ron Korsh

Electric Fetus co-founder Ron Korsh, October 2017
Electric Fetus co-founder Ron Korsh, photographed in October 2017. (courtesy Ron Korsh)

In 1968, two University of Minnesota students, Ron Korsh and Dan Foley, conceived of and opened the Electric Fetus, originally located at 521 Cedar Avenue South in the Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis.

We recently reached Ron Korsh at his current home in Washington, D.C., where he reflected on his time at the Electric Fetus and what's he's been up to since selling his share of the business about a year after founding the landmark record store.

You're in Washington, D.C., right now. Did a project or work opportunity bring you there?

Yes. My wife, Sally Grans-Korsh, got the job that she wanted in DC at a higher-education think tank, and so we came out here and it's been, actually, pretty exciting because of all the Smithsonians and the free museums and all the activity around here. We've been living in Washington, D.C., for the last five years, and actually we're moving back to our home in Northeast Minneapolis in a couple of weeks.

If we look back to 1968, can you talk about what inspired the name Electric Fetus?

At the time, 1968, the word "electric" was part of the culture a lot. There was a band called The Electric Flag and other things that kind of started with "electric." We knew that that was going to be part of it, but Dan Foley and I — Dan Foley being my partner in the store when we started it — we were throwing out names and he threw out the word "fetus" for some reason, you know, serendipity, and I said, "That's it." And it became The Electric Fetus.

Is it true that in your early attempts at advertising on radio, use of the word "Fetus" was proscribed on air?

That is true. We actually both went down to a couple radio stations to do ads, and that's kind of vague in my memory, but they did say that was an obscene word and they weren't going to use it, so we kind of worked around that.

How so?

We talked about a record store on the West Bank and used buzzwords like "psychedelic" and "the lowest record prices in town." Everybody seemed to know. We gave out the address, and we didn't have any trouble getting customers. I don't know if they were from the radio ads. Word of mouth, probably more than anything. Plus we had the print ads.

Early advertisement for Electric Fetus
Advertisement for the Electric Fetus that appeared in the Minneapolis Free Press, September 13-19, 1968. (Ron Korsh Collection; republished with permission)

Speaking of having the lowest record prices in town, you found a wholesaler in Chicago who helped you achieve that.

We tried to buy records from one of the only distributors in Minneapolis; they owned all the Musiclands — in other words, they owned all the record stores. One of the only ways we knew we could even compete with that was to say we had the lowest prices in town. We were able to find a distributor, Gallianos, in Old Town in Chicago, that gave us records so that when we got them back here and sold them, we had the lowest prices in Minneapolis.

It was also in Chicago that you found your distributor for paraphernalia. Was having that inventory part of your vision from the beginning?

No, it wasn't from the beginning. We knew records and posters. But at that time, part of the culture was smoking marijuana and that whole thing, so we added a case in front of paraphernalia, and it did quite well. We didn't even know what half of it was, but it looked cool.

I can remember that we went to a gift show and we saw these wonderful — we thought they were to smoke marijuana — it was like, tin miniature things from India. We bought them, and people later told us, "Oh, that's for cocaine and other stronger things," so we never did reorder those. At the time, we had undercover people from the Minneapolis Police Department in and out of the store constantly with the threat to shut it down.

And that almost happened in 1969 with the "Nude Nixons" poster, correct?

That was a very difficult time in my life. I found myself accused of indecent conduct — which was later thrown out in court — for putting that wonderful Nixon poster in the window. I still have the original copy of that somewhere. It was done by Pandora Posters in Minnetonka; it was just a little pen-and-ink sketch that we laughed at and put in the window. This Minneapolis police sergeant didn't like it.

Nude Nixons poster
Electric Fetus "Nude Nixons" poster, circa 1969 (pixelated); the artist was Jean-Claude Suares (1942 – 2013). (Ron Korsh Collection; republished with permission)

The poster was derived from the John and Yoko Two Virgins album cover, the one where they appear naked on the front and naked on the back. That was the whole point; that's where the poster came from. And of course, no one at the time was too happy with Richard Nixon because of Vietnam, and we know what happened to him.

Talk about your friend, Pat Colby. Her 1968 illustration for one of your advertisements is so indicative of the time.

She was my girlfriend at the time, and she was an artist. I asked her to do some drawings, and that's what she came up with. That was very much appreciated. I don't have a lot more detail than that; some of this stuff is not that complex.

Pat Colby's Electric Fetus illustration
Early advertisement for the Electric Fetus, circa 1968; artwork by Pat Colby. (Ron Korsh Collection; republished with permission)

You left the Fetus after about a year and resumed your architecture studies. It seems you've had a fruitful career in that field.

I grew quickly tired of what I considered to be the biggest thrill of a retailer's life, which was, "Oh, I sold everything, so I'd better reorder it." I just guess I wasn't into retail and always was into architecture. The whole Fetus thing turned out to be a side trip for me. I went back to architecture school.

Architecture is a long haul, and I was able to do some fun things, one of which is kind of got me back to this today: It turns out Bobby Z, Bobby Rivkin, Prince's drummer, lives in a house that I designed — not for him, but he bought it from the people I designed it for. So it's amazing how things come full circle.

I was also able to do the first bungalow courts in Minneapolis since the 1930s. It's called the Main Street Bungalow Court, across from Catholic Elder Care in Northeast Minneapolis. And something called Anishinaabe Wakiagun, which is an Indian wet-dry [residence] on Franklin Avenue.

Also, I was able to work for about 13 years for Greater Metropolitan Housing Corp, and do scores of single-family houses for low-income people, with government funds, in the inner city, so that was pretty satisfying, too. We took many, many houses all over Minneapolis and totally redid them and put people in them who couldn't otherwise afford it, because at the time, there were government funds available, which there aren't now.

So I got to do some fun projects, and people often would ask me, "Why didn't you keep the Electric Fetus?" And I just felt there was more redeeming things that needed to get done, and I achieved some of them through architecture, conceiving and designing of some of the projects that I just mentioned.

So I don't really look back too much at the Fetus. Keith Covart, who I sold it to, he made it what it is today — the grand store that it is today — but preferred not to really acknowledge that he had nothing to do with the conception or creation of the store. He's done it for 50 years, so he kind of forgets the first year or so, but I guess that's his alternative history. I don't mean to sound bitter about that; that's fine. Again, he gets all the credit for taking it from where it was to what it is today, so that's great.

And the partner that I had at the time when we founded it, Dan Foley, is currently living in Cuenca, Ecuador, and has been for several years. I talk to him often. He's just taking it easy, and it costs about a tenth as much as it costs to live here. It turns out there's a big émigré community there, and they're all quite happy down there. They don't have to deal with a lot of the obvious politics that are going on here. Just a quieter lifestyle.

And a lot less snow shoveling.

Yeah! For sure!

As a co-founder, what thoughts do you have about the Electric Fetus now?

It was like my baby at the time, as are some of my architectural projects. This one has grown up and is still alive and still there. I never would have thought that it would have lasted this long, so in a way, it's like some of my architectural projects where they'll hopefully outlive me and contribute to the community, which is important to me.

I just wish the Electric Fetus all the success in the world. I think it's way too bad what's going on in terms of the road construction around there now; I think that's hurt their business, but hopefully that will pass.

Looking back, it's just a fun time to remember. With "1968" being the buzzword lately — it seems you see that everywhere: on TV, in art shows and stuff. It was the best of times and the worst of times in many ways. I can remember crossing the street in front of the Electric Fetus, my hair was down past my shoulders, and an enormous semi stopped in the middle of the road and tried to back over me. People were not too happy with hippies at the time, but it all turned out all right. The whole experience really led to mine and a lot of people's thinking since that time, how we approach life.

It's still very relevant to us, what happened at that time, mainly as a protest against the horrible war in Vietnam. We were eventually able to stop that war. And if we have any success, then maybe we can go on and do the same thing, or there's a new generation that's stopping some of the nonsense that goes on today.

So I guess I'm forever a hippy — put it that way — without the hair!

External Links

Electric Fetus - official site

Anishinabe Wakiagun - official site

Bungalow Court on Main Street - Twin Cities Bungalow Club

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1 Photos

  • Electric Fetus
    The Electric Fetus in Minneapolis. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)

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