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Let It Be Records vs. Target: The blow-by-blow

Cameron: "This was after an autograph session, the first they've ever done, for Pretty Hate Machine."
Cameron: "This was after an autograph session, the first they've ever done, for Pretty Hate Machine."
Photo courtesy of Ryan Cameron

Last week, we reported that Let It Be Records' Ryan Cameron aired a justifiable grievance with Target. For some reason, a huge local company is holding on to a couple of letters that used to be part of the signage outside his shop for a private "art installation." Never mind that Target could likely set up a letter-making factory with a few well-placed calls.

Cameron made the comment that the history of his now-shuttered Nicollet Avenue store does not belong to Target. Below, we have a few photographs of that history -- including visits by Nine Inch Nails, Patti Smith and more -- and his full story on what has happened in his interactions with the retail chain.

See Also:
Let It Be Records' history isn't Target property, former owner says

Let It Be Records Is Closing
The triumphant return (almost) of Let It Be Records


Ryan Cameron:
Let It Be Records moved to the Nicollet Mall in 1989. I had no way of knowing that the store would survive until 2005 (18 years!). Every day was a new adventure and a struggle, with a whole lot of fun. When I moved there, I got my rickety two-story metal ladder out and glued the letters for the sign to the 2nd floor level front of the building. It wasn't an expensive sign but it was good enough for me.

Cameron: "Donovan autograph session after a lunchtime in-store performance (before a show at First Ave.)"
Cameron: "Donovan autograph session after a lunchtime in-store performance (before a show at First Ave.)"
Photos courtesy of Ryan Cameron

When I closed the store on June 15th, 2005, it was because the block and building were going to be bulldozed to build a huge condo tower. The last day of the store was a huge emotional hug for myself, my co-workers, and the many people that showed up the last day to celebrate the life of the store. When the store closed that night there was a large crowd of people outside, as well as most of the store staff. An impromptu party across the street at the Local took place with well wishers and store staff hanging out. Then...

Someone said to me, 'hey, I'd like to have one of the letters' from the storefront sign. So in my slightly inebriated state, I went inside and got out the rickety 2 story metal ladder that I'd used to put the sign up and in my slightly buzzed state climbed the ladder. With a hammer and a screwdriver I chiseled the glued letters off, one by one, and handed them down. People were taking them as fast as I could pass them down. All I had left to take down was the 'It'. I couldn't reach it safely and it would have meant resting the ladder against a piece of glass so I decided not to risk it. After I got down I realized that I didn't even save a letter for myself. Oh the memories.

Shortly after that, the imminent tear-down of the building did not take place, but the development company put up large awnings across the store front on both sides and the 'It' disappeared. Or so I thought...

Fast forward to about three months ago. My wife sends me a photo that shows that the 'It' is back! It was covered up but never taken down! By this time the building had been purchased by the Target Corporation. I wanted my 'It' back. Surely Target, in their usual position of love for the local community would see things my way and return it to me.

So the next time I was downtown I went to the construction site to try to find out who could help me. I flagged down one of the workers who graciously went and got the construction company's project manager. He told me that the 'It' and been brought up in several meetings with Target personnel and they were instructed multiple times that they were not to take the partial sign down. Wow, they'd had meeting discussions about it. Maybe they understood the cultural significance of it all. He also passed on the name and phone number of the Target Corporation project manager.

So, of course I call him and end up leaving a message. He returned my call the next morning and I had a long discussion with him, explaining the origin of the 'It' including the final day impromptu buzzed climb up the rickety ladder to chisel off the letters to the folks below me. He seemed to enjoy the reminiscing and then it came to the part where I asked him why Target Corp. appeared to be so intent on protecting the sign. I got a very evasive answer about how they wanted to insure the building maintained the history of what was there before. So I'm thinking they are either going to leave the letters up or move them somewhere with a nice little plaque that says 'Here lies the ashes of Let It Be Records' or something profound like that.

His response was that he could not divulge company info for reasons he wouldn't explain. He understood my desire to get my 'It' back. He would pass along my request to the other decision makers and get back to me. So I had to ask again "Why do you want those letters, are you going to leave them up?" Oh no, we'll take them down. "But what are you going to do with them?" I can't tell you. My response was "Surely you can understand the sentimental value to myself and Target could of course afford to go out and buy the same two plastic letters and I'd keep the originals. Better yet, I'd pay to get them the replacement letters and we'd swap." All he could say is I'll get back to you.

 

So I waited to here back from him. And waited. After a month I called him a left another message. No response. Then almost two months after I left the second message, on Wednesday, August 29 he called and left the following message (very chipper and happy sounding):

"Hi Ryan, this is Joel ****** with Target. Believe it or not, I'm calling you back regarding our 'It' letters based on our last discussion a few months ago. If you get an opportunity please give me a call back, we'd love to talk to you and just touch base with you, and yeah, that would be great. I'm in the office all day tomorrow. Feel free to give me a call 612-***-**** and looking forward to hearing from you."

Wow, a response after all this time. Of course I call him back right way and it goes to voicemail. I leave a message. Then almost a week goes by I leave another message. Still no response.

Saint Etienne autograph session
Saint Etienne autograph session
Photo courtesy of Ryan Cameron

On September 10, I left another message this morning for the head of the project at Target that said it would be the final time I'd call him as I'd already left several messages with no response since he'd left the message of "I'm looking forward to talking to you"...

So he does return my call. Anyway, the Target Corporation has decided not to return 'It'. Why? I asked. It is their corporate policy not to give away property they "own." Gee, I'm a business person, I can understand that. You can't just be giving away your most valuable assets. What if every former business owner requested to get their long languishing partial signs back from the properties that Target Corp acquires? Think of what the shareholders would do. Heads would roll, there might even be a run on the banks!

So of course I have to ask "What are your plans with 'It'" since it has been removed from the face of the building? Well that's where the excitement comes in. They have assembled an artwork piece that incorporates various elements of the buildings and businesses that used to be there. Well, if I can't get 'It' back, that might be the next best! Having the store represented sounds great. So where will this fabulous piece of art be displayed? Inside the building of course, which is only accessible to Target team members (that's corporation lingo for employees). It is not accessible at all to the public. But you will be able to see it through a window on the far left 10th street side. And they want me to be involved in writing a text portion to go next to the letters. Oh I get it now. Even though it will be behind glass, accessible to only team members, people will be able to see it (along with the other building momentos) and read about the history of it.

Cameron: "Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo in one of the many (I think they did 4 or 5 over the years) in-store performances"
Cameron: "Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo in one of the many (I think they did 4 or 5 over the years) in-store performances"
Photo courtesy of Ryan Cameron

Well, not exactly. It's going to be displayed on a far back wall so you'll be able to see the momentos from a distance but you will not be able to read any of the accompanying text or explanations as to what they mean or are because it will be impossible. But it will be viewable. Wow, that doesn't really make sense to me. So Target Corporation, who is all about being viewed by the public as being this 'give back to the community' organization is going to provide a token history lesson to just employees? Once again, I suggest that since this doesn't really make much sense to me how about me buying the same letters at my expense and swapping them? Ahhh, no I'm sorry we can't do that.

 

He really wants me to view the art piece. It's going up this Thursday or Friday, so I feel that I should at least go inside and look at this piece of art that I will never be able to get close to again (unless I end up working for Target). I have an appointment for Thursday Sept. 20. I will be ready to provide some text, but I'm just as likely to tell the PR guy to stick it.

The history of Let It Be Records (and the other businesses that were shut down) is not OWNED by the Target Corporation. It is in the collective consciousness of the customers and workers that used to frequent them. I would prefer that when someone walks past the building they can say to their kids or friends: Hey I saw Wilco play there, or I met Patti Smith or Radiohead and got their autographs, or I ran into Adam from The Beastie Boys coming out of the basement after he'd gone on a shopping spree. Or I bought my first record there. Or I went in and the person that waited on me suggested what are now some of my favorite records. Any thoughts like that, good or bad, are what made the store. And Target Corporation will never own, or possibly understand any of that.

Soul Coughing in-store
Soul Coughing in-store
Photo courtesy of Ryan Cameron
Cameron: "Patti Smith (with employees and Sony rep) Autograph session for Gung Ho"
Cameron: "Patti Smith (with employees and Sony rep) Autograph session for Gung Ho"
Photo courtesy of Ryan Cameron

I know some people who read this or hear about it will say 'quit whining', you should have taken it when you left, and you're probably right. 'It' wasn't the only thing that got left behind though. I ended up leaving a large amount of records and miscellaneous stuff behind because the development company that was going to do the condo tower verbally agreed to give me six weeks to move after the store closed and then after about two weeks told me that they were changing that to allow only four weeks, lobbing off two whole weeks of planned moving time. Man, I and my friend Erik were scrambling up until midnight the night before. Why the abrupt cut-off? Because they were going to start tearing down the building the following week. We all know how that went...

Note: The art should be up by now. Has anyone seen it yet?


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