Mr. Zero's Pop-Culture Heaven

Rik Schwinden invites us into his lair
Steven Cohen

Mr. Zero's entertainment shop is stranger than fiction. As you approach the purple, '70s-font sign and stride past the window display with a vintage mannequin surrounded by 45s and life-size rock-star cutouts, you feel like you're entering another dimension. And as you step through the portal, your mind whirls from the phantasmagorical array of posters, instruments, vinyl-record mobiles, and wall-to-wall vinyl with out-of-this-world cover art—from the Suburbs to Iggy Pop to the Runaways to Black Sabbath—beckoning music lovers with their siren call against the sonic backdrop of KISS blasting out of the stereo.

Mr. Zero's "Pop Culture Heaven" is a used entertainment shop in Roseville, where you can buy, sell, trade, and consign. It's a nostalgic trip through the past, jettisoning you back to Camaro-rock days with a wall of hundreds of 8-tracks and cassettes, mostly rock. There are tons of CDs. Action figures, lunchboxes, and music memorabilia, including signed posters, photos, and guitars, fill walls and cases, along with video games, consoles, and record players from every era, plus videos and DVDs, antiques, vintage clothing, used books, board games...phew! It's like Doctor Who's TARDIS—it looks small-scale from the street, but opens into an artfully organized store with a stunning plethora of audio-visual delights for everyone from the avid collector to the merely curious.

Owner Rik Schwinden has dreamed of such a store since 1995. Inspired by Rockaway Records in Phoenix, Arizona, a store Schwinden loved while living there in the early '90s, Mr. Zero's manifested when three of Schwinden's friends got divorced at the same time and wanted to sell their collections. They pooled their resources, garnered a huge support and supply network, and found a location near restaurants, a Walgreens, a tobacco store, and a liquor store. Mr. Zero's opened in November 2009.

Schwinden has worked in music in a myriad of ways since the '80s—in bands, as a concert promoter, in a stereo shop, and at record-store chains. A rock music writer, he's contributed to a KISS book and is collaborating on a Tommy Bolin biography with Bolin's brother Johnny (who, coincidentally, lived across the street from Schwinden in Sioux City, Iowa, Tommy Bolin's hometown).

Schwinden says his interest in music collecting began when he was a kid. "My aunt Deborah played 45s for me, such as the Dave Clark 5 and the Beatles. When I was really young, the Monkees had a show. I liked the music."

Which is where the name of the store came from: a 1968 episode of The Monkees called "The Devil and Peter Tork," which featured a store called Mr. Zero's Pawn Shop. Once the store was christened, bizarre things starting happening, as though the new shop was straight out of The Monkees; one day, a woman driving by ran in and guessed the source of the name, "won" their long-running trivia contest, and soon after became a partner at Mr. Zero's.

Once Mr. Zero's opened, connections kept on walking through the door. When Schwinden needed more vinyl, a poster collector connected him with John Kass, a.k.a. "Go Johnny Go!," who now consigns from his vast record collection. Kass connected Schwinden with a seller of used books who supplies Mr. Zero's regularly. Soon, a wide network of collectors and rock preservationists had formed in and around the store.

"I definitely saw how people were forgetting about the past. Everything was becoming disposable," Schwinden says, reflecting on his reasons for opening Mr. Zero's. "I saw during the CD boom of late '80s and early '90s that some people were throwing their records away. Not only are they works of art and history, but somebody paid money for those. That's somebody's whole life they poured into this record. They poured their hearts out! I said to myself, 'What if instead of throwing it away, we'll buy if we can, and hopefully people will donate it rather than throwing it out—then we can recycle it!'"

On carrying cassettes, Schwinden notes, "Cassettes are coming back. They tend not to degrade. I know recording engineers who are saving things to cassette because they're lasting longer than burned CDs."

And vinyl continues to surge in popularity and increase in value, mostly due to an appreciation developing among a younger generation of music fans. "The sound from a record is about this wide in audio fidelity," Schwinden explains, holding his hands shoulder-width apart. "The sound from a CD is about two-thirds that; the sound from an mp3 is a third of what it is from vinyl. So when kids hear vinyl, compared to the mp3 they've been listening to for the last few years, they're really hearing it for the first time. That's part of it, that creative, artistic, nonconformist attitude.

"There are thousands of movies that'll never be on DVD. There are thousands of artists on vinyl who will never, ever be on CD because they're doing away with CDs. There's all these lost works of art—maybe only three people are going to like it, but others are never going to know unless they have a way to get it," Schwinden says. "If you don't want something, bring it to us and we'll figure out something to do with it."

Mr. Zero's is located at 1744 Lexington Ave. N., Roseville; 651.489.0207

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