Soul Power

Diana Watters

ANITA ASHFORD IS a professional. For years she's owned and operated the only music store on West Broadway that caters to the African American community. Since moving to Minneapolis from East St. Louis five years ago--against the advice of friends who warned her Minneapolis was "cold as hell"--Ashford has become a fixture on the North Side.

And her store isn't called Soul Survivor for nothing. "Am I making a living with this store?" she asks. "The store is living off me." Yet by pushing everything from Busta Rhymes's hip hop to William Becform's gospel, Ashford is finally starting to break even. Rap is the big seller, mainly because of the younger listeners that support it; but ads in the local African American weekly Insight and on KMOJ-FM have helped bring in a more diverse, older clientele.

The store's cordless phone rings constantly with questions from distributors and customers curious about new releases. Ashford pauses between bouts of calls and gestures lovingly in the general direction of her husband Ray Womack, who is working feverishly by the cash register at the other end of the room. "He's the one with the real sales skills," she says. "Customers will walk by, peek in the window, and if they don't see him, they don't come in."

Something else might turn away potential customers: Soul Survivor is a hip-hop record store without any records. Though the store is stocked with cassettes and CDs by everyone from Janet Jackson to Coolio, there's not a single slice of vinyl in the house. "I don't think vinyl is a viable market for us," Ashford says. "There's not enough demand to support it, and I'm unable to return the product if it doesn't sell. It's just a risk that I'm unwilling to take."

Right now the upcoming Tupac release seems to be the big news around the store, and everyone is hoping it will be as big as last year's pseudonymously released Makaveli CD. "Something like 300 people came in and out of my store the night it was released," Ashford recalls. "It was midnight, and the customers parked all over the place. The police were waiting outside, passing out parking tickets like candy."

The anecdote speaks directly to the store's biggest problem. Over the years it hasn't been competition from Best Buy or Soul Survivor's lack of wax that's hurt its growth, she says, but an unwelcome police presence and unworkable local laws--like the one prohibiting parking on West Broadway from 4 to 6 p.m. "Pick a business around here," Ashford says, covering her eyes with one hand and pointing in midair with the other while spinning around on her stool: "We're all dying because there isn't any parking."

And the cops? "One night an officer just came in here and started looking through my personal papers," she remembers. "And when I told him he couldn't do that, he says, 'You can't make me leave,' and put his hand on his gun. If I had to do it all over again, I'd go into real estate. Then if I had problems in a particular area, I could just move." But for now--boys in blue not withstanding--she's isn't going anywhere.

Soul Survivor is located at 2341 Penn Avenue N., Mpls.; 529-6535.

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