It's been almost forty years since Oar Folkjokeopus first opened its doors on 26th and Lyndale. The storefront has outlived the 8-track, the cassette, and the cd as the dominant musical forms pushed by an industry whose focus has always been on moving units. As the record industry has promoted these varied formats, Treehouse has always kept space on their shelves for owner Mark Trehus' preference: the vinyl record. In 2001, then-manager Mark Trehus took ownership of the business and Dan Cote became manager, changing the name to Treehouse Records in the process. In April, the store will celebrate this ten year milestone with a live show at Hell's Kitchen downtown and a password sale for members of their email list.
Gimme Noise took a few minutes to talk with Trehus about the ever-changing nature of the business and the challenges of balancing his personal tastes with keeping a successful business afloat.
Mark Trehus: I've trimmed the personal collection down to around 25,000 or so, with roughly half of those being 45s and the other half being LPs.
How much do you let your personal tastes affect what the store carries? It is hard to draw that line?
Personal tastes affect what Dan and I purchase, to a large degree. We carry titles that we may be somewhat lukewarm on, but that we have an audience for, because we need to keep the lights on. We carry a lot of records that don't necessarily sell as well as, say, the new Arcade Fire, but I am adamant that we stock them because we view them as important cornerstones of a respectable record collection. It's a never-ending balancing act.
The history of the store has been documented already, but it's unique that store front maintains its ties to its predecessors as much as Treehouse does. Do you think of the current Treehouse Records as a natural evolution of the Oar Folkjokepus that opened almost forty years ago?
Very much so. Of course, I managed Oar Folk for the last 16 years of its existence. The original Oar Folkjokeopus, which was around from 1973 through 1984, was the absolute epicenter of the local rock scene. The '84 fire represented the end of an era: it occurred after the Replacements, the Suicide Commandos, Husker Du, et al were either broken up or in decline. We've tried to carry on as best we can for nearly 30 years---for better or worse!
After being in the business so long, does anything surprise you anymore?
Well, the business has changed drastically in the 30+ years I've been in it (10 as Treehouse). I wasn't prepared for the extent that file-sharing and downloading have affected our CD sales, and the rapidity with which those sales declined. The internet has changed everything, but not all of it is negative by any means.
Vinyl seems to be your true love, dating back to the original store as well as with Nero's Neptune Records (run by Trehus). Was it hard to maintain your enthusiasm during the cd era? Is there a sense of relief as vinyl regains some popularity?
I love records! At Oar Folk, we were the last independent store to give in and carry cds, but we never abandoned vinyl, unlike the Electric Fetus and some other folks. Cds aren't intrinsically evil, mind you, but the way they were thrust upon us by the major labels was not only obscene but extremely short-sighted. These arrogant and clueless major label fuckheads think Napster is what ruined their stranglehold on the market, but it was greed that buried them. Good fucking riddance, I say. Today, they only exist for the platinum-selling few, so we don't care about them any more than they care about us.
Sense of relief? Well, yes and no. Our new vinyl sales are once again our top-selling category, and have been for a couple of years now. That is encouraging, but the decline in cd sales has not been matched by a concomitant rise in vinyl sales. Also, other stores are jumping into the vinyl game. People in-the-know may realize that we still have the best vinyl selection in town, but in a couple of years, who's to say that some deep-pocketed, music industry dork won't start an Amoeba-type vinyl emporium in the Twin Cities? That would be hard to compete with. But hey, if there's more vinyl getting out into the world, that's always a good thing.
Community has always been an important part of Treehouse. Do you think the store could thrive in the same way in a different location?
Minneapolis (and St. Paul) music customers are (and always have been) very hip. Maybe it's because of all the colleges here, or the arts scene. I don't know. People make a conscious, political decision to shop here because of that very sense of community, and because they value the independent record store. There are going to be file-sharers, and there are going to be haters, but we are extremely blessed to have some of the best people in the world for our customers. I mean it. If it weren't for them and the gratification they bring us, I wouldn't bother carrying on.
To celebrate ten years, Treehouse will be giving a password sale for members of their email list starting on April 1st. Also, the store will celebrate with a 10th Anniversary party on April 9th at Hell's Kitchen with The Blind Shake + Special Guest, Spider John Koerner & Tony Glover, Paul Metzger, and more to be announced.