Grimey’s, Nashville’s long-running indie record shop, will celebrate its 14th anniversary next week. Before Scoutmob busts out the birthday cake and party balloons, though, we thought we’d sit down with shop owner Mike Grimes and convince him to divulge a few of his secrets. After all, how does a homegrown music store manage to stick around long after the big box places have packed up and left town? By knowing its audience, apparently.
When Grimey’s opened in 1999, just in time for the Christmas season, the pickings were slim. Mike Grimes had borrowed $1,000 from a friend to open the place, and most of the initial inventory – about 5,000 CDs and LPs – came from his own collection. Being small had its advantages, though. Grimes was able to listen to his customers and turn around their requests in a couple of days – something the folks at Tower Records weren’t able to do. As the owner and primary booker of Slow Bar, a popular venue across town, he also had a firsthand look at which bands could sell the most tickets (and CDs) in town.
Business boomed, with sales increasing by as much as 90% each year. By 2004, Grimes had joined forces with a business partner, Doyle Davis, and moved the record store into a Victorian mansion on 8th Ave. “We wanted to be the Floyd’s Barbershop of music stores,” Grimes says, name checking the old-school hair cuttery from The Andy Griffith Show. “A place with the sort of records that people want, in a store with a very intimate feel. We also wanted to have a lot of in-store performances and serve beer at them, which is something I saw at South By Southwest. That’s the kind of thing we thought was missing in Nashville.”
The first band to play the new 8th Ave location was Phoenix. The list ballooned from there, with groups like the Black Keys, the Avett Brothers, Conor Oberst, Dawes, Paramore, Feist, and Grace Potter all stopping by for their own in-store gigs. When Brian Wilson released That Lucky Old Sun, he spent an afternoon at Grimey’s, signing autographs for anyone who picked up the album. Celebrity musician sightings have included Robert Plant, Jack White, John Prine, Gene Simmons and Jim James. Metallica even made an appearance, packing 120 sweaty fans into the Basement – Mike Grimes’ small, intimate club beneath the record store’s floorboards – for a secret gig in 2008.
“Technology is fine,” Grimes says, “but there are certain things you don’t get unless you actually go to the record store. Brian Wilson isn’t gonna come sign your record at your house. Metallica isn’t gonna come play your living room.” Earlier this year, Grimey’s expanded again, opening a second location on the same block. The new place is called Grimey’s Too, and it basically doubles the store’s overall size, offering a beefed-up collection of used vinyl, pre-loved CDs, books, coffee drinks, posters and DVDs. There’s space for more in-store shows, too, along with parking out back and a big wooden deck.
“We always wanted to grow, but when I started Grimey’s 15 years ago, I didn’t have any clue that this would happen,” Grimes explains. “I just wanted to avoid having to get a day job that didn’t have anything to do with music.”