The city of Portland is arguably the most misunderstood city in the United States. Much like a lot of major cities, locals and their small businesses are being priced out of their homes to make room for transplants and trendy new shops. There are a few and proud Portland originals who want to keep the city authentic and weird, Music Millennium is one of those shops. Since 1969, the good people over at the oldest record shop in the Pacific Northwest have made it their mission to introduce niche, exciting music to the city. Over 50 years and a few drastic changes to the city later, Music Millennium refuses to turn its backs on the city and still stands as a monument to the Portland they grew up loving.
Glide had the pleasure of talking with Terry Currier, the current owner of Music Millennium to discuss the shop’s impact on the city, its humble beginnings, and much more.
Check out their website here and read the full interview below: https://musicmillennium.com/Home
Music Millennium is credited for bringing the “Keep Portland Weird” campaign into the spotlight. What does that slogan mean to you and what are some ways you guys plan to keep it weird?
For about three years I was looking to start a campaign to champion local independent businesses, those places that help distinguish our city from other cities and give it a unique flair. “Keep Portland Unique” was not making it in my mind. Then my friend John Kunz, who owned Waterloo Records in Austin, Tx mentioned that someone had come up with the slogan “Keep Austin Weird”. I was fascinated with it and the next 1/2 dozen times I talked to him, I asked him about the slogan and what was going on with it. He suggested I use it up here. I made 500 stickers that stated “Keep Portland Weird” and 500 that said, “Keep Portland Weird…Support Local Business”. I sent many of the business ones out to local businesses and let them know what I was doing. I ran the sticker in the Willamette Week a couple of times, not associating it with Music Millennium. The interest grew organically to a point that it became the unofficial slogan of the city. As I said earlier, “Keep Portland Weird” to me means “Keep Portland Unique” It’s a slogan that is completely open to interpretation. The Silver Man at Saturday Market, Elvis, The Church of Elvis, Voodoo Doughnuts, The Unipiper, etc all represents the weirdness of Portland.
On your social media pages, Music Millennium is regularly updating your fans on the best-selling albums of the week. Has there been a response to a record that shocked you all and what genres usually lead the pack for best sellers?
Amazingly, the catalog is outselling new releases most of the time these past few years. Young people, who have gotten into vinyl, are buying records that are 40 to 50 years old along with current favorites. I started in a record store in 1972. It would have been like me listening to music from the 20s and ’30s (well, I did listen to a few but most people of my generation did not). Beatles, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Grateful Dead, and Led Zeppelin are regular top sellers these days. Hip-Hop catalog sells extremely well with Classic rock and classic jazz (50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s). Fleetwood Mac Rumors was the #1 selling vinyl piece. CDs are still selling for us and cassettes keep picking up more fans.
I see that you guys have some in-store signings and performances. Who are some alumni of these events and are there any performances from the past that stand out or you’re proud of that are up on Youtube?
We have done over 4,500 live performances at the store. In 1989, I was thinking of something to do for our 20th Anniversary. I turned to the then majority owner and founder Don MacLeod and said “Why don’t we do 20 straight days of live performances?!” He asked, “Where at?” We had had a few artists play in the aisles before but I pointed up to the mezzanine and said “Up there.” We were going to rent a sound system to do it but we ended up buying one. We did 40 days of local artists from the outreach I did…..then I started hitting up record labels and managers on National artists that came through. Randy Newman sang Happy Birthday to us on our 20th Anniversary year. Soundgarden performed on Street Date of “Louder Than Love ” and Joe Strummer of the Clash did his first-ever live performance here and this Black Friday the performance came out on vinyl around the world. “Joe Strummer Live From Music Millennium ”. Steve Earle has flown in five times just to play the store on the week of release.
With the history of your store spanning 40 years, I can’t imagine the stories that are contained in those walls. Can you give us a brief history of Music Millennium? What were the cassette and CD eras like for you guys? Did you always think vinyl would make a comeback?
The store was started on the Ides of March in 1969 by Don & Laureen MacLeod and Danny & Patty Lissy. It was all vinyl then and then they added a few 8-tracks and reel-to-reel. Don thought US vinyl was inferior to most of the world because we used recycled vinyl so he went to Europe to set up accounts with European distributors. The store was domestic on one side and imports on the other, a Who section on one side, a Who section on the import side. At the same time, he found all this great music coming out in Europe and that was not being released here and brought that in too.
Then mid 70’s cassettes came and were added. When the walkman came out in 1979, cassette sales started growing so there were a few more in the store. Then came the CD, which had a 40th Anniversary last year. CDs picked up steam in 1985 and ‘86. The record industry forced vinyl out. National chain stores in malls did not bring in CDs as they already had cassettes and vinyl and had no room for a 3rd format. The big distributors said “CDs are here to stay and vinyl is going away”. In 1986 and 1987 those chains returned all their vinyl and brought in CDs. On a graph it looked like vinyl was declining fast and by the end of the 80’s, vinyl was practically not being made except by a few indies. I wanted to believe in a comeback but I could not have predicted this.
In 1995 I started a retail support group called “The Coalition of Independent Music Stores”. It was made up of independent stores in different cities with the hope that because no one was competing with each other, they might trade business ideas and practices to make each other stronger. Out of that, 2 other coalitions started up. In 2007, the 3 came together with an idea to have a special day to champion vinyl and to try and get the industry to make unique vinyl pieces for that day. We hired a national publicist to promote it and to promote the fact there were still 1,800 record stores in the states. From that point, vinyl has consistently grown to the current interest.
The city of Portland is no stranger to thriving art scenes. How has the local music inspired your shop and does it have any influence on your curation process?
Being in a city that is more open-minded about the arts helps us to be able to have such a deep catalog of music in all genres. We have had a vibrant local music scene since the 70s.
How has all the “Portlandia” hype of the last 15 years or so helped retail and does being in Portland feel like you have to live up to a bigger role as a record store owner?
“Portlandia” put a certain spotlight on Portland around the globe. More people came to visit, more people moved here. It does change the vibe to a degree. Those that have lived here since the 70’s and 80’s and understood the old vibe of Portland which was pretty great…..and affordable. As the population grew, the cost of living in the inner city has jumped immensely. It’s increased rents for businesses also. Harder for small businesses to thrive in the inner core of Portland, forcing some out or to move out. During this time, it’s more important to keep Portland unique or “Weird” but harder to do….even though Portlandia depicts us as “Weird”.
Being that you guys pride yourselves on your niche selection, what is the rarest record you guys currently have stocked?
That changes regularly. Used records are in big demand because the amount of record buyers has increased so dramatically. We can put a collector’s record on the wall and the next day or week it’s gone off the wall. We do not sell our used online so many are priced much cheaper than what we could get for them. We have had the first Nirvana single, Beatles “Butcher Covers” and so many other things come through over the years.
How much of your stock is used versus new and how do you keep a healthy balance between the two?
Used fly out the door as fast as we can get it. Collections become available when they do….sometimes we have tons and sometimes not. We have always focused on our new product inventory also, which we have a little more control over except for the supply chain problems due to increased demand for vinyl. Meaning, it takes 8 to 10 months for a label or artist to reorder a title at a manufacturer. With increased vinyl pressing plants going in around the world, that should help
What used record or records do you hope to never see or hear again?
We get tons of easy-listening records coming in the door from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. There is no market for most of those….Ray Conniff, Mantovani, etc. We turn them down.
With Music Millennium constantly changing and adapting, what does 2023 have in store for the oldest record shop in Portland?
We are happy to be living in a time when people are passionate about vinyl again. Vinyl has always been the best format for listening to music……the wonderful 12 by 12 album covers….the warm sound. And 20 minutes a side is the perfect attention span for a music listener to concentrate on a listening experience. We will continue to have live music events, artist signings, Our Customer Appreciation Bar-B-Q in the summer, Bring Your Kids To Music Millennium Day, and other fun events. Each day we try to make the shopping experience exciting. We do numerous enter-to-win contests for concert tickets, autographed records, and test pressings that can get a hold of. We are always striving to make it the best record store it can be. I’m a music fan and I want the store to be the kind of store I would want to shop in as a music fan. And we have some pretty passionate music people working here. It’s not just a place to shop, it’s a place to have a great time.