B-Side Records is the only record shop left in downtown Madison. However, development company JD McCormick proposed demolishing three buildings to make room for a five-story development on the 400 block on State Street. JD McCormick’s proposed project will displace three small State Street businesses which have been there for decades, including B-Side Records, which resided at 416 State Street.
B-Side Records owner Steve Manley spoke to The Daily Cardinal about the store's history, transition to the new storefront and his thoughts on property companies adding new high-rises to State Street.
B-Side Records opened at 436 State Street in 1982 by two recent University of Michigan graduates who were former record store clerks. Manley recalled shopping at B-Side immediately as a fellow college student big on record collecting.
“B-Side had a cool and interesting selection for such a small shop,” Manley said.
Manley was working for years at Suburpia, a sandwich shop at 514 State Street.
“[It] is the exact storefront B-Side just moved into. Moving back into the same spot I first worked at in Madison is a pretty wide, satisfying and unlikely full circle,” Manley said.
Manley struck up a deal where the owners of B-Side could get discounted subs in exchange for discounts on records. This deal was Manley’s first step into B-Side. He ended up working at the record store in the summer of 1983. Since then, Manley worked his way up from clerk to store manager to store owner by the mid-2000s.
Manley believes the mid-2000s were not the most ideal time to buy a record store as CDs and digital downloading became more prevalent.
“Vinyl seemed like a dead format, while CDs were fading fast. In those years it was a severe struggle to keep the shop open. Then, when all seemed lost, the outlandish and far-fetched Record Store Day concept was invented by a few record store guys out east who then carefully planned and organized it with artists and record labels into a national annual event,” Manley explained.
“That was the spark for the vinyl revival, which saved many struggling record stores, including mine. It was and still is astonishing,” Manley continued. After 39 years in its original location, property company JD McCormick submitted a proposal for a 5-story, mixed-use development which would displace B-Side.
“I was upset because JD McCormick never told me about the demolition proposal and I found out second hand from a friend who saw a public notice on a City of Madison website,” Manley said. “It was not completely shocking that JDM wanted to tear down my building for mainly student housing, as I had been offered only a month-to-month lease for years and had heard rumors about such a plan. But it felt shady the way they went about it.”
JD McCormick claimed to have communicated with the building's tenants and assisted them in relocation. According to Manley, JD McCormick made no effort in contacting him when the development was first proposed.
Much of State Street’s architecture are one-to-three story brick buildings built in the late 1890s — the original “old world” character of State Street, as Manley would describe it.
“Though I enjoyed my 39 years at the old store, in the end, I'm relieved to be out of that location because the new 2022 B-Side location is superior in every way: bigger, cleaner, more structurally sound, with much more storage and other amenities,” he said.
B-Side Records closed its original location on Sept. 22 before reopening at 514 State Street on Saturday.
“The move was not easy — moving never is, and there was a staggering accumulation of four decades of stuff to sort through. But we were fortunate to have 17 people assist us over the course of the process, including three key problem solving handymen,” Manley said. “I was hoping to be closed for less than a week for the move, but looking back, we were lucky to be closed only nine days before reopening on Oct. 1. It was a huge project.”
514 State Street is a block closer to UW-Madison’s campus than the original location. Although they have only been open a few more days in the new storefront, Manley said being closer to campus near some bigger chain stores has not hurt business.
“I'm optimistic about the next several years. So far everyone seems to love our new, more spacious and attractive location.” Manley said. “Incredibly, vinyl is more popular than it's been for decades, and even CDs are making a bit of a comeback — even with young people. Again, I credit the organizers of Record Store Day for starting this trend of going to record stores and collecting records. It's been trending for more than 12 years now, with no sign of slowing down.”
Although the relocation from B-Side Records’ original 40-year storefront was a loss to part of State Street’s history, Manley is hopeful for the future of the new store’s location and the future of vinyl.
“This revival of physical music is like a really good dream, and I am happy and grateful to be able to continue my life's work as a record store guy here in downtown Madison,” Manley said.