Sunday, September 25, 2011
Believe it: Former Believe in Music employees to stage record store reunion in Grand Rapids
Published: Sunday, September 25, 2011, 8:05 AM
By John Sinkevics | The Grand Rapids Press
Count me in as a onetime believer in Believe in Music.
During its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, the West Michigan-based independent record store chain had every conceivable album release music mavens might covet and a passel of well-informed employees to help track down rarities.
I still remember buying Elvis Costello's “My Aim Is True,” Bob Seger's “Stranger in Town” and Bruce Springsteen's “Darkness on the Edge of Town” from the Fulton Street store all on the same day, hauling these vinyl gems home and playing these classics repeatedly and oh so happily on my turntable.
Many of the true believers weren't just customers, but employees – as many as 500 of them – who worked at some point in two dozen stores across the region at the chain's peak.
“It felt like family” working at Believe in Music, noted former employee Kristi Surine Bast, who called it “a place where people liked to hang out.”
Owner Russ Stuut and his wife, Maggie McCracken, opened their first Grand Rapids store in 1973, ushering in the Believe in Music era.
Amid intense retail competition and dramatic changes in the record industry – which has undergone upheaval due to online music downloading – they closed their last shop 29 years later.
It was a day of mourning for those who reveled in the joys of flipping through record bins, ogling posters, hearing new tunes played in-store and otherwise exploring musical glory.
But Believe in Music is back, at least for one night.
About 100 former Believe in Music employees will stage a reunion from 3 to 8 p.m. Oct. 2 at Billy's Lounge in Eastown, reviving old friendships, sharing anecdotes, trading photos and generally just reveling in that “bohemian, hippie-style” vibe that the chain created.
“We have requested songs that remind former workers of their days in the stores and we'll be playing them,” said Ogie Dreyer, one of the reunion organizers who first started working at Believe in Music's Fulton Street store in 1973, and later spent time at other outlets, including managing a store on 28th Street.
“I'm very surprised at the reaction. What started as a 'Hey, let's have a reunion' comment on Facebook became a rallying cry. It's been the folks from all over the state and country who've created a major amount of energy for this project.”
Former Believe in Music employees such as Bast, Jackie Sirianni, Mario Leon and Jim Marcusse – along with longtime disc jockey Aris Hampers – have helped champion the cause and added to the flood of stories about their experiences, some posted on the “I Used to Work at B.I.M. … Believe in Music” Facebook page.
Dreyer remembers getting slapped by singer Debbie Boone during an in-store appearance after he asked her to marry him. He also recalls an armed robbery taking place at the Fulton Street store in the midst of a live remote broadcast by radio station WLAV-FM.
“They were a bit taken aback by the amount of people in the store,” he said. “I think the robbers were so flabbergasted, they left without any money, but I'm not 100 percent sure of that.”
Former customers are welcome to attend the reunion, too, and T-shirts with that once-familiar Believe in Music logo are being created for the event.
Stuut and McCracken, who are retired and now live in Colorado, can't attend the event but hope to send over a short video greeting and a CD montage of photographs for the reunion.
Stuut said response to the Facebook page started by Bast “has overwhelmed us with warm memories and a feeling of accomplishment. For it to lead to a reunion is really unbelievable.”
That just speaks to the nature of Believe in Music, which spawned friendships, relationships and marriages over the years.
“The heart of our business was music and music is a powerful thing,” Stuut reasoned.
“The people that worked with us weren't just drawn to a job, they were working with something they loved, music. We all shared that same love and it created a powerful, common bond.”
Of course, there's some sadness attached to this reunion, too.
Although a few independent stores such as Vertigo Music and Corner Record Shop soldier on in the Grand Rapids area, the record industry will never be the same again.
“It is sad that the music business as we knew it is gone forever,” Stuut lamented.
“I think that people miss the personal attention, the visual merchandise, and the comfort and camaraderie of the local, neighborhood music store,” said Bast, first hired by a Kalamazoo Believe in Music store in 1988.
“Somewhere, in between when the Believe in Music stores closed and the present day, our culture closed the doors on ingenuity and indie shops, making way for the Walmarts of the world.”
E-mail John Sinkevics: firstname.lastname@example.org