"It's a good time to be small," Grimey's co-owner Doyle Davis says as he stands in the large remodeled room that will more than double the retail space of the beloved local record store. "At least in terms of being a local business that directly services the needs of your customers."
That focus — building a local identity and unique personality while focusing on service to the customer — has been Grimey's formula for success. And with their expansion into Grimey's Too — partnering with the new Howlin' Books and the Frothy Monkey coffeehouse to create a local business mini-plex on their stretch of Eighth Avenue South — Grimey's is demonstrating how 20th century entertainment artifacts are still appealing to 21st century customers.
Named as one of the "Top Record Stores in America" by Rolling Stone in 2011, Grimey's path to success certainly didn't come from a corporate playbook. Founded in 1999 by local musician and scenester Mike "Grimey" Grimes, the shop began its life in a small house in Berry Hill with Grimes' personal record collection comprising the initial stock, his many friends dropping by to hang out and talk music. Opening its doors practically spitting distance from the monolithic Media Play outlet at 100 Oaks Mall, Grimey's seemed no more than a passing blip on the big-box retail radar.
By May 2002, the whales of music retailing had begun to beach themselves, singing death songs for the music industry. At the same time, Doyle Davis, a former manager at music/movie/comic retail shop The Great Escape, came on board at Grimey's as a partner. Davis brought a scrappy marketing moxie that synced perfectly with Grimes' goal of catering to his customers' love of music rather than simply moving "product."
In June 2004, Grimey's moved to a Victorian house on Eighth Avenue South, getting more room for stock and the space to begin a constant stream of in-store performances and special events. The sense of hipness and laid-back friendliness remained, but the store now had all the elements necessary to become a full-featured music retailer. As Davis told The City Paper when he first came on board, "I want to take Grimey's from a small used record store to the full-blown independent record shop Nashville has never had."
The Grimey's team now intends to bring the shop into its next phase: Grimes, Davis and their crew of 10 employees have expanded into a grand Victorian mansion hidden behind a strip-mall façade just two doors down from their existing location. With businesses occupying spaces on both sides of Grimey's and no room to expand in their current location, the decision was made to leap-frog into the new space. The interior has been remodeled with a nod to midcentury modern-retro chic and features ample space for shopping or enjoying the kind of impromptu conversations that great record and book stores inspire. The building features 2,100 square feet of retail space with another 4,000 square feet underneath for offices, processing and storage, along with a covered deck, a large backyard and parking space behind the building.
"When I saw the space, my first thought was that it's a little big for us," Davis says.
Aware that Jessica Kimbrough (Grimey's bookkeeper and the wife of local rocker Will Kimbrough) and local songwriter Gwil Owen had been talking about opening a bookstore, Davis and Grimes floated the idea of sharing the space. That led to the union of Grimey's Too and Howlin' Books. But rather than segregating the music and the printed word, the new space will intermingle the two. Two main showrooms will combine new books, magazines and used CDs along with a limited selection of top-selling and new-release vinyl LPs and CDs. The back section of the building features three rooms separated by walls with large pass-throughs designed to feature used books and an expanded selection of used vinyl. The bulk of new CDs and vinyl will remain in the original Grimey's location.
"We're finally going to be able to merchandise our used stuff, which I think we've done very poorly in the main store," Davis says. "At least half the stock is down on the floor and what is up available for browsing is always jam-packed so full you can't flip through the records very well. A part of that is the constant inflow of new vinyl — every year there's more being reissued in addition to new records coming out. It's cannibalized the space for used vinyl."
As for Howlin' Books, Jessica Kimbrough says the new stock will grow over time, but the used books should be a big attraction to many buyers. "Right now, we have about 10,000 used books," she tells the Scene. "We're really selective about the ones that will be on the shelves. Music books, fiction and pop culture books of all variety, including many great ones from the '60s and '70s, will be our focus."
Howlin' Books will also feature a wide selection of music magazines, including many of the harder-to-find British publications, but they also plan to carry literary, pop culture, art and some fashion mags. "I would love to get to the point where we have an unbelievable magazine selection," Kimbrough says.
Grimey's Too will also feature the newest location of the popular 12South coffeehouse, Frothy Monkey. The coffee shop portion of Grimey's Too — slated to open a few weeks down the road — will also provide refreshments and a variety of food, with a small seating space inside and a large attached deck adjacent to the building.
It's a delicious slice of irony that the new Grimey's Too complex is a bit like a microcosmic version of the almost-extinct big-box media model, but re-engineered with a local focus and a love for music, books and a well-crafted cup of coffee. With their soft opening currently scheduled for Feb. 12 and a grand opening celebration later that month, Davis acknowledges that Grimey's Too is still a work in progress, but it's a plan for success that he's confident will pay off.
"We'll be tweaking the design for the first several months," says Davis. "And I know there are blind spots that customers will point out to us. We know we have the stuff and the staff, and now I think we have the space."