It took Judy Mills several months to find the right storefront for Mills Recording Co.
Eleven months after she opened her business on the north side of Westport Road, just east of Broadway, she already needs more space.
“It’s a surprise, but a pleasant surprise,” she said. “I knew we’d grow, but I didn’t think it would be so fast.”
Mills Recording Co. opened in May 2013, about five months after Mills decided that opening a shop and selling vinyl records was what she wanted to with her life, though it was hardly the enactment of a childhood dream.
A native of Pittsburg, Kan., she’d grown up in a place where the only place to buy music was at the big-chain department store. Back then her tastes were mainstream: “I loved the Carpenters, I listened to Journey,” she said. That changed when she attended Kansas State, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English and started listening to more underground bands like R.E.M. and U2.
“I’ve always been a fan girl,” she said. “I did a little bit of music blogging, but mostly I’ve just stayed a fan girl. That’s how I appreciate music.”
Mills put her degrees to work teaching writing and English as a teaching assistant, then as an adjunct professor, including a stint at Johnson County Community College. She was also an account executive for Clinique before putting in several years at Restoration Hardware, until the Leawood store closed and she took a hiatus.
“I didn’t do anything for about a year,” she said. “But when it came time to decide what to do next, I felt strongly that I couldn’t do corporate retail again or even corporate at all. And I really felt like there was a market for this (a record store), and I had to try it.”
Mills grew up in the right environment: Her father owns a small chain of independent auto-parts stores, and now her brother owns one, too. She asked them and others for plenty of feedback and advice.
“Almost everyone said, ‘No, don’t do it,’
” she said, “but I really felt in my bones this was the right thing to do. I thought it could succeed if it was more than just a record store.”
So she revved up her store’s social media machine and reached out to local bands so she could revive the in-store shows and establish the place as a local music hub.
“I thought it would be good to help local bands promote themselves through the store, and then have them come in and play in the store,” she said. “I felt like the in-stores have gotten lost in this town and I wanted to bring that back. The response has been great. I didn’t expect that I could do an in-store almost every day, but I could.”
She has delegated the job of buying vinyl to Christian LaBeau, who had put in lots of time at other stores, including Streetside Records.
“I do the social media and pay the bills, and I weigh in on some of the buying,” she said. “At first I wasn’t going to do used records because I felt I didn’t know enough about them. But Christian knows all that.”
Saturday, Mills Recording Co. will celebrate its first Record Store Day, a 7-year-old event sponsored by a coalition of thousands of independent record stores in the United States and abroad. Many bands and labels produce special recordings that are available exclusively to stores like Mills to be sold that day.
Mills is taking it as an opportunity to establish her store as a go-to outlet, especially when it comes to offering the Record Store Day exclusives. She acknowledged she was maybe a bit extravagant in deciding what exclusives her store will stock. (The exclusives cannot be returned to labels.)
“I wasn’t conservative,” she said, “and I might regret it later. But this is about making it clear that I’m in it and serious about it, and this is a place you need to go. So I wasn’t cautious.”
There will be live music in her store all day. Mills invited 12 local bands to perform, figuring seven or eight would accept. All 12 said yes, to her surprise, but she has found time for all of them. She has also received support from Oddly Correct coffee, Midwestern Musical Co. and C Custom Drums, all of whom are donating services.
As she approaches her store’s first anniversary, Mills is optimistic about what could happen in her second year, especially if she finds a way to expand and launch an on-line store.
“When I started doing this, I had plans to do other things to supplement income, odd jobs I could do during the day,” she said. “But I never got to them. I need to strike a balance between work and personal life. I thought my father and brother had a horrible balance, but theirs is better than mine.
“But, I’m paying bills. And I eat. And if you told me when I started that I’d hire additional people, I’d have said no way. And the way the local music community has responded: that’s another pleasant surprise. Things have been going well. I feel really blessed.”
RECORD STORE DAY LOCATIONS
1412 W. 12th St.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Live music begins at 1 p.m. The lineup: Jason Beers, Stoica, Space Station Lounge and Porkchop the Big Ditty. Record Store Day exclusives will be in stock. Much of the remaining inventory will be priced at a discount, including RSD exclusives from previous years.
Love Garden Sounds
822 Massachusetts St., Lawrence
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Plenty of RSD exclusives will be in stock. On purchases of $50 or more, customers will get a coupon worth 10 percent off a future purchase.
Mills Record Co.
314 Westport Road
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
There will be loads of RSD exclusives and live music all day. The lineup includes Burial Teens, Lazy, Rev Gusto, Bummer, Metatone, the Caves, Expo 70, Red Kate, the ACBs, the Bad Ideas, Keef Mountain and Heartfelt Anarchy.
7621 Troost Ave.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The store will carry hundreds of RSD exclusives. As of Monday, management was in the process of booking some live music to be played on its roof. Saturday will also be the store’s official 4/20 (Weed Day) cannabis culture celebration, since the actual date is Easter Sunday.
1415 W. 39th St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
7932 Santa Fe Drive
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Overland Park store will open at 9 a.m.; the Kansas City store will open at 11 a.m. At 1 p.m., bands will begin performing at the Sandbox, outside the Kansas City store. The lineup: Akkilles, Fullbloods, Katie Herzig and Mat Shoare. Both stores will carry a large supply of RSD exclusives and offer hourly drawings, including one for a set of Phase Tech speakers.
1208 W. 39th St.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Zebedee’s is folding Record Store Day into its weekend-long 4/20 celebration. Friday night, two DJs will spin reggae tunes for a reggae dance. Saturday, the store will have about 120 RSD exclusives and giveaways. All weekend, store inventory will be 30 percent off.