Almighty Press

September 19, 2006
34 years, and that's not all, folks

While chain and independent competitors are struggling, Looney stays in tune

Newsday Staff Writer

Tell Karl Groeger Jr. about the demise of the independent record store and he's likely to give a small, polite smile.

That's better than what he's thinking, which is: "Enough, already!"

Groeger, the owner of Looney Tunes, a mom-and-pop record store in West Babylon, has been hearing about the end or "the graying of the record store," as The New York Times put it recently, for the past three years and finds it about as endearing as a skipping album.

"People should talk about the independent record stores that are thriving," Groeger said quietly, almost humbly. "There are some."

He's right. And Looney Tunes is one of them. In fact, Looney Tunes, according to some industry experts, is one of the country's most successful independent stores - one that has been able to groove to the current cacophony shaking up the music industry.

"They are not a huge store," said Clark Benson, chief executive and founder of a music research company, Almighty Institute of Music Retail in Studio City, Calif. "Still, pound for pound, it is one of the best stores in the entire country."

Not an easy accomplishment when record stores - both indies and chain - have been drowned out by the beat of steadily falling revenue. In the past three years, 760 independent and 1,300 chain stores have gone out of business, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail. The latest victims include Musicland Holding Corp., which filed for bankruptcy in January, and Tower Records, which filed for bankruptcy for the second time in August and is up for sale, experts say.

Meanwhile, Long Island's independent record stores are washing away like sand castles in a high tide filled with Wal-Marts, Best Buys and Targets. Only 19 independent, brick-and-mortar record stores exist today, down from more than 50, two decades ago, according to Almighty and Long Island record store owners. The culprits: big, boxy discounters that sell music at lower prices and the Internet, which enables people to download music cheaply and conveniently.

So what is Looney Tunes doing to keep its business soaring like a No. 1 hit?

"We have changed with the times," said Groeger, 37, who owns the store with brother Jaime, 34, who handles buying.

When Groeger first saw signs of people getting their music elsewhere, he joined in 1999 the Coalition of Independent Music Stores, a Birmingham, Ala.-based trade association of 28 independent record stores from around the country that have banded together to compete with bigger competitors. As a member, Looney Tunes gets more advertising packages, promotions, giveaways and exclusive products, such as band concert CDs.

Because of the store's longtime relationship with record companies, Groeger has been able to attract big-name artists, such as Ice T and Ozzy Osbourne, to his store.

Top bands regularly give concerts in the 4,000-square-foot store. His biggest set was in 2001 with metal band Staind, who performed on Looney Tunes rooftop for a crowd of 7,500 people.

The store on Brookvale Avenue and its Web site (looney hawk more than 600,000 items, including hard-to-get releases, DVDs and books. It also sells T-shirts, posters, body jewelry and other music-related goodies.

Customers also can browse and listen to their favorite songs at either site and blog about their musical experiences.

So far, Groeger's strategy seems to be working. Experts estimate Looney Tunes' annual revenue to be more than $2 million - a number that Groeger doesn't dispute.

Groeger's father, Karl Sr., opened Looney Tunes in 1971 with $15,000 and a passion for the Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Kinks. "I wanted to bring the joy of music to people," he said.

He sold music effortlessly, expanding the store in the '80s and in 2000. But then the competition came, and one by one indie retailers in Long Island began shutting their doors. Karl Jr., who took over the business in 1999, said he used to be happy when competitors went out of business, thinking it meant more market share for him. That attitude changed when he realized the factors hurting his competitors were hurting him, too. "Now when a store closes, I think there goes another soldier," Groeger said.

One of the most enjoyable parts of his job is helping Long Island bands that he showcases in his store, newsletter and Web site. Members of Point Blank, an unsigned metal band, say they would not have been able to play in some of the more prestigious Long Island venues if it weren't for Groeger's constant trumpeting of their act. "Now people know us," said Bill Kelly, the band's lead guitarist. "I think it will only be a matter of time before a record label signs us."

Groeger said working with local bands comes with owning a Long Island record store. "People have supported us all these years," he said. "We just want to support them."

Looney history

1972. Karl Groeger Sr. opens Looney's doors.

1984. Looney Tunes starts to offer clothing and other music-oriented items.

1985. Store adds 1,000 square feet.

Mid-1990s. Looney Tunes starts to do in-store concerts and autograph signings.

1995. Looney Tunes launches its monthly newsletter, reaching more than 11,000 customers.

1997. Looney Tunes is asked to join Coalition of Independent Music Stores (cimsmu

2000. Store expands again by 1,000 square feet, to its current 5,000 square feet.

2001. Bought building; Looney Tunes hosts in-store events with Staind for 7,500 people and Ozzy Osbourne with thousands in attendance.

2003. Web page is launched.

SOURCE: Looney Tunes WHEN & WHERE On Friday, Saosin and local emo band Envy on the Coast play Looney Tunes, 31 Brookvale Ave., West Babylon, at 7 p.m. To get into the show and autograph signing, you must preorder Saosin's upcoming self-titled album. Visit www.looney or call 631-587-7722.

Permission granted by copyright holder for this express use only.

Article List

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