Graywhale: The 25-Year-Old Local Music Mammal

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Jon Tueller and Dustin Hansen of Graywhale CD Exchange are thrilled that Record Store Day has stirred up interest in buying local. Photo: Katie Panzer

Graywhale is one of the most successful music stores to ever open in Utah—with seven locations ranging from Ogden to Orem. Currently headed by Jon Tueller, Dustin Hansen and Daryl Shieving, the company has been selling new and used CDs and records since 1986. They, like other small music stores, continue to invest in the media that most big-box chains like Walmart and Best Buy are phasing out.

Recently, Graywhale launched a new online digital download store, FatFin.com. Hansen, a store director and merchandiser, and Tueller, the marketing director, started working for the company in 2002 and 1997, respectively. They moved from store managerial positions to eventually buying the business, as did buyer and warehouse manager Shieving. Tueller was studying marketing at Utah State when he entered the Graywhale picture and has since filled that position with marketing initiatives with local radio—recently adding KRCL DJ picks in their stores—to his list of ventures.

Local business has to support local music, symbiotically, with hard copies of releases. Graywhale contributes by buying music outright instead of consigning from bigger bands in the area like Loom and Fictionist. “People come to us with music all the time. Just bring it to us and we’ll buy it,” Tueller says of the established groups out there. Graywhale also does consignment for up-and-coming local groups.

Initially, Graywhale struggled retaining its own platform in the dark days when MP3s first attacked local music shops. Then Graywhale found a time-tested business tool for uncertain times: diversification. The retailer encouraged people to bring in other kinds of media to trade in for store credit or cash. Tueller’s rough estimates now put music at 50-percent of their inventory with 35-percent movies and 15-percent video games. Used vs. new stats vary, but the stores are guaranteed to have something you’re looking for and are aiming to boost their ease of use in that department with a new product/store locator on their website. FatFin.com now has whole albums or individual songs, for sale in digital form as well. This type of business model and community support of Record Store Day (RSD) is the new dawn for small music retailers and will save the business if enough community members vote with their wallet.

The aforementioned Record Store Day was started in 2008 by The Music Monitor Network (MMN).  The MMN is a collection of nationwide independent retailers that Tueller chaired in 2010, and a network fully able to take advantage of joining together to make a difference. RSD has successfully managed to stir up interest in buying local, which is perfect for a retailer like Graywhale. “Supporting local business has always been an important thing to the community here. We wouldn’t be who we are without it,” Tueller says.

RSD falls on the third Saturday of every April, happening April 16 this year, and encourages feet back into local record shops by offering limited edition releases of old and new records. Records from past artists include Beach House, Built to Spill and Charlotte Gainsbourg. This year’s releases look equally solid with vinyl releases from The Flaming Lips, The Black Angels, The Kills and Deerhoof, among many others. It’s also going to be RSD Ambassador Ozzy Osbourne’s debut. Yes, Ozzy Osbourne is the official RSD rep this year, an inaugural position that, according to Record Store Day co-founder Michael Kurtz, allows an individual to “claim the mantle of greatness … on the world’s only holiday devoted to music.”

There are rumors that Tueller has plans to commemorate Ozzy’s presence in a limited-run tee like he designs every year for RSD. This is just a rumor, but I hope it’s true. I’m collecting Record Store Graywhale t-shirts for my grandchildren.

In addition to limited edition vinyl, Graywhale has seen the writing on the audiophile wall and is amping up its regular vinyl inventory. As Hansen told SLUG, “I just did a gigantic vinyl order yesterday. We’re going to have easy beginner turntables and some midgrade tables, too.”

Get to any Graywhale location along the Wasatch Front at 8 a.m. for RSD. Graywhale locations will feature exclusive releases and in-stores from nearby bands. Check out the shelves for super-deep discounts on all their merch. Your local Graywhale isn‘t going anywhere and neither is the spirit of local music they’ve fostered for almost three decades.

Photos:
Jon Tueller and Dustin Hansen of Graywhale CD Exchange are thrilled that Record Store Day has stirred up interest in buying local. Photo: Katie Panzer