MUSIC MILLENNIUM MARKS A HALF-CENTURY
Sustaining success hasn't been easy in the music industry, but Music Millennium celebrates its 50th anniversary this week.
Fifty years ago a record store was commonplace, and not a rarity, as it is today. Don MacLeod and his wife, Laureen, and two others opened Music Millennium at its original location, 3158 E. Burnside St., on March 15, 1969, using money that MacLeod withdrew from his Tektronix retirement account.
Three other Music Millennium stores have opened and closed, musical trends have come and gone, and business has been up and down, but Music Millennium still exists on East Burnside as an iconic Portland business and draws in young and old alike for its large collection of vinyl records, CDs and even cassette tapes.
Today, it's Terry Currier's baby. He is the well-known sole owner who celebrates 35 years at Music Millennium, working his usual 60-hour weeks at his labor of love.
It's not hard to imagine Music Millennium lasting another 50 years. But, first things first: There'll be a (likely sold-out) 50th Anniversary Celebration Show at the Aladdin Theater on Friday, March 15.
Currier says Music Millennium is more than a record store, it's "a place where you can have an experience."
"We have a number of customers that shopped the store in 1969," he adds. "Music Millennium became kind of this little community center back then, kind of the first of the underground record stores; at the time, most people bought records in drug stores and department stores."
The MacLeods and partners Dan and Patty Lissy founded the store because they couldn't find places to buy certain records. Don MacLeod left his Tektronix job and headed Music Millennium full time, setting up distributors in Europe and around the country, as classic rock, singer-songwriter songs and disco became popular in the 1970s.
Currier came on the scene in 1984, during the reign of hair bands. The Washington native, who still lives in Vancouver, helped the company pay off its debt by 1987, and MacLeod rewarded him with 5 percent ownership. Later, during the grunge era, MacLeod gave Currier 20 percent; in 1996, when MacLeod died, Currier bought the rest of the business from the estate, and electronica and an expansive list of other genres continues to sell records.
Currier has managed Music Millennium through tough times. Music Millennium's expansion to four stores had to be curbed; the original store survived, but the Rockwood, Tigard and Northwest locations did not. The industry dealt with the download/streaming era, started by Napster, and the number of record stores nationwide went from 7,500 in 2000 to 1,800 in 2007. Currier says business was lean for about nine years, and employing two bad bookkeepers — one of them went to jail — certainly hurt the enterprise.
The huge retail chain that often served as the face of record stores, Tower Records, folded in 2006.
Amid struggles, Currier says, store owners "were doing it because they were passionate about what they did, not for the money. They loved the music and wanted to keep doing what they were doing. I was one of those people."
For the 20th anniversary in 1989, Currier suggested to MacLeod that they put on 20 consecutive nights of live, in-store music to mark the occasion. It would turn into 30 years of in-store performances, 4,500 in all, at the then-Northwest and East Burnside locations. The likes of Randy Newman, Keith Emerson (from Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and Joe Strummer from The Clash made their solo debuts there, and Soundgarden, Paul Westerberg, Steve Earle, Weezer and Cyndi Lauper have performed.
Vinyl is selling again. And, Music Millennium now sells novelty items and toys, along with beer and wine. On sale is a Portland Brewing Unipiper Hazy IPA, named after the locally famous Portland Unipiper, and bearing the promotional slogan that Currier long ago trademarked, "Keep Portland Weird."
It's a packed store, all 6,000 square feet, not including a warehouse. "We've never had enough space," Currier says.
Currier, 63, stays busy keeping Music Millennium thriving. He's also president of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame among other associations.
"Music drives me to do everything I do," says Currier, who once played clarinet in school and later learned to love music through the radio in his car.
"There's a fine line between my personal life and work life. ... Even though I'm a very busy person, I seem to raise my hand when needed for something happening in the music community, it's because of my love of music."
And, what about grooming a successor?
Currier wants to someday find a successor "or a mini-me." He says: "There'll be a time when I can't do this forever, and I do want to see Music Millennium, go into the future. I want to have Music Millennium to come shop at, I'm foremost a music fan."
The Music Millennium 50th Anniversary Celebration Show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 15, at the Aladdin Theater, 3017 S.E. Milwaukie Ave., includes music by The Dandy Warhols, The Crazy 8s, and Jon Koonce and The Lost Cause. For more: www.musicmillennium.com, www.aladdin-theater.com.
There'll also be a showing of a film, "Holy Thursday," by Richard Blakeslee and George Hood at 3:15 p.m. at the store. The movie originally showed on March 15, 1969 at 3:15 p.m.