Manny's & Karyl's closes this week

By Susan Mustapich | Jan 11, 2017
Photo by: Susan Mustapich

CAMDEN — As Matt Brown prepared for the closing of Manny's and Karyl's, an eclectic retail store he owns with his wife Karyl at 25 Mechanic St., he reflected on the state of the music business, running a small retail store in Midcoast Maine and what he and Karyl are planning next.

While Brown feels some sadness about closing the store, he said it is not an emotional decision.

Brown, who opened the store in 2014, found that in a retail environment selling "software," or DVDs, vinyl and CDs, that once consumed music and movies, could no longer support a small, independent business.

"Overall, what I found in two and a half years is, there's not enough volume either locally or with the tourists and the people who come here five or six months a year to sustain a software business," Brown said. "Adults are buying online. Kids are streaming usually through their phones. YouTube is huge and you can get almost anything for free: concerts, live cuts, whole albums. And yes there are people that love vinyl, people who still buy CDS, tourists that bought CDs for their cars traveling, and some people that buy movies, and even fewer people that buy Blu-rays, but it's not sustainable."

Karyl, who made and sold her own jewelry on one side of the shop, will continue jewelry making at home, and selling through Etsy.com and in local stores in Camden, Rockland and Belfast.

"She's excited about that. She has a place at home where she can have a workshop," Brown said. "She really enjoys it; it's very creative."

Brown's half of the store sold new and used CDs, vinyl records, movies, turntables and "other cool stuff." He said he is looking forward to the change, which involves a new job, making more money, hopefully allowing more family time with their son, and traveling a little.

In 1979, Brown founded and then later sold Wild Rufus, a record store that thrived in Camden for 30 years, before moving to Belfast in 2009, and then closing a year later. After Brown sold Wild Rufus, he worked for Disney, Dreamworks and most recently as head of worldwide sales for Sony Pictures home entertainment. After he retired early from Sony, the family moved to Camden.

"I had Wild Rufus as the founder in 1979, and I really wanted to come back and see what it would be like 35 years later," Brown said. "We didn't take out loans, we did it all with money we had saved."

The Browns rented a small store on Mechanic Street, which fit the budget. "We liked the space, rented it, and stocked it ourselves. I was really anxious to see what the state of the business was in software, CDs DVDs, vinyl and movies. Movies being what I worked at for 25 years."

After opening Manny's and Karyl's, Brown "found out that vinyl was pretty hot." He saw "a lot of people dipping their toe in the vinyl pool and wanting to buy cheap vinyl turntables, a lot of used and older equipment being dusted off from attics and being given to a grandson or a son or a daughter."  But with new vinyl records averaging $25 to $30 each, he saw the vinyl market gravitated to less expensive used records.

At Sony, Brown had, among other things, launched the Blu-ray format. To stock the Camden store, he researched classic movies, using the American Film Institute list of top films and other sources, and bought 200 all-time classic movies in Blu-ray. That Christmas, the store gave away five Blu-ray players as a promotion. Brown refers to this as one of his mistakes.

He "quickly learned that while we had kidded ourselves at Sony that everyone knew about Blu-ray; nobody knew about Blu-ray. I had spent years both in London and Los Angeles talking to press about the advantages of Blu-ray. But in a small town environment, Brown came up against the perception that Blu-ray players and discs were too expensive. "I still had all my contacts at the studios, and I was sending them emails and saying, people don't get it." He found that people didn't feel the need for the technology, "when they could buy DVDs at Walmart or Manny's, instead of Blu-ray."

"The last 18 months, I did a little traveling in New England to Bull Moose in Maine and Newbury Comics. I walked into these stores, and I realized — wait a minute — to succeed in this business, you have to sell T-shirts, novelties, books. About 35 years ago, someone suggested I do that at Wild Rufus, but I never wanted to get into that stuff. I wanted to sell music and movies," he said.

Brown is "looking forward to the next thing in life," but at the same time sees the change in the retail record store business "as a little sad." He believes that downtowns "are a part of growing up and a part of  America that's important. Having come from California where everything is a strip mall or an enclosed mall, and fast and furious, one of the reasons to come back here was that between Belfast, Camden and Rockland, you have wonderful downtowns, in various states of vibrancy, but they're all fun to go to, and they all have a semblance of what it should be like, or what it used to be like. I don't think it's retro. I've talked to a lot of people of all ages, and they're here for the same reason."

Brown also talked about what is lost with digital formats. "I have been an unsuccessful driver of the idea that even if you are selling content digitally, there ought to be a way of getting printed content, because that's half the fun. This Christmas, we bought our son a Queen vinyl box set. His first vinyl that he owns, and he loves Queen. There's nothing cooler than sitting with my son and reading the jacket and reading the liner notes. That was the magic that I grew up with. The music, yes you can argue whether it's better on vinyl than CD or better on CD than digital, but the cool thing was being able to read the lyrics and read who played on the album, and the artwork. So many things are racing by us in the modern world but this kind of thing is special."

Manny's and Karyls is hosting a final "Black Friday" sale through Jan. 14. At Manny's, everything is half off, with additional specials including $1 CDs. Karyl's is offering big sales on jewelry and knitting. Store hours through Jan. 14 are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at smustapich@villagesoup.com.

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