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Best Buy, one of the newest music stores in town, sells appliances and CDs in the gigantic space that used to house Highland Appliance on Ann Arbor-Saline Road.


Music merchants are many — too many, in the view of some. Bookstores want to join the chorus, too.

By Kathy Ann Moilanen


Retail Report

Ann Arbor already has more than its share of cool music for sale around town. Here’s the latest:

■ Schoolkids Records & Tapes and SKR Classical are expanding into two new storefronts on Liberty.

■ Tower Records plans to grow into the entire top floor of the Galleria Mall on South University.

■ The new Best Buy store has a huge, discount music department in the Oak Valley Centre on Ann Arbor-Saline Road.

■ And, eventually joining the fray will be Borders Book Shop’s new music section, scheduled to open next summer after the store takes over the former Jacobson’s building downtown at Liberty and Maynard streets.

“I think Ann Arbor has too many record stores; something has got to give,” says Rob Sunseri, manager of Michigan Where House Records on South University.

To compete, Sunseri says Where House Records simply will keep doing what it does best: serve students within walking distance of the store; offer live, in-store appearances; hold midnight sales the night before hot new releases come out; and buy used CDs -which go to the Lansing store to be sold. And, yeah, he says, maybe some of the stores in town will lean toward specializing because of the increased competition.

The prospects for music overload also concern Schoolkids owner Steve Bergman. “It could be a little tough going,” he says.

But using much the same philosophy as Where House, Schoolkids and its sister store SKR Classical plan to keep doing what they do best, Bergman says. Only, of course, they’ll be doing it in 2,500 more square feet of floor space.

“Our biggest fear - what we don’t want to do ... is lose the ambiance and feel of the store. We don’t want to be too big,” Bergman says. “We’ll expand just enough to keep our selection state-of-the-art.”

Schoolkids now has control of the two storefronts between it and SKR Classical, just up the block. Both are in the 500 block of East Liberty Street. What used to be Albert's Copying Store now is temporarily an outlet store for discounted tunes. And Campus Jewelers next door is moving upstairs, with plans to keep a street-level window to attract walk-by traffic.

The remodeling will push Schoolkids east slightly into the Albert’s space and SKR slightly west, leaving 1,000 square feet in between as an outlet for extra inventory from both stores, Bergman says. The grand total will be 6,700 square feet of retail space devoted to music.

The newly opened Best Buy has a mere fraction of that space, with about 500 square feet of CD display floor. But, if a store expansion now under negotiation goes through, the store could more than double the size of its CD department, says Best Buy General Manager Roger Fry.

“It's quite a traffic builder for us,” he says of his appliance store’s music department. “We try to get the best price in the market on CDs.”

Meanwhile, Tower’s expansion - still being ironed out - would double the size of the store in the Galleria Mall to 16,000 square feet by the first quarter of next year, says General Manager Tom Rule.

The new space would allow a larger book section, more classical music, more computer software and even a loud room, where customers can listen to head-banging music at head-pounding volumes without bothering other patrons, he says.

As for the growing competition in town, Rule isn’t concerned. Being within walking distance for collegiate customers gives Tower an advantage over distant Best Buy, he says. And as for Borders, Rule says he is certain it will be a nice store, but it’ll still be a bookstore with records as a sideline.

Overall, the changing market will make his job more fun, he says.

“All of a sudden, Ann Arbor is becoming a hotbed for entertainment, like books and records,” he says. By the way, he mentions, the new Barnes & Noble bookstore being built on Washtenaw may have a music section, too. Sure, why not join the rest of the crowd?