Press enter after choosing selection
Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Marc and Jeff Taras

When: March 29, 2024

Marc Taras smiles at the camera over his shoulder while holding a vinyl record. Two men are seen looking through records in crates in the background.
Marc Taras, 1981

In this episode, AADL talks to Marc and Jeff Taras, brothers and founders of PJ’s Used Records. Marc and Jeff tell us about the origin of the store, how they've managed to maintain a close relationship despite being in business together, and the customers who meant so much to them. For 37 years the store survived the rise and fall in popularity of genres and formats, including witnessing the foretold death of vinyl only for it to surge in popularity again.

Find more about PJ's Used Records in our archival collections.

Advertisement for PJ's Records & Used CDs. A man in a suit holds a sign with a line graph that says "you buy one tape, LP or CD per week and we'll have this economy moving' in no time!" A woman and man look at the sign.
Advertisement for PJ's Records & Used CDs, 1997

Transcript

  • [00:00:09] ELIZABETH SMITH: Hi, this is Elizabeth.
  • [00:00:11] KATRINA SHAFER: This is Katrina. In this episode, AADL talks to Marc and Jeff Taras, founders of PJ's records. Marc and Jeff tell us about the genesis of the store, what it's like to be in business with a sibling, and the myriad of changes they experienced during their over 35 years in business. Thank you so much for being here. I would love to start just by asking what brought you both to Ann Arbor?
  • [00:00:40] JEFF TARAS: When we were very young, our parents would somehow obtain for us a ticket to a U of M football game every year and we would come and watch U of M slaughter the Navy or something very early in the season. Then a couple times a year they'd ask us where we were going to go to college and when we started saying we were going to go to U of M, the football tickets dried up.
  • [00:01:06] KATRINA SHAFER: What did you both study?
  • [00:01:09] MARC TARAS: I came here, I graduated high school in 73, so I came in 74. I had taken an advanced placement test at the urging of a counselor in high school, and placed out of freshman comp and got an additional three credits in the English Department so that settled me that I would do an English major and I ended up graduating as an Angell Scholar twice over and with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature with a teaching certificate and a minor in history that granted me by way of the work I did in the education school, a teaching certificate for seven through 12 for English and social studies, which I never put to use because my career took a different path.
  • [00:01:59] JEFF TARAS: I was a math student here at the University of Michigan. I did it because it was the most fun of school things. It seemed less work than other school stuff and I only found out 30 years later how terrifically famous and important the people who were my instructors were because their training wasn't in teaching. They were truly gifted mathematicians who were publishing fabulously important stuff.
  • [00:02:28] MARC TARAS: Jeff didn't mention it, but if I'm not mistaken, he was in the honors program in the math school.
  • [00:02:38] JEFF TARAS: I was a grind. I would just do a lot of similar examples and try and catch the pattern. But there were kids in my classes who were artists, who would turn in solutions that the teachers had never seen before and had to debate among themselves whether the problems could truly be solved that way, or if it had been some weird coincidence.
  • [00:02:58] ELIZABETH SMITH: After you went to school, you stuck around in Ann Arbor and started PJs. How did that begin?
  • [00:03:04] MARC TARAS: Well, I had left school after three terms. I was in a band and we were going somewhere. I played percussion and only modestly, adequately in a band full of talented guys that did jazz rock, fusion, instrumental music and our moment in the sun was playing at the Michigan State Fair. We did a number of gigs, but we did do this gig at the Michigan State Fair at the Big Bandshell, on an amateur hour program with this management group we were hooked up with and they gave us the last 15 minutes of the hour, and we were onstage immediately preceding the Ray Charles Orchestra. As we left the stage, there were the guys with the Ray Charles Orchestra waiting to go on, and I remember one of them telling our guitarist, you really sounded good. Afterwards I said, Dave, that's a guy from the Ray Charles Orchestra. He doesn't have any reason to blow smoke. If he says you sounded good, you sounded good. I had left school for five years, where I worked as a custodian for a junior high school in Birmingham, Michigan, during the day, and then worked at Discount Records in Birmingham in the evening. I was their jazz buyer and I eventually became the assistant manager. After five years, I realized that if I ever wanted to try to finish my degree, I had better do it. I guess it was 1980 or so or something like that. I moved back to Ann Arbor, I had gotten a Pell grant which covered my tuition, and I started working part time at Discount Records at State Street and Liberty. We had a friend named PJ, PJ. Ryder, namesake of the store and the name was really my idea. He objected to it, and I said, no, man, it's quick, it's easy to remember, it rhymes with DJ and I said, and everybody likes to be in his PJ's. He said okay.
  • [00:05:18] JEFF TARAS: The subliminals were good.
  • [00:05:18] MARC TARAS: He said okay. PJ and I, we liked to eat breakfast together at a place that we just called food because the sign outside said food. That was at the corner of Packard State. What would it be? The Northwest corner of Packard State. There had been this little antique shop where PJ's first opened on the main floor that had emptied out and after breakfast, I walked across the street, I said, come come on, I took him over and I showed him the room, and I said, look, this would be a perfect place to put a little used record store. Which had been my idea when I moved back to town. There was only Wazoo, was the only used record store in town and I thought, well, there's probably room for another one and we're not going to break anyone's heart by stealing a lot of their business. I suggested to PJ that, this would be an ideal space, put the counter over here, and we could put browsers over here and find some records and he said, well, alright, let's do it. I said, what do you mean? He said, what do you mean? What do I mean? I mean, let's do it. Get me a list of everything we need and he really motivated a lot of the creation of the store. I think that the inventory processing and how we wrote up sales and checked inventory and what records we should be buying, a lot of that may have come from me. I was the only one that had worked at a record store, and PJ put together a partnership as it turned out, five Catholics, all U of M grads, including me and Jeff and PJ our now retired accountant, David Haffey, a fellow named Donald Easterbrook, whom I had gone to junior high school and high school with, who was at that time a civil engineer for the city and who has since passed away. That was the initial group of investors and we paid off Don and Dave in the first couple or three years. I remember Dave saying that he had doubled his money and that that made it the best investment he had ever made. Jeff and I and PJ. I don't think we ever realized anything like that in return, on the investment of our time and energy.
  • [00:07:46] JEFF TARAS: I had a job at a record store for many years.
  • [00:07:48] MARC TARAS: But that's how it started.
  • [00:07:49] JEFF TARAS: Good jobs are hard to come by.
  • [00:07:50] MARC TARAS: That's how it started.
  • [00:07:52] KATRINA SHAFER: Am I right that PJ went on to have another business? Correct?
  • [00:07:58] MARC TARAS: He married a brilliant photographer named Donna Terek who worked for the Free Press, Detroit News.
  • [00:08:06] JEFF TARAS: Pulitzer prize winner.
  • [00:08:08] MARC TARAS: Moved to Detroit, commuted for a while. I remember clearly one day him coming in the morning, and he was pale. He was chalky. I said, are you all right and he said, man, I'm going to get killed out there one day. He said, this drive on 94. These people are insane. I think he just decided, he would just sell his share of the business and thereafter opened PJ's Lager House in Corktown in Detroit, which he turned into a music venue and neither one of us have too much contact with him anymore, but he's still with us, and as far as I know, still operating the Lager House.
  • [00:08:57] KATRINA SHAFER: For anybody who never had a chance to visit PJ's. Can you describe what the store was like and what you sold?
  • [00:09:03] JEFF TARAS: It was a full-range record store. We had a substantial classical section. The discount records that my brother had worked at in Birmingham was the most prodigious classical seller of their whole chain.
  • [00:09:18] MARC TARAS: Well, just about.
  • [00:09:19] JEFF TARAS: The DSO lived in range of that store.
  • [00:09:23] MARC TARAS: We did 40% of our business in classical music when Get the Knack and Cheap Trick live at Budokan and Saturday Night Fever in Greece, and Stranger in Town. The Eagles were all huge hits. There were something like 300 stores in the chain, and they ranked them like you rank high schools, A, B, C, D by market, and we were in the B market. But the only two stores in the chain that outsold us in classical music were A stores in Los Angeles and New York. It was necessary for me then to learn classical catalog just to be able to help the customers and to be remotely informed. Probably half the music we played, we'd play Talking Heads, and then we'd play a Brahms Symphony.
  • [00:10:14] JEFF TARAS: The store has broken up into sections, somebody who only wanted to look at our reggae records and we would have the best that we could obtain but they might snarl because there were only three or four crates of reggae records and some people we had customers that I dearly loved who only looked at blues records, that frankly, rock and roll was a sad thing that it happened to one branch of the blues and it could have been omitted without there being pained. But we also had, luckily, a large crop of omnivores who might not overlook the pop vocal section because that's where you'd find Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. Even though their friends might not be caught dead there.
  • [00:10:53] MARC TARAS: I always took great pride not only in the classical section, which was probably as good as any in town, but the jazz section was always very large and well populated with great titles. I remember one time my generation jazz drummer hero of mine, Kenny Washington, was in town with Johnny Griffin, the little giant from Chicago, the great saxophonist. I had gone to the gig, and the next day I'm working in the store, and this guy comes in and he's got a long coat and he's looking through the jazz section. He's pulling records ends up with a stack of like 40 or 45 records of almost all big band music and I mean some strange stuff, the on Coon-Sanders big band it wasn't just Ellington and Basie. It was a wide range of stuff. I said, all these big band records, how did you come to this fascination? He said, well, I do a big band radio show for WBGO in Boston. I said, really? What's your name? He said Kenny Washington. I said, oh my goodness, I was standing right behind you, looking over your shoulders, watching you play the drums last night with Johnny Griffin. He just sang the praises of the store. I actually went to the next night's gig, and afterwards I spoke to him again and thanked him for his great performance and for the kind words he had for the store and he said man, the store is a bitch.
  • [00:12:26] JEFF TARAS: If he's used to those Boston and New York prices, we probably see him relatively affordable.
  • [00:12:31] MARC TARAS: I think it was just that he found stuff. Probably those stores in his communities probably got picked over a lot quicker.
  • [00:12:39] KATRINA SHAFER: It was all used records?
  • [00:12:42] MARC TARAS: At the outset at the beginning. Soon we began to explore the fun of stocking certain new records whether it was genres we were always asked for and could never obtain, or whether it was personal favorites, reissue catalog, that we thought was spectacularly important. We had a company, we ordered records from which you could buy both new releases and discontinued items, what we called cutouts, things that were cut out of the catalog. We would have a range of pricing of sealed LP's and CD's and we just tried to pick the best stuff we could. PJ was pretty good as a businessman. Neither Jeff or I were very sharky about any of that. We were just hanging on by our fingernails for most of those 37 years. But my attitude was always if you're going to sit on something, I'd rather sit on something that's high quality that I know is an important recording is good music and that sooner or later that good music will find its proper home.
  • [00:13:58] JEFF TARAS: We were lucky enough to be there long enough that the tide went in and out several times on styles that were of particular interest.
  • [00:14:06] MARC TARAS: Or even formats.
  • [00:14:10] JEFF TARAS: I have memories of buying cutouts as cheap as a quarter or $0.50 that 10 years later people were desperate to pay 30 or $40 for a copy of but ours were long gone. Rediscovery of art is one of the cool cycles about recording music that people can return to the popular eye.
  • [00:14:37] MARC TARAS: We generally learned, at least it seemed to me, that anything that was ever immensely popular, no matter how many copies you seem to be sitting on sooner or later, those things would come back. Now, there might be some exceptions to that rule. Soundtracks that were really huge at the time of their release might not have the same cache for a generation that doesn't remember a man and a woman, they just don't remember. The film is just lost and not part of their consciousness. For even pop vocal music, you know, like Jeff mentioned, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, those are artists that are always going to have some broad appeal. Certainly, we learned that with the rock and roll there was a period when CDs had taken over, and the LP was dead. LP's were never going to happen anymore. Never. You may know the last couple of years LP's have outsold CDs on the world market. But there was a point at which I remember we sold guitarist, local blues, R&B guitarist Steve Somers, thousands of our records that we had duplicates of for like a buck a piece or something like that. By the last five years that we were open, if we could have given him three bucks apiece for all those records back, we would have made money on all of them because all those John Lennon records that we had 15 copies of all. All those Moody Blues records we had 20 copies of what stock we had had that we retained had now been dispersed, and finding clean copies of those records became harder and harder. I took a lot of pride in how picky we were about condition. If the record was truly rare, we might take it down to C minus condition, but we would put it out at the appropriate price point. We wouldn't try to sell it like it was the near-mint copy of that rare record. We would try to find the price point that was reasonable, both buying and selling.
  • [00:16:54] JEFF TARAS: There were sections of the store that were built by personal love. Our jazz section was driven by my brother's jazz mania, and in our latter day, we put together a separate Latin jazz section, because a lot of classic Latin jazz, Nuyorican Records and so on were being reissued. We acquired so many that we had a very separate Latin jazz section. PJ was personally committed to our reggae section, and then in a couple of cases.
  • [00:17:22] MARC TARAS: And a New Orleans section.
  • [00:17:24] JEFF TARAS: We had spectacular vendors, who themselves were so well informed about music that we were hapless regarding initially at the start of our careers, that he could set us up with the Bluegrass folk and old-timey section, that when the people who played that music for their personal entertainment or even for money came in, they would jaw drop at the things we had when we were apparently close to know nothing rubes about the genre ourselves.
  • [00:18:00] KATRINA SHAFER: Plenty of record stores came and went in the time that PJ's was around. Why do you think PJ's was able to last as long as it did?
  • [00:18:08] JEFF TARAS: We set the survival bar low. We didn't pay ourselves much money and we didn't have an expectation of being able to make that change in the immediate future. And we were so happy doing it. If your expectations are something other than survival income and you wind up in a survival income situation, the disappointment comes to your job, you bring it to the workplace. There's no way to avoid that but I was working with my brother in our dream job from childhood of having a record store and just the happiness level is, I think, what sustained it.
  • [00:18:49] MARC TARAS: We never paid each other any more than $8 an hour. Now, in the last few years, thank goodness, after Obamacare was initiated, the ACA Act, we were actually able to have the store afford to pay our healthcare bills because they were significantly reduced from what they had been with the HMOs that we had been with previously and so that was nice. I felt like we had a little benefit there. We never saw a nickel an hour above that $8 an hour. The last raise of which we gave ourselves was probably 15 years before we closed but hey, it was like getting a little bonus to have our healthcare covered. I remember one time Jeff telling me that some customer had been singing the praises of the store, some younger guy, and Jeff had said something to him, some self-effacing thing about not making a lot of money. Maybe even mentioned the $8 an hour figure. Jeff told me, the guy, without skipping a beat, the guy said, and that's why you're still here. Jeff said you're not sharkish. You're not looking to create a vast amount of wealth that you'll be able to pass along to your children or something. You're not looking for that cream-colored Corvette. When the first big record store I worked at a discount records. I remember Al Cohen, the manager, brilliant classical guy, taught me an awful lot about record retail and about customer service. Saying to me, if you're looking for a cream-colored Corvette, this is the wrong career but we saw Borders move from the State Street location, which was the huge bookshop where they then built a second floor to make a huger bookshop, and then moved across the street from Schoolkids' records to where Jacobson's had been and opened the store that the people that I worked with there at Schoolkids called The Death Star. That place was enormous and they grew and grew and the chain grew and grew, and then it all collapsed. We had a Tower Records come into Ann Arbor. Again, it was so enormous that the first time you went into it, you'd have to wander around through long aisles just to find where sections were, where they have their rock CDs. Then that place gradually shrunk and dried up. There were a couple of used record stores that came and went, and then Liberty Music closed up and became Encore but we saw a lot of change and we managed to survive and I think as Jeff has already suggested, largely because we weren't expecting much, and we were able to just get by with getting by.
  • [00:21:48] JEFF TARAS: When we first came to campus, there was a student-run record store in the student activities building that was, rent and electricity, and the cost of having the bathroom was all subsidized by the university and it was dirt cheap.
  • [00:22:06] MARC TARAS: The University Cellar.
  • [00:22:07] JEFF TARAS: I think that established in both our minds the level of access that the kids ought to have to records. It ought to be, it's not going to be able to be as affordable as that because we're not subsidized by the university but it ought to be that same broad range with an emphasis on things that might be of special interest to young people and the great traditions, so that as they grew from their first entry interest into music and entered the big room and caught their breath that they could move right on in the same place without having to relocate their shopping preferences. I often thought of being inspired by that place in terms of our style and our effort to be genre inclusive.
  • [00:22:59] ELIZABETH SMITH: You mentioned that this is a dream of yours to own this record store together. Were there any challenges to owning the record store as siblings and working together as siblings?
  • [00:23:09] MARC TARAS: You mean, did we ever push each other's buttons?
  • [00:23:13] ELIZABETH SMITH: Yes.
  • [00:23:13] MARC TARAS: Yeah. I can remember Jeff leaving the store in tears one day, and at the bottom of the stairs shouting up at me, I got feelings too.
  • [00:23:23] JEFF TARAS: That was.
  • [00:23:24] MARC TARAS: It was a lesson that was an instructive moment. No.
  • [00:23:26] JEFF TARAS: There's no print on any of his buttons anymore because I've shoved them all so hard that I've rubbed the print off them. You can't even see which ones do work for if you don't know him well.
  • [00:23:38] MARC TARAS: But while there were, I suppose, moments of stress between us, from my perspective, it was always a huge blessing to work with Jeff. He used to say, we work for each other, I work for you, you work for me because the last 15 years after PJ, after the last 20, whatever it was, it was just him and me. We have maintained a very close relationship and I think a real solid friendship over the years. We both of us know plenty of people who rarely exchange words with their siblings. They are that estranged and we managed to, even having worked together and suffered the stress of that, managed to maintain respect for each other and affection for each other and to find some genuine enjoyment in each other's company. Because we were so small potatoes, we never worked at the record store in the last 15 or 20 years. We never worked together. He was there, I was there. It wasn't when he was there, it was the Jeff Show, and when I was there, it was the Mark Show. Especially early on, and people had come in for whom we were both PJ. It was that guy, but he must be PJ. One time PJ said, people think you guys you guys are crazy and people think that you're me and you know you're both giving me...
  • [00:25:09] JEFF TARAS: Are we reflecting on you Paul?
  • [00:25:11] MARC TARAS: He says, this one's lazy and this one's crazy. Meaning Jeff and Mark respectively, and people think that that you're me. But it has been a real blessing to work with Jeff and, and to maintain the friendship that we still maintain.
  • [00:25:34] KATRINA SHAFER: Can you tell us about, did both of you have work separate from the store at different points? Because you, Marc, have done stuff with WEMU and then you said Schoolkids as well?
  • [00:25:48] MARC TARAS: When we first opened the record store, PJ's, I was working part-time at Discount Records with Jim Leonard who went on to be a writer for the Michigan Observer, I think, for Ann Arbor Observer. A great classical mind and classical critic. Then I went to work for Schoolkids Records. I was working part-time at PJ's and part-time at Schoolkids. At some one of the things I did at all the stores I worked at was make the divider cards because I'm so OCD that I can take a magic marker and make really great block letter printing, hand done, and then I had made divider cards for PJ's and for Schoolkids and for discount records and I forget which store maybe I was in Schoolkids one day and I heard some guy say to the other guy, to his friend, the same Cat makes the divider cards for all the record stores in town. I didn't say anything, but I thought that was pretty amusing. Then for a while, I actually worked as a substitute teacher for just a short while, I worked as a substitute teacher for the Ann Arbor School System. I always had some other employment. In 1994, I was hired into WEMU, where I now I'm celebrating my 30th anniversary. I did 29 years of broadcasting before retiring in August of '23 but continue to work there thanks to the good graces of general manager Molly Motherwell, and the patience and tolerance of my compadres there and colleagues. I continued to work in the library there. I almost always had another part-time job to try to keep my nose above the water line. In a world of rent poverty. If either of you guys rent in Ann Arbor, you know that's gotten harder and harder.
  • [00:27:49] JEFF TARAS: At the outset of the store, it was my second job and I just worked some evening and weekend hours, so Marc and PJ. Weren't in there, 70, 80 hours a week. My day job was working at a Speedy Printing in Ann Arbor. That's what I was doing with my math degree as I was running offset machines and trying not to get my fingers torn off. I liked that so much that as soon as full-time work was available at the record store, I ditched the print shop altogether and I managed to subsist, barely, on working at PJs, and of course, living off my misses.
  • [00:28:30] ELIZABETH SMITH: Can you talk a little bit about how you would select your stock and how you would decide what would make enough profit?
  • [00:28:36] MARC TARAS: When people would call and ask us, I've got some records, what are you looking for, that thing? My attitude was the three most important things are condition, condition, and condition. The extent to which it's a like new copy. Then you evaluate the individual record. When you've done it long enough in a given market anyway, you can recognize pretty quickly which genres, which artists you're guaranteed to be able to sell, which genres and which artists occur more rarely or appear more rarely, but still have demand, which artists or recordings by an artist or group you've already got three copies of but if I was looking at an excellent condition copy of a record that we had 10 copies of already, that was still something we sold. Police Ghost in the Machine, or Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA.
  • [00:29:46] MARC TARAS: I would make an offer even if I had 10 copies. Now, at that point, if you've got that many, maybe you're only offering a quarter of $0.50 or a buck in trade or something like that. But I would generally make a cash offer on the titles and the pieces that I thought were most significant. Then, if there was really good stuff there, I would throw on additional trade credit if they'd rather take it and trade. Maybe I'm only offering you a quarter for this Bruce Springsteen record that I got 15 copies of, but I'll give you a buck and trade, if you want to take something out of the store.
  • [00:30:33] KATRINA SHAFER: This was mostly from people who were coming in to sell them to you?
  • [00:30:38] MARC TARAS: That's how we acquired except for the stock that we bought new, the remainder stock or new releases that we bought from various distributors, everything we bought was from the community. When I first sat down with our good landlord Dennis Loy and his brother in law and partner in the real estate of the building at the time, Nick Dever, Dennis' wife Diane's brother. I remember Nick, he was pretty with it. PJ and I were making our pitch, why they should rent to us, and we were going to have this used record store. I remember Dennis just shaking his head, and I'm thinking, what? He says, ''So in other words, you're going to be running a perpetual garage sale.'' I started laughing and I said, ''Well, you could think of it that way in the sense that most of what we will be offering the public is pre owned product. But you'd have to imagine that it was a garage sale that paid rent on the garage and electricity for the lighting and heating in the winter and took out advertising to let people know that it was a perpetual garage sale, et cetera.'' I tried without being too coy or cranky about it, to just indicate all of the things that a business has to do, even if it's a perpetual garage sale. By the time that they politely asked us to leave so that strangely they could make way for the marijuana dispensary that took over our place, they told us that flat out that we were the best tenants they'd had for 37 years. Not good enough evidently to allow us to continue to stay. But ladies, as it turned out, it was a blessing because the year after we moved out, COVID hit and that would have killed us and we would have been on the hook for the rent.
  • [00:32:41] JEFF TARAS: The phone bill, the insurance.
  • [00:32:44] MARC TARAS: That could have been bankruptcy for the both of us. We actually decided that you know what, we don't have the will, the strength, or the money to move and to reestablish and to hope that this tiny sliver of business that had kept us above the water line was going to follow us to some new and perhaps less available location. Being down there in the heart of Studentville was nice. There were people right there in the neighborhood that could come and be with us.
  • [00:33:19] KATRINA SHAFER: That was the end of the store? That's how it happened was the rent?
  • [00:33:25] MARC TARAS: It wasn't the rent. They just came to us. I came home from the radio station one Saturday night after working my show, and Jeff said, ''You better sit down.'' I said, ''I'm sitting down.'' He said, ''The landlords have decided they don't want to rent to us anymore.'' We were just invited to leave. When we made that decision, we said, ''Well, what we'll try to do is sell all the inventory.'' Jeff had put some flyers together, and as it turned out, there was a record store, like some record event in town, a buyer's thing at Weber's or something like that. Jeff had taken a bunch of the flyers over there and we left a bunch at the store. Literally the first Sunday these guys came in. One guy, it was a guy who ran a record store I think around Chicago, and his buddy who worked for an online record retail outfit. What were they called?
  • [00:34:28] JEFF TARAS: Reverb.
  • [00:34:29] MARC TARAS: Reverb.com. They picked up the flyer and started talking to me and we negotiated the deal that day. I'm not sure that or perhaps I should say, I'm sure that we may not have gotten a righteous chunk of the potential retail value of those records for someone that was going to be presenting them online to the online community. Which is much bigger universe of prospective buyers than we had at the record store. But we got money that we were asking, and it happened right away. In retrospect, that felt like a miracle because like I said, if we had not been invited to leave, the whole COVID, those two years would have been just crushing, killing.
  • [00:35:31] JEFF TARAS: Beyond that, despite having a 37 year track record with our landlord at that point, we had no moral high ground to argue against being thrown out. Because the other tenant that he threw out unceremoniously was his daughter who was running a bakery on the ground floor.
  • [00:35:47] MARC TARAS: Best croissants in town.
  • [00:35:49] JEFF TARAS: She had not yet paid off the mortgage on her bakery equipment when he threw her out.
  • [00:35:55] MARC TARAS: We don't mean to make them sound like villains.
  • [00:35:59] JEFF TARAS: Oh, maybe.
  • [00:36:02] KATRINA SHAFER: Ann Arbor Real Estate.
  • [00:36:04] JEFF TARAS: Ann Arbor Real Estate. I miss the croissants.
  • [00:36:09] MARC TARAS: I do too. Katie's croissants, my goodness.
  • [00:36:13] ELIZABETH SMITH: Did you ever venture into online sales or was it all physical in-person?
  • [00:36:17] JEFF TARAS: We sold stuff on eBay for a while, and I was there in the era where it went from being wonderful for vendors to being horrible. When I started doing eBay, I could list anything I wanted to sell for less than $25 for $0.10 indefinitely. I would pay eBay $0.10. It would be up on eBay for sale until someone bought it. Then if I sold it, I owed them 5% of what I sold it for. By the time, after maybe three or four years, I was getting out of eBay, if I was listing something for $0.10 it was because I was selling it for $1, and that listing lasted a week, and eBay was taking 25% of the dollar on top when I sold it. It went from being something that was easy, fun, and quite profitable to something that just the priced themselves out of being useful.
  • [00:37:13] MARC TARAS: The customer service difficulties were enormous compared to in store. If someone bought something from you at the physical store that there was some problem with and they came back with it, we'd come to some mutual agreement about it one way or another. But it's different in the online world of you think about how people troll each other digitally. The same thing would happen with the customers. They would do us wrong. You'd send someone some great conditioned copy of some rare record and they'd send you back a different copy, beat up of the same record and say this record you sold me was ruined. Clearly not the same title. Stuff like that would happen, and how do you reckon with that? When it's this long distance mail order thing, and especially when eBay is always going to side with the customer.
  • [00:38:13] JEFF TARAS: Near the end, they had changed their rules so customers could refuse payment on product and keep it. That was for me, that was the last straw when people could refuse payment and did not have to return any version of the product because a lot of people did that.
  • [00:38:32] MARC TARAS: Jeff spent, gave up about four years of all of his time that wasn't happening at the record store to do this eBay work. And we'd get together once a week and package them all up, and write the mailing addresses out and everything with a couple of other friends. We'd have us a little herb party and just do this work every week. That saw us through the darkest last days of the alleged death of vinyl. Providentially, once Jeff said to me tearfully, ''I can't do this anymore. I want my life back. I just can't.'' Providentially, that's when records came back and we were always a little behind the curve. By the time we realized that we could get $12 for a pristine copy of Supertramp Breakfast in America, first edition, it was probably worth 18. By the time we realized that we could get 18 bucks for that same record, it was probably worth 24. Like I said, we were never all that sharkish but we could see, both of us could see that vinyl was back, and suddenly all those Foreigner records that had three or four top 10 hits on them that were sitting on our back shelf, because no one wanted them anymore, I started pulling those things out and finding the cleanest copy and putting it out for 10 to 15 bucks. Man, it would sell in a week.
  • [00:40:13] KATRINA SHAFER: Is there an album or an artist that you most associate with PJ's? Maybe something that you played often in the store or that you have a specific memory tied to.
  • [00:40:24] MARC TARAS: Well, Jeff is probably the second biggest deadhead in the whole world. For people that knew Jeff from the record store, probably they would say the Grateful Dead. It may be that hour to hour of what we were playing in store, Grateful Dead might have got as much time as pretty much anybody.
  • [00:40:52] KATRINA SHAFER: What are you most proud of?
  • [00:40:57] JEFF TARAS: That people still stop me on the street and say, "Man, why did you give up the record store? I never had any problem buying pot anywhere. I didn't need there to be another pot store there, but I have a hard time finding the records I want now that you guys aren't there," which still happens to me even though we've been gone for a number of years.
  • [00:41:17] MARC TARAS: I think I'd say something similar that I'm most proud of just having served generations of students and nearly 40 years of community members. We had lots and lots of wonderful people come into the store.
  • [00:41:36] JEFF TARAS: We had so many kids grow up to be important musicians.
  • [00:41:39] MARC TARAS: Many of whom we were very fond of and who were clearly fond of us. But of those of that sliver of our customership, it's probably only 1 out of 10 or 2 out of 10 that we ever actually began to engage socially outside of the record store. One of the things I missed most about the record store is that the people that I would only see at the record store, and that I had come to care about that, people I still pray for. As Jeff said, we had a number of famous customers, people who became famous, and we had a number of customers who will never be famous but are famous in the PJ's lore. I'm thinking about the coach, Jeff. Dave Longe, he's a teacher at St. Francis who also was the coach of the girl's basketball team at St. Francis. Dave Longe, he lived on a farm. Every year he would bring us each a jar of his honey. This guy loved us. He would come in. I would guess it's probably almost once a week. Certainly every couple or three weeks, one or the other of us would see us. He almost always shopped in our markdown bins for dollar CDs, dollar LPs, $2 CDs, $2 DVDs, that sort of thing. Rarely, if ever, did I have to change a 20. This guy, we could always cover his purchases with a five or a 10, and he would often look down and apologize embarrassingly and say, "I know I'm really making your day here, Marc" or something like that. I would always tell him, "Dave, you got no idea, pal." I said, "You Chuck up all the 3.5 and 4.5 dollar sales that you've been bringing us for the last 35 years and you're probably our best customer," because that guy came in always. When we first opened, the historically important Michigan or Detroit basketball player Rudy Tomjanovich came into the store. We gave him one of our T-shirts, and we got a photo of him with the T-shirt. Many years later, he's coaching the championship team in the NBA.
  • [00:44:05] JEFF TARAS: Houston Rockets.
  • [00:44:07] MARC TARAS: Houston Rockets. So we'd make two copies of that photo we've got of him, send it to him in the mail with a flat cardboard backing so that they don't get rumpled, and say, hey, Rudy, remember us at PJ's. We still have this picture of you on display and it makes us so proud to know that you really enjoyed the store. What do you think you think? You think you could sign one of these for us and send it back to us?" And by God, he did. Then we replaced it, we had that autograph picture of Rudy Tomjanovich, the first big Bob Dylan fans that we had in the store. These guys were crazy about Dylan. David Henry and his brother Joe Henry. Joe Henry goes on to make great records on his own. His debut album had Mick Taylor from the Rolling Stones and John Mayall's Blues Breakers playing guitar. He goes on to become one of the most important producers in modern music. Produced records for Solomon Burke, produced records for Mose Allison. This guy is a top call producer at this point.
  • [00:45:15] JEFF TARAS: Ultimately, he produces a Dylan record, doesn't he?
  • [00:45:18] MARC TARAS: I can't confirm that.
  • [00:45:20] MARC TARAS: I would just like to put in a word for the barbershop quality of a place like a book or a record store where people could come in to hang out and get out of the weather. The Beat Cop, the Postman, just a place they could go long enough to get warm. Many quasi street folks who were not necessarily paying customers felt like it was a place where if they stayed out of people's hair, they were safe and welcome. I enjoyed that part of working there. I enjoyed people feeling safe who clearly there were environments where they didn't, that made me proud about that situation it was.
  • [00:46:08] MARC TARAS: We welcomed people on the margins. We were on the margins ourselves if you think about us as capitalists. One day a guy that had no real understanding of how used record store worked, it was clear to me in the course of our exchange that he thought that he was bringing in three records that he was going to leave with me, and that he could shop around the store and leave us three records. I was like no, no, no, I make you an offer on these records for what I think they're worth and maybe boost it with a trade offer, and then you can do with that money what you please. The guy sneered at me and he said, "So you're a petty capitalist?" I said, "Well, if by petty you mean small as opposed to mean spirited, then yeah, that would be us." I'd like to say that I'm also really proud of our associations in the music industry in Ann Arbor. We underwrote Mr. B's birthday concerts. We were among the underwriters for Mr. B's regular birthday concerts. We worked for Eclipse Jazz. We sold tickets for brass ring events.
  • [00:47:24] JEFF TARAS: We underwrote the Edge Fest.
  • [00:47:26] MARC TARAS: We underwrote the Edge Fest. We underwrote concerts. We gave the presenters money that made those events possible. We also, for a short while, had an in store acoustic concert series that featured a wide variety of nice artists, some of which like Rollie Tussing are still around and making music.
  • [00:47:54] JEFF TARAS: Randy Napoleon's on the faculty now.
  • [00:47:58] MARC TARAS: I guess doing what we could in our own little way to serve the music community, not just with the music that was available in the store or such dubious knowledge as the two of us had to share, but also by supporting in such small ways as we were able, the work of various presenters to allow for the greatest possible opportunities to see quality music in Ann Arbor.
  • [00:48:36] KATRINA SHAFER: Thank you both so much for being here. This was wonderful.
  • [00:48:39] JEFF TARAS: It was really our pleasure.
  • [00:48:41] MARC TARAS: Thank you so much.
  • [00:48:42] JEFF TARAS: I know we weren't particularly responsive to the questions, but having a chance to chatter is very pleasant.
  • [00:48:49] MARC TARAS: Chatter is something we do well. We saw there was an online review of the record store during the last couple of years that we were there that said something along the lines of a couple of granola munching old hippies who smell like pot, that would be him, not me, and will talk your ear off. Hey, we were so happy. There was so much dead space at the store that when someone would come in, sometimes you couldn't help but just pounce and just want to talk to him. If they made it clear that they didn't want to hear from you, you'd send back away. But if they didn't, you just let it roll. So thanks for letting us let it roll.
  • [00:49:34] KATRINA SHAFER: Thank you.
  • [00:49:35] ELIZABETH SMITH: Thank you so much. AADL Talks To is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.