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Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Steve Bergman

When: March 7, 2024

Steve Bergman resting his chin on his right hand. Shelves of CDs and two men are browsing in the background.
Steve Bergman at Schoolkids' Records, January 1995

In this episode, Steve Bergman talks about founding Schoolkids’ Records in Ann Arbor. Steve tells us about the origins of his passion for music, visits from artists, and the eventual record label that helped capture Ann Arbor’s local talent. 

Find more about Schoolkids’ Records in our archival collections.

Mentioned in this episode: “Local price war hits albums costs” from the September 25, 1976 edition of the Michigan Daily.


  • [00:00:04] Katrina Shafer: Hi, this is Katrina.
  • [00:00:06] Amy Cantu: This is Amy.
  • [00:00:07] Katrina Shafer: In this episode, AADL talks to Steve Bergman. Steve founded Schoolkids Records in Ann Arbor. He talks to us about the beginning of the store and its transition to independence. The many artists who visited, including K.D. Lang, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, and the Indigo Girls, and the eventual Schoolkids record label that helped shine a spotlight on local artists.
  • [00:00:27] Katrina Shafer: Where did you grow up and what brought you to Ann Arbor?
  • [00:00:39] Steve Bergman: My dad managed apartments, and I was born in the Bronx through kindergarten. I think we left coincidentally in kindergarten. We're having all the kids outside, we're having a water pistol fight, and one kid didn't have a water pistol, so we took a glass coke bottle and broke it and put water in it. Didn't mean to do it, but hit me in the neck and all of a sudden blood. I'm going home screaming, I got blood coming out. The doctor did a home visit and he says, oh you're lucky, a quarter inch to the left to have hit your jugular, you wouldn't have made it home. I don't know. That's why my dad got a new job in Queens Village. But then we were in Queens Village through junior high school. Then I think fate intervened on my behalf because in New York at ninth grade, you have to take, I forget what they were called, but they were just the regents exam and I'm going, God, regents. I don't want the Regents exam. Then my dad got a better job in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, right across from Philadelphia. I go, well, we're going to start ninth grade there. I go, oh, and they don't have a, no, I said yay. That turned out to be such a pivotal point in my life because I was such a straight kid then, I wasn't really that much into music, I didn't really care. I like The Dave Clark Five, maybe The Beatles a little bit, but we got a FM radio as a going away present and I didn't know anybody when I moved there. Everything seems to be ending up in Ann Arbor just the right place at the right time. All of a sudden it's underground radio. There's a great club. I'm going to see Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane and Cream and all that stuff. Then the great record store I still remember in Philly, there's Sam Goody's that later got bought by the Musicland chain and it turned out to a crappy little mall store, but this was a huge place. One of their specialties was classical music, so it was a huge, like maybe a three store, open store. Along the walls were all their classical music filed by label numerically spine out in every 10 feet, there was a thing called the Schwann catalog, which was the Bible for people that used to be serious, especially about classical music, because Beethoven's ninth, there's 150 version, so you'd look it up. In the middle, you'd flip through the bins, look at the LPs for Jazz, Rock, anything that had fun covers. Then also was Jerry's Records, which was the place where we became like a early Schoolkids, you'd get the records cheap, but it wasn't as extensive as the Sam Goody's, but eventually they became Evidence Records. Did all these reissues and stuff, and I used to know them through the store later on. Anyway, that was huge for me. Then when I was 16 I told my parents I was going on to school field trip to this music festival, Woodstock.
  • [00:03:41] Katrina Shafer: Wow.
  • [00:03:42] Steve Bergman: They put me on a bus to New York Port Authority, and I met three kids from school, and I went to Woodstock. Moving to Cherry Hill right across from Philly, and then my mom got me lessons with a guy in the Philadelphia Orchestra bass lessons. I used to stick my bass on the bus because we had a bus that came from our apartment to Philly like five times a day, get off at Walnut Street, walk in the courtyard, second floor. After a couple, I don't know, 10 lessons, the guy looks at me and goes, son, what are you trying to do? Because you've reached a plateau and I can see an awfully long way. I said, well, I thought I'd be able to play Jazz. That's never going to happen. He says you like Jazz? I'm pretty sure I like Jazz. He goes, I love Jazz. Here's a guy in the Philadelphia Orchestra and he had a phenomenal jazz record collection. Another thing that was one of the life changing moments for me. We put the bass in the corner for two or three lessons. Never touched it. You got to know Scott LaFaro with Bill Evans, but we got to listen to Paul Chambers, we got to listen to Oscar Pettiford. I just listened to records, and he says, this is not fair for your mom. I have to call her. Then that got me so into music and I realized I wasn't going to play, but I could appreciate, and I went crazy into music. Then midway through 11th grade, my dad got a job managing his condos in North Miami. Midway through 11th grade, I moved down to North Miami Beach. Actually again, from that experience because in the Philadelphia area, I was into Sun Ra. The first Cultrane now I bought was Om because I heard they were on LSD and that's what I did. That was my first drug, was LSD. Then I smoked pot. Then when I finished my undergrad at Eastern Michigan 20 years ago, I started drinking coffee every day. The moral of the story is LSD is a gateway drug to caffeine. Be very careful. What was important about that is I was into Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, all of this Jazz. You go and you don't know anybody midway through 11th grade. What do you like? What music do you like? I tell them what I like, and then all of a sudden the word got out. I got in with this group of people and my wife now, who was in that circle, and that's how I met her in high school. We've been going together ever since New Year's Day 1971. That was pretty cool. But my friend Chuck Hottle and I were going to join a commune and maybe sell pot. We had our whole life planned out. Kathy goes, well, I'm going to the University of Florida. I said, I'll go too. But I'd already ticked off my daddy, he says, well, go get a job. Senior year, I just washed dishes after school at the International House of Pancakes while Kathy and all my friends are going to see Rock shows and doing this. But what was cool about that too, is on Fridays, I'd get off work and I'd go over to a club called The Lion's Share. Even though I don't think I was drinking age, they'd let me in. There was a great jazz musician who I knew from Chicago, who moved to Miami, Ira Sullivan, and he had a young bass player with him, Jaco Pastorius, who if you know, Base, he's the Scott LaFaro of the Electric base. Just changed Music completely. I got to see all that year. But then, and then my dad lent me some money and I went to college. This is up in the University of Florida. That's where eventually I got hooked up with what Schoolkids was.
  • [00:07:21] Katrina Shafer: Can you tell us about what Schoolkids was and then how you ended up in Ann Arbor with it?
  • [00:07:30] Steve Bergman: For a while we were calling it as a cooperative, but really it was the brain child. This one guy, Eric Brown, and Eric was from Athens, Georgia, and that's where the first store was. But what he did is he became a one stop. He was the guy that would open up with all the major record labels. Most stores couldn't get enough product, to make it worthwhile for these companies. It cost you a little more, but the convenience is you can just buy from one place. He would convince college kids or just young adults to borrow some money from their parents and open up stores in college towns. The first two stores were not called Schoolkids Records. I forget what it was in Athens. It might have been something like Big Shot Records or something. In Gainesville, the guy who owned the store there, Blair Tanner, called the Chapter 3 Records, which was named after a progressive Manfred Mann Record. Just like Tower did, he had a wood painting of the album cover right, in front of it was a small little 900 square foot store or maybe even less. But it was also the warehouse so to speak, or the drop off point for the stores in the area. Because all the other stores would call themselves Schoolkids. They would drive and once a week we'd get an order in, and then we would distribute it to everybody. Which is pretty weird because we'd get the order in, we'd have to close the store because it was just a long store and the boxes were to be on the floor. you'd have to stand on top of the boxes, open up the boxes, and you know what everybody had ordered. so you got that squared away and then people would come, sometimes two hours away. It was not the most efficient. But I was impressed with the store because Blair, I walked in and he had the Penderecki Devils of Loudon opera. I go, wow, that's pretty cool. I started talking to him and so that was neat, but I was just a customer. I think two years into my college career, Blair had sold a store and he opened. He had a store in Bloomington, Indiana and in Knoxville, Tennessee. This young guy who was younger than me, a third year in college and he lived in the store. Because everything was low budget. I started working as a clerk. Then I became assistant manager. Eventually, I became manager at the store. Eric was moving north, so Columbus, Ohio was the next branch. It was on High Street. There were stores in North Carolina, there were stores in Knoxville, in Bloomington, and they would come up there. I was in the University of Florida for five years without quite graduating because I started working at the record store for free basically. But it turned out and they said, well, Blair wants to trade his Knoxville store and he wants to open up a store in Ann Arbor, do you want to do that? I said, sure. Now, just a little more personal stuff. After two years at the University of Florida, Kathy's parents would do anything to get her away from me because I was this long haired hippie guy.
  • [00:10:36] Steve Bergman: She picked the most expensive school she could find was in Boston University. She went the last two years at Boston, got her teaching degree up there, and I'd hitchhike up to Boston. I spent a summer up there because I didn't want her to forget who I was. But when she graduated, she moved down and got a teaching job in Orlando. Disney World had just opened up. We're really lucky 'cause she actually got a job in Athens, you know, where Schoolkids started, but her roommate forgot to tell her. She missed the chance and I'm so glad she did, because I guarantee you I never would have made it up to Ann Arbor. If she was in Athens, I probably would have stayed in Athens, so she's in Orlando and then I'd say, I'm going to go up to Ann Arbor so I had to drive down and tell her at the end of the school year, quit your job and we're going to go up to Ann Arbor.
  • [00:11:26] Amy Cantu: She did?
  • [00:11:29] Steve Bergman: But in the interim, some guys there was a store, Schoolkids in Bowling Green. There was one in Oxford Ohio, Columbus was the big wears, but it was a downstairs location on High Street. Eventually, we all chipped in for a warehouse. Blair and I come up because we went to his Knoxville store, put all of his records in a van, and we're going to get ready in the Bowling Green guys had found us a location. We're already I think this is like November 1975. We get to Ann Arbor and I think we stayed out at the maybe the wagon wheel. It was like on the east side of town. It was a nice place but it was a motel. We go to our location, we pull up the van and it's where where Totoro is on State Street and then there was a antique store bookstore there, and now it's something some old, maybe a recycle store or something, but it was a small second floor location. We go up there, I look at this place and I go to Blair. I said, oh my God, we can't do a store here this is garbage. I didn't drop out of college to do this. He goes, well, I'm just going back to Bloomington and I said, no so we spent two or three days trying to find a new location and we couldn't find anything except David's books, which is now in a corner of State and Liberty. They were in the Michigan Theater, and they had a huge space, but it was almost like a bazaar he sublet it to little people and he was struggling. Periodical Retreat was in there Albert's copying was in there and I'm not really sure the rest of the but there was four places in there. He was going out of business and I talked to God, what's his name is Jim he worked for maybe Jim, I can't remember, but he worked for Swisher Realty who had the space and they said, well, that space is going to be available but it's November, but not until May of 76. He said, but I said this will be great and so I went back with Blair to Bloomington and just lived in his place and helped him for a little bit. Then I went to Columbus, and I stayed with poor Chuck Nunez who had the store and was in charge of the distribution for everybody and I just worked for Room and Board for a long time. Also went visited the Schoolkids and actually there is a Schoolkids that's very successful and still around now in Chapel Hill. But they had the three stores at the time it was Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill. I think I know eventually became Mike Phillips but he finally had to close everything down. The guy who owns it now, they were hooked up with Red Eye Distribution, which is a pretty cool place. He bought it and put some money in it, and they do a label on it. But anyway, so I saw them and Pepper Harvey, who was Eric Brown's right hand man, and he was the guy that built the bins for me. The wood bins are really cheap and while we're building the bins in this location, people are coming up and going, what are you doing? I said we're going to open up a record store and they're laughing. They're going, are you kidding? This is Ann Arbor, you got these crappy little bins that you're going to. But it worked out and everything about us Schoolkids came to Ann Arbor at just a perfect time for an independent record store, but also the perfect time for the record industry, because everything was changing. It was the last golden decade or two of how the industry worked, so here we are, we have a big location, big space, but then Albert's copying the periodic retreat guys come to me and they go, Steve, our lease isn't ready yet. Would you mind if we stay here until our lease is ready? Albert's copying is open 24 hours, seven days a week. I don't go my God. I bought some volleyball netting basically, and made a aisle from the front door right to the back where Alberts was and then for the first three, or four or five days, I just slept on the other side of the store and all the lights were on, but I just put newspaper over my head. But then I realized that they were Baha'i Faith and I realized these guys are honest. Then we had periodical retreat in there for a while so you could sit down in big chairs and read magazines so we really did the Borders thing before Borders did it. That worked then another lucky thing is that Swisher Realty comes up and goes this bass shoes wants to open up and they would like this space. There's, I think it was the Palmer Photo Studio at the far, far west side of the Michigan Theater Building it's 900 square feet. If you move there, they'll pay your moving expenses and you'll pay a third of your rent for the life of your lease, which was like a six year lease or something like that. We can do that I think I send him a bill for $200 you know, as we lugged everything over there. But that worked out great, so because all of a sudden we had a good space. But the back up a little bit, the guy who I was talking about, the music that I liked when I moved to Miami Norland in North Miami Beach. Dave Martino, when Kathy and I went to the University of Florida, he went to Michigan State University. If there is anybody who is the most knowledgeable person to this day in popular music, it's Dave DiMartino, and so he was working for the discount records up in Lansing, also writing for the paper. He goes, my boss says he knows somebody who's looking for a job, and he used to work for that guy, so meet me at the Sonny Rollins concert, at the Kiva. I think it was the Erickson Kiva was one of the Kivas up in Lansing. I meet him this is Michael Lang, we talk to, we get hit it off goes. Well, I'd like to do your jazz buying. I go, well I do my own jazz buying because I said, I used to cut my English class in both high schools, and I'd read every downbeat magazine there was, which was an unbelievably great education for me I learned a lot of things. Number one, I learned if a critic likes something, listen to it. If they don't like something, listen to it, because you realize that you don't want to be constrained by those guys anyways, so he says, well, come by and visit me and he was living in Ann Arbor, that he goes, well, come with me I'm doing the out of print blue note show at WCBN.
  • [00:17:55] Steve Bergman: I look at the records, I go. You can do the jazz buying because, well, I'd like to do all your buying and be your manager. The reason this is important is because when we moved in, discount records at the time was owned by Columbia Records, the record label. Before that it was an independent and probably the best independent record chain in the country. It was first rate, and then Columbia Records bought it, they had to sell it because it was a conflict of interest, and it was bought by Pickwick International, later bought by American Can. Michael saw the writing on the wall. He was an assistant to, I forget who the guy's name was because it was way before my time. But then he was the manager, and he developed his own inventory system where, we would write down the name of the artist, the title of the record, the record label, the record number, and then on our price stickers, a little yellow sticker, tiny, we'd have three digits on the top would tell us what month we bought it, what year and what week. Then in pencil, we'd write whether some artist, you'd put them in three different places in the inventory of like, they were in three different bands or whatever. Where it was filed and then we only kept and he says, No, we're only going to keep one of a title up. That way it's the maximum amount of titles in a small space, and everything else is what's called understock. At the register, it was just on regular school paper, hey, Schoolkids. It'd be 24 lines, and then another employee would inventory everything, put it back out if we had it, and at the end of the day, Michael spent hours collating all this stuff. I had not met Michael Lang, who's a genius, and I'll just go right to the punch line here. We opened up in '76, and '88 he left to do a CD only store in Boston. Boston Compact Disc, which he went through. One of my former employees was part of Rykodisc Records, and they had to store BCD, and so they said it's a great opportunity because the industry was going crazy at that point. He went there, he has to close the store. It's a disaster for him. So he closes the store. He works for PolyGram, who also owns Verve Records. For a while, he's my contact if I want to do advertising or promotions and he's in charge of sales and everything, then, he gets to be head of jazz reissues for Verve. I was with him back when there was Pablo Records. I had started by Norman Granz who had the Jazz at the Philharmonic series. He put his own name plate on a good series, pretty much straight ahead records. But he did release a John Coltrane live in Paris to LP set. We're looking at it and there's no information on it like, where was it recorded, who's on the album? Mike says, "I'm going to call Norman Granz at Pablo," so he calls Pablo Records. Norman Granz answers the phone as Mr. Granz and he said Mr. Granz. Michael Lang at Schoolkids Records. I love the record but there's no information. He goes, "Kid, nobody gives a shit about that stuff." He goes no, I think you're wrong. When Michael was head of Jazz reissues, he put out box sets, had all the original artwork, everything, really cool. He won two grammys. Then through Polydor or PolyGram, he got involved with Deutsche Grammophon, and was the first American general manager and then the first American president, till the Germans kicked him out about eight years ago, and I think he's retired now. But so this guy was meant for greater than a record retailer.
  • [00:21:41] Amy Cantu: You, having been in Miami, having been in Philly, you're hearing all the different sounds, you know about the history of those places. When you came to Ann Arbor, were you really interested or aware of the music around here, the Detroit sounds, Motown, etc?
  • [00:22:00] Steve Bergman: That so much Motown for me, because I got into jazz, an avant-garde jazz bop, but everybody knew the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival double record on Atlantic, and I had the MC5 when I was a kid, and when I was at Woodstock, I remember the wore playing and Abby Hoffman gets on stage and he goes, as long as John Sinclair is in jail, this whole festival is a farce. I remember turning to my friend, says, "He wants us to riot, that guy's a jerk." But, I got to the point. No, and then Blair wanted to do it because he goes, Bloomington is one of the coolest college towns, and Arbor's the other one. I want to have the two coolest college towns stores. But anyway, so getting back to the Schoolkids thing, because this is important. We're buying from the Schoolkids, the Eric Brown one stop for all the major stuff, which means now, I'm driving from Ann Arbor to Columbus, Ohio once or twice a week to get product, and then I'm helping everybody get their stuff and the coming back. It's limited. Michael and I had a conversation, he said that, "Schoolkids was known for low discount prices." He says, "Well, but we should charge more for the jazz and the folk and the blues." I said, "No, we're going to have the same price because I'm not going to penalize somebody, and we were selling for peanuts." At that time, we're just buying through One Stop and a limited selection, and then there was a specialty guy, but he would come and look through your bins and say, "You need this, you need that," but that wasn't working. I get a call from the house distributors in Kansas City. They were just opening up and they distributed all the independent labels the same way the major like Warner Elektra Atlantic or Columbia would. So that means we're getting the best possible price. We're getting the same price as all the big chains. That was phenomenal. Then one day, the Midwest Credit Manager of Columbia walks in, Karl Schnack. I wonder if it's because, Michael had worked at the discount. Columbia used to own a discount. But he comes in, he says, "This place is happening. I'm going to open you up with credit." If you're another retailer, you go, "I want to buy this. I think it's going to be the hot new thing. But if I buy wrong, I'm not going to have enough because I was being cautious. If I had too much, I'm stuck with it." Well, at that time the record energy was 100% guaranteed returns. I remember I was in Gainesville, it's when the Bruce Springsteen greetings from Asbury Park came out, and every guy saying, "Well, you tell Eric, we should buy this and get a box like, well, I don't know, maybe he'll get ten. No, no. Get why? He says, well because, you know, if it doesn't sell, you just return it. He says, yeah. But we have to pay the shipping. He goes, no. We're giving you 10% free good. Even if you have to send it back, you're still going to come out ahead. That was the industry standard. That's why when the Sergeant Peppers on RSO with Peter Frampton came out, and it shipped a billion copies and sold like six or whatever it was, killed that part of the industry, but that was part and parcel. Everyone's saying, no, push this, you can have this. Here we are an independent store. All of a sudden I get opened with Columbia, and then because I'm open with Columbia, I can go to MCA and go, Columbia, open us up we'll open you up, and so on. I got to WEA which was the biggest, and Walt Radomski, their credit manager, and he had a license plate and he lived in Cleveland because that's we they shipped him and said pay WEA. He goes, well, I'll open you up but you got to be COD, but I'll do company chat, but so that was just like, who knew. Michael then would also say, discount records. They always get the best location in town, and here we are, down by the Michigan theater Building. This is not a good location. It turned out to be the greatest location for a record store, because across the street was the second chance. We're right next to the Michigan theater, movies and eventually concerts. But it's not like I picked that out, and then he also goes, why are you opening in May. That's a stupid time to open school doesn't start till September, then we realized it gave us a couple of months to get our act together. Then also, because Kathy left her job in Orlando, but she ended up getting a job in Pontiac. She left her school. She's living and she's actually working for me in that first summer, and I had an apartment on Wilmot streets the last time I lived in Ann Arbor. She got a job in Pontiac, and then after a year or two she got a job in Howell because it was a little easier, and I said, well, I made you come up here, so wherever you're working, we'll live there and I'll commute. But anyways, so meanwhile, the discount record chain has been sold to Pickwick International American Can. That's also significant because that means all the record sales and Pickwick owned the music land. I'm not sure exactly at that time, but I think they did. They had the two discount records, one in south, the one in State Liberty. They had this huge megastore across the street from Schoolkids called a sound entertainment. All of those sales, all went to the home office of Pickwick International, which I believe it was in Minneapolis. It could have been Georgia, but I think it makes more sense that it was in Minneapolis. In other words, the Detroit offices, we're going to get anything from Ann Arbor. Now we're open with Ann Arbor, and we're crazy about jazz. We realize punk is the next thing, we're all over that we're anybody who's independent and we're not really interested in the big names. First of all, you get advertising dollars and then each district has discretional budgets for they want to promote somebody. We got a fortune in free advertising. It was amazing. But even before that, the Aura Sounde general manager vowed to put us out of business and he goes, they're not going to last. I think we were selling 5.98 list for 3.99. I think we're making like a 4% margin or 5% margin. They lowered their price to 3.99, and so then I lowered my price to 3.76, and I took an ad saying, we're going to be here forever. This is the centennial price, and I had a mannequin in a window that I found in the basement, and I put a raincoat on it and assigned 3.76, so we're a funky store.
  • [00:28:29] Katrina Shafer: There's a good article in the Michigan Daily from that time period that's all about the record store, price war, and like it being the '70s, accusations of, well, they're not an independent store and we're an independent store and all of that.
  • [00:28:45] Steve Bergman: We were independent. We weren't part of the schoolkids thing by December 76, we were direct with the major companies we dropped out, which was out of the Co-op Group, and then Kathy, I got married, but I mean, we were actually an independent store. We opened up in May 76, so maybe November, Kathy's dad comes up to the store and Blair and I are partners. I had zero money, Blair had the LPs and the cash, and he had hardly any cash. But because we turned stuff over so much because of Michael Lang's inventory system, which was brilliant, we were turning like crazy, so our cash flow was fantastic.
  • [00:29:33] Steve Bergman: He looked here and he said, well, you got a lot of people in your store. That doesn't mean anything. But there's been a line at the register ever since I've been here. I'll lend you the money to buy out your partner. You need to own this, but I'm only going to give you two thirds because if you can't figure out how to get the rest, then he shouldn't be in business.
  • [00:29:50] Amy Cantu: That's nice.
  • [00:29:51] Steve Bergman: Yeah. Well, super. He was right too. Anyways, and so Blair, who was a man of his word, I paid the difference to him like over one year, just monthly payments, and Lenny gave me like a five or six year lease.
  • [00:30:05] Katrina Shafer: But then at that point you were not having to drive to Columbus, you were just getting things.
  • [00:30:10] Steve Bergman: That December, Jan, that was the first time that the University of Michigan closed down because of snowstorms. I just thanked my lucky stars that I didn't have to drive down there. Plus, the first time I drove down there, I was a gator, but I was a hippie. I was not into sports at all and I knew nothing or cared nothing, about college football. Here I've got Michigan Plates and I'm driving to Columbus and I park on High Street and these kids go, you got a lot of nerve. I said yeah, I dropped out of school to open up this record store in Ann Arbor. No, you as asshole. This is Ohio State. That's Michigan. I said, okay, that's great. Then all of a sudden it took me like, two weeks to ask and people go, but no one ever did anything to my car.
  • [00:30:57] Amy Cantu: You were feeling pretty successful at that point? What ideas or what changes or what development were you looking to bring to the store at that point now that you're independent?
  • [00:31:09] Steve Bergman: Well, but from the get go with Schoolkids, the whole point was I wanted a store that I would want to shop at. There were very few stores, and I never was in a tower, but there are very few stores. I was in the Sam Goodies. I wanted to do a combination of the Sam Goodies without the classical and the Jerry's, discount hip. But also to me, because I was so in the jazz and I was into the avant guard Jazz, I was in the Bob, I read everything I could get my hands on. I was into all the Canterbury Rock stuff, soft machine and those guys and and I knew what it was like to like things that were not the popular things. I used to have arguments with one of my college roommates. Well, the Beatles are obviously better than so and so because the Beatles are more popular. No, the Beatles are great, but this guy's great too. That's the story we wanted and he realized he couldn't get it with the Schoolkids co-op.
  • [00:32:02] Katrina Shafer: You touched on it, but like how did you consider yourselves to be distinguished from those other stores than based on like carrying Jazz or
  • [00:32:13] Steve Bergman: We're getting the best price you could get on imports and we're specializing in Japanese imports. Then we find another, could do these imports. We subscribe to, I forget what the book was, but it's a Japanese Jazz book and you see all the ads for what's coming out. We subscribe to Jazz journal and we carried it to store, which is a British magazine and so on. We're always keeping up with what and so at that point because Michael Lang had that show on, add a print, blue notes and he collected original pressing records. We would do that, so we were really aware of that, but it was more than just jazz. As a matter of fact, my first logo that I just ripped off, a Charlie Parker side silhouette thing. I put like a airmail special stamp on it and I said that's will be our logo. Michael who loved jazz but he said, we want people to know that we're more than -Schoolkid. Of course at that point I was already called Schoolkids which is a stupid name. A lot of people come up and says, so you're a Clearinghouse for records for kindergartners and first graders in high school, but we were already, in three or four months already established. I said, it's a goofy name, people remember it. We stayed with Schoolkids.
  • [00:33:27] Katrina Shafer: Can you tell us about some of the special events you would have in the store, like in store performances or visits? I know the Ramones came at one point.
  • [00:33:34] Steve Bergman: We were a little late to in store performances because I never wanted to give up the space in the store. I mean, but I think the first in store we did, and this is ironic, because that discount records on State and Liberty, that even when it was owned by Columbia, that was the number one store in the chain, only second to Harvard Square. It was one of the great stores, Iggy Pop worked there, Ken Burns worked there. But I think it was in 1977, late 76, whenever the idiot came out, we had in the in store. Then we had Dexter Gordon, when the homecoming album came out, and, oh my God, he was my hero. He was Michael's hero, Michael. We had a banner that said, Dex the Halls or something like that, welcome Dexter. I mean, it's just, it was amazing. We bought records direct from Betty Carter, and she did in stores and so we did a lot of meet and greets, too, with Stevie Ray Vaughan. That's like the spinal tape. The meet and greet. The only time we had an embarrassing turnout was later on, Maura O'Connell who as a store we came very close with. But we've had her do an in store because she was playing in Ann Arbor. She's a great Irish singer. She was in De Dannan and everything, and Jerry Douglas was in her band. I picked Jerry Douglas and Russ Barenberg up with her from the airport. We had just a huge spread for her, and nobody showed up. But then I realized, because this is an Ark person, she's going to play at the Ark. At the Ark, it's small, it's intimate, and when you want to meet the artist, you just meet the artist. Then we would do in store performance as acoustic, but we didn't do one too much because it's a limited audience and we worked very closely with the Ark and with Dave Siglin and rightly said, well, if you have 150 people come see them, maybe they don't feel like they have and they do a little performance, then they don't have to go to the Ark. I try to stay away from that as much as possible, but on the other hand, we had the Violent Remmes come in or Barenaked Ladies and they would do some kind of acoustic thing, but they already had a sold out show, so it didn't make a difference. But mainly it was in stores. We did, the Indigo Girls, we did at the Replacements, practically lived at the store. Yeah. When you were in town and they married. Lori Bizer was one of our key employees and she married Paul Westerberg briefly and that which is a good thing. She has that in her resume and she's a wonderful person. Kurt Cobain, when he was on Sub Pop, he would sleep at one of my employees couch, and we were like the punk store in town or for Southeast Michigan. The beginning times, I mean, all the other stores caught up like Sam's Jams and you had record time. They had great stores in Detroit, but for a couple of years we got best record store in Detroit for jazz.
  • [00:36:32] Katrina Shafer: When you had performers across the street at the second chance or at the Michigan, I assume you did pretty well selling?
  • [00:36:40] Steve Bergman: But not only that, we got the ads to say, see King Crimson, see the Ramones at the second chance, and here's your records at Schoolkids. Then sometimes would be meet and greet. I can't overestimate how important that was. Because if you have to pay out of your pocket for advertising, and you're a low budget store, even if you're a high budget store, you'll just lose money. We got this and we would have ads in the Ann Arbor Observer, in the Michigan Daily, in the Ann Arbor News, in Current Magazine. I mean, it was phenomenal.
  • [00:37:21] Katrina Shafer: Did you guys sell tickets for shows at all?
  • [00:37:24] Steve Bergman: Eventually, yeah, we did. Jim Fleming who ended up with David, Tammy Levige had Fleming, Tammy Leviche and they were booking agents and did some management. When I opened up the store, the store Jim comes to me and goes, I've got this Black Sheep Repertory Theater in Manchester. I'd like to have a presence in Ann Arbor like you to sell tickets. We can do that. My employees were mad at me because you sell tickets. What a pain? Because you got to do all the paperwork. But I said no. I mean, here's the thing. I mean, if you do it because we want to be part of the community, I mean, that's why you do something. If you want to do it because somebody is really popular, then you're not really doing a favor, are you, this way? It turns out it could have been better because all their artists, big artists would go to the Ark. They had Ani DiFranco who was in our store all the time, but we started selling tickets there and we would sell tickets for different shows. Eventually we ramped that up in the '90s. But even from the get go, we were the place where if it was a cool band, you could see it on posters. It's funny, it's cool, when I see a poster and it says, tickets available at school gets records.
  • [00:38:41] Amy Cantu: I'm curious, when CD's came out, tell us about the transition in the industry and how that impacted your store.
  • [00:38:49] Steve Bergman: It was a huge impact and a financial burden. When I was a kid in Miami with Dave DiMartino, we'd go to maybe it was Corvettes. Whatever the department store was and back then, they had to carry the records were in mono, then stereo comes out, but they carried the same title in mono and stereo. That's double inventory costs. Eventually they dumped the mono and they were selling them really cheap. We bought all these great Blue Note and Columbia Jazz records for like $0.50 each or so. We were just thrilled, but CD's. First of all, with LP's, there's still a lot of stuff that was not available. We would get imports. But even then there are things that were not available. The CD comes out and next thing you know you've got to carry the same thing on CD and LP. Of course, before the CD came out was the cassette. We were Schoolkids records and people laughed because all of a sudden, cassettes became big. Then I put in our title, Schoolkids Records and Tapes.
  • [00:39:54] Amy Cantu: That's right.
  • [00:39:55] Steve Bergman: But we didn't become Schoolkids records and tapes and CD's. But anyway, so the CDs, so all of a sudden, now on one title you got to carry three different formats. Again, we never made a lot of money. We were never a super profitable store. We always had a small margin.I mean, I know boarders could never have done what they did if they had to work on our margin. Cash flow was always great. But then all of a sudden you expand your inventory and it's harder to get that turn that gives you the cash flow. Of course, we had a problem with shoplifting with CD's. I mean, you always had a shoplifting problem. Cassettes though. At first, we put cassettes behind a glass bin that was slanted so the clerk would stand behind it and the drawer would drop down. You would point at it, but you can't really sell things. We put them out, and I know there was kids going over. One of the Burger King was across the street, in the basement of what was Aura Sounde. He would take orders, what do you want? Then he'd come over and rip us off. That's when I had to put the whole security system in with the magnetic tags and everything. But so CD's, they first came in long boxes. Cardboard long boxes and then plastic clam shells. But with the long boxes and people would have razors and they slice it, it's a little harder. I mean, you can still rip off LP's, especially in the winter you have a long coat and maybe a thing in the back.
  • [00:41:23] Steve Bergman: There's a shoplifting issue but the other thing is the inventory requirements. Then one thing that was great for our customers with CD's was everything started getting reissued but now all of a sudden the amount of titles that you have to have is exponentially greater so your inventory requirements. All of a sudden, we start seeing our turn slowing and slowing. That was the effect, and I do remember it was Elvis Costello came up with his CD and he had to barcode on the front, or maybe it was on the vinyl, but barcodes were another huge thing.
  • [00:41:59] Katrina Shafer: When you say inventory requirements, you're saying just for your customers or is that something that's coming from the record company?
  • [00:42:06] Steve Bergman: No, just our, because we're known for, one way to put it is well, we just order one of everything but because of our system, we knew and we could return it. When you worked at our store, Sunday was Desolation Row, which Michael termed that. One employee would go through every record in the store if it was out of order, if he noticed a gaping hole, so he had to write it down. Then also you go understock and you just do so much stuff to figure out what's going on, what do we need, how we do it. All of a sudden, the more inventory you have there, that's an issue too.
  • [00:42:50] Katrina Shafer: Can you talk a little bit about the expansion because then there became SKR Classical and the record label.
  • [00:42:59] Steve Bergman: Well, before that we had the little small 900 square foot store. Then we moved a little bigger, I guess it'd be East. Michael Jewett helped me tear down the wall. He and I tore down the wall to that store. He was a good customer at the time. Then we did another expansion. Then we had the third expansion was like a bridge too far, but by that point, all of a sudden, we had tower and borders. There was probably 20,000 square feet of extra retailing within a five minute walk of the store and that's on top of Wherehouse records and that's on top of the Discount Records and stuff so we needed the space, but now all of a sudden it cost you a lot of money to have the space to house the inventory that cost you money so that was an issue, but so we did three expansions. I was thinking about maybe we should do a store in South U. I probably should have but I just wanted to be one thing. Jim Leonard was the manager at Discount, and I talked to him and he was a classical expert, so I went and talked to Liberty Music. One thing I want to say it's the stores when we moved in here, of course, Liberty Music was one of the great record stores in the country, just like Discount record was and Liberty was on classical music. The guy who owned that, Garrett MauerHaff. Now this is all about before my time, this is just what I've heard but so when the orchestra would come in from the Philadelphia Orchestra or whatever, they'd go down to Liberty, the conductor would talk to Garrett. You know, what's good? I mean, that's what, then he moved and went out west and was doing some classical festival out there. Tom Allen did a great job and he was running it, but that was a store where you could listen to everything that means you opened up the LP's. There's Liberty, there was State Discount, which they only sold the hits super cheap. There was the two discounts, the Aura Sounde, there was the University Cellar which was in the league and then they moved down to where money was but that was a co-op through the university. That for us was freaking out, going God, they don't have to make any money at all. We have to make money and stay in business and pay our rent but we worked out Bonzo Dog was the independent record store on South U and they went out of business probably because of us. I think at one point we probably went on our heyday and even in the first, by 1979 or '80, I think we probably did moved as much product than all of our competition combined.
  • [00:45:42] Amy Cantu: Wow.
  • [00:45:43] Steve Bergman: The chain stores and also because going back to how crucial that Michael's inventory system was. At that time, the major labels, if you ordered on Monday, CBS shipped from Terra Haute. Everybody else I think from Cleveland, maybe some a little further, but for at least for a couple of the big majors, you order on Monday, you get it on Wednesday, Michael would order on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There's always orders coming in and you're seeing what goes. Computers at that time like for state discount, there'd be like a little index card like I've got here with all the information on it. They'd take it off the back, mail it to the home office. They'd put it in their computer. The computer would say, you need this. It would take them maybe two weeks. Other thing I said is, we always had super knowledgeable people working there but we learned as much from our customer and that's what we learned is that, that's how you have to react. That was a great thing. Just going back, so we expanded the store in '91, Jean Michel Crevier was one of my employees said, I want to record Mr. B at Kerrytown Concert, said we should do it. I said, oh, all right, let's do that. We got it at first, it was to highlight all the local artists and then other friends, my friend Dave said, well, you should do that. Michael Lipton was also a high school friend who's in Charleston, West Virginia and he's the house guitarist for Mountain Stage. He's also founded the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame with inductees like Bill Withers. He goes, well, this is great guitarist, he was a NRBQ, you remember NRBQ? I go, yeah, of course, and he's in Louisville, but he's just came out with an album and nobody wants to sign him. I put that out. It was a great record. We didn't sell a lot of it, but I saw Bruce Iglauer at Alligator. He goes, oh, great record but we didn't know, what does it fit, but we were exactly that kind of store. We were a store for, it doesn't really fit. We put those out and then we did a couple others and ended up, so we did the label, then everything collapsed in September '98.
  • [00:47:53] Amy Cantu: Can you talk a little bit about that?
  • [00:47:54] Steve Bergman: Well, there's some ill feeling and controversy and there's people still alive. I don't even want to get into that, but I will say this, I tried my best, it wasn't good enough, but there are so many extenuating circumstances. Like I said, all of a sudden you've got 20,000 square feet of retailing as important Jacobson's clothes and people go Jacobson's and Schoolkids? Yes, that was our customer. Then Wolverine Towers, and this has been a constant town and gown problem. The university pulls all its satellite offices from State and Liberty and all that, and they move out to the Wolverine Towers out by Briarwood. When Jerry Jernigan was the mayor, he was one of my best customers. They were around all the time. Now, all of a sudden, all these people who have disposable income, interest in music, it's a pain to get to downtown from outside so there was that. Then all of a sudden, everything was happening at the very beginning stages of online. Then to keep up with the competition, I said, well, I don't want to go out of business because and sit there going, oh, I just didn't make the move and I've been lucky. It's not that I was good, I was lucky. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, but sometimes it's good to be good. I probably could have handled everything better, but everything just started. When you're not making a big margin, you can lose five years of profit in one year. Employees are always our biggest expense and the rent all of a sudden became high. Tom Borders wanted to, he was a great compliment. He said, we've been all over the country. This is the best record store we've seen so why don't you close the store, we'll do a stock swap and you go be my music buyer. He knew what was going to happen, he wanted to save me but I was talking with my wife, I said, well, if we're going to close the store, let's do it the old fashioned way. I'll go out of business, but I also thought I could make and he came to me twice and said, but I said, Number 1, I'm not going to go compete against the great independent record stores in other towns. Then I became part of 92 or three, the coalition of independent music stores, because Mike Dries from Newberry Comics, we would always go to NAIRD National Association of Independent Record Distributors meetings. Rounder records was real big there. Mike in this meeting says, you guys need to bind together because our Best Buys had just come in too, and the buyer from Best Buy says, I'm going to put all you guys out of business, but he says you band together and then you do a national program with the major labels and now they'll talk to you. Even though most of us bought directly from the majors, we got the advertising from, and there's still like my friends in Austin, Waterloo Records. Bill Mcnally worked for me and he was with the band SLK. He went out to Portland, worked for Terry Currier at Music Millennium. Now he runs Burnside Distribution. They're still doing well. On the other hand, those are huge major towns. I always say Ann Arbor's got, what, 130,000 people, including all the students, so our businesses was always from people coming out of town. This is going back to another reason why we closed. I'm jumping all over the place, but all of a sudden you don't have to come to Ann Arbor to go to Borders, because there's a Borders in your neighborhood. You don't have to come to Schoolkids because Sam's Jam says, man, you guys inspired me and he did a great job. You had this store and that store, Dearborn Music was always a great story, Harmony House. All of a sudden, it's not as necessary to come to Ann Arbor. That was one reason. That wasn't the whole reason.
  • [00:51:54] Katrina Shafer: The music industry changed so much in the time that you ran Schoolkids and it's still changing and it's still demanding of customers to adjust to whatever is the newest thing.
  • [00:52:08] Steve Bergman: People talk about vinyl being popular again but I think last year vinyl outsold CD's but they sold $63 million Vinyl Records. Well, Michael Jackson's Thriller sold $84 million copies worldwide. It's just a fraction. I wouldn't say no one, but very few people buy whole album collections or collections of pre-recorded music. What we did really is not necessary. That's why Tower didn't make it. With our little store in the basement, we outlasted Tower.
  • [00:52:42] Katrina Shafer: You were mostly selling, or almost only selling new records?
  • [00:52:47] Steve Bergman: Schoolkids was new. Now, again with Dave DiMartino who was also Michael Lang and I would never met Michael without Dave, never with Kathy without Dave. He's my lucky guy. He calls me up and he goes, I'm looking at maybe it was Kmart, but I'm finding these original Kinks Face to Face with a rivet hole cut out. We were big with cutouts, cutouts or overstock remainders and there was different companies that specialized in that., and that was one thing. I usually bought that, Michael bought everything else but make a little better margin on those. Of course, also there's no returns. But anyways, he goes, ''These are original pressings, man. They're going for a quarter each or $0.50 each.'' There's an HD on a label. He goes, ''I think that's maybe Handleman. I said, ''Yeah, Handlemen. They're out of bright.'' I call him up. I go, ''Hey, you're cut out. I'm really interested in him.'' ''You want to talk to Francis? He's in Kansas.'' I call him up, he says, 'Yeah, come on down.'' Dave and I, and this is probably still 76, maybe it's 77. We drive down there. We go in this warehouse. It's like Indiana Jones. It's a huge warehouse. Francis goes, ''This is all the good stuff here.'' I probably should have bought that too, but it was all funk. It was $3 or $2, $1.75. I'm going, ''No, that's too expensive. That's not what I'm looking for.'' Because that was contemporary stuff that was just remaindered. He goes, ''Well, we got all this crap and there's this stacked to the roof of this place.'' They get the truck and they come up with the hand truck and the fork lift. They brings down all these boxes of records. We found 200 Kinks Face to Face $0.25 each. All this stuff, I freaked out and we were there. The mistake we made is we should have stayed for three weeks. Because we did go back a month or two later. Dave and I did, and everybody who was working there. Of course what happens with that is records come in, they rip the shrink wrap off, and they have a new shrink wrap so it looks fresher. Everybody who's working the line has a pile of records because they're cherry picking all the really cool stuff. But with that, I just had my little 900 square foot store. It was a little loft above where we had our safe and we could do this stuff for the store. We're doing maybe $1 million in $5 units. We're doing all this advertising. I'm doing all the paperwork. I have no business background whatsoever. I'm working constantly getting the bills paid. Submitting this, I needed space, so we got a place at 514 Williams above Campus Bike in toy. At first it was Schoolkids tapes but then with Schoolkids used in rare. That was the office was, but I used a lot of that product that we found and I put it up there and then we had an employee Roy or Glenn. Well, he'd go by Glenn Roy but never except when I did his W9 I -- what his real name was. We sold and then at that time, Dave DiMartino was working for the editor or a Creem Magazine. I'd call him up and the guy would come up with some obscure thing and go, this guy was with this band, this guy was at that band and they're all like bands that nobody had heard of. But he goes, ''No, you should get that one and get that.'' But mainly it was an office where I could do that. Then Bill Lord worked for us. His wife, Nancy Lord, used to be a manager at Aura Sounde or Discount, and she came to work for us. We got a lot of our employees from Discount Records and the chain stores. Anyway, so Bill said, ''I got some bootlegs.'' I carried bootlegs for about three weeks and I'm selling great. Then all of a sudden I go, no, I don't sell used per se, it's Schoolkids, bootlegs. I'm here to help artists, because we didn't carry bootlegs and we didn't buy promos because, I love used record stores, but promos was a pet peeve because that should go to the employees who had to pay for them otherwise. We didn't sell those, so it was just the user. Rare was a cool store, but it was not that much was mainly as an office. I think the Schoolkids in Ohio, they had to close and it became used kids, and it was a use store. But that's the only thing. You can get a margin. But then you have to buy. It takes a lot more expertise. But you can make a lot more of a margin, that gives you a lot more money. At the very end, when we had the big expansion, we were carrying all the techno and stuff. We had Carlos, what was the name Carlos Fuentes? He was a good DJ. We specialized in all the Techno and that stuff. We were starting to buy used.
  • [00:57:24] Amy Cantu: Is there an album or artist you associate most with Schoolkids when you look back?
  • [00:57:29] Steve Bergman: I guess Dexter Gordon, the Replacements, Philip Glass. We did in stores with Philip Glass. But there was all these artists like Gillian Welch, when we probably sold 200, we were one of the best stores for her. Not that she was my favorite artist, but that's what we were there for, and that was important. When k.d. lang did an in store with us, she had the angel with the lariat but she was making a musical transition. I know because number 1, she bought the Edith Piaf box set that we had. Then I said, and you need to listen to Carmen McRae's great American songbook, stuff like that. Indigo Girls, they were so shy, they rarely did anything, and Ani DiFranco, Maura O'connell, The Misfits.
  • [00:58:35] Amy Cantu: What are you most proud of?
  • [00:58:37] Steve Bergman: I'm least proud of the fact that that store crashed and burned. But I'm most proud of the fact that I always looked at Schoolkids as a vehicle for the people who worked there. We had so many great people like Rob Simons, he went on in the industry, Michael Lang, Dave DiMartino. The fact that people remember the store so fondly, then I'm just grateful because we're so in realizing that we were just lucky. But sometimes, you have to take advantage of your luck, and you want to do it. I really don't think that there's anything to be proud of other than the fact that we took advantage and we were the right store at the right time for the industry for Ann Arbor. I'm proud that we were part of the community. I ended up working with the State Street Association and with the Ann Arbor Film Festival and with the Ark, but those are just things you're grateful about. You know what I mean? Because boy, what an honor and privilege to do that. I will say, I'm proud of the record label even though we never really made any money doing it. It just helped bring to national attention, George Bedard and Mr. B and all those guys and they could do their own stuff and I thought that was a good thing. Then the artist like this guy, we did Winston Walls with Jack McDuff and we used Pistol Allen, the Funk brother drummer. Nobody had ever recorded Winston because he was frankly a pain to deal with. But he was great and his friend was Jack McDuff. That was the only record he's passed now, and that was great. Steve Ferguson, his last two albums he did with, were really important records. If we hadn't put him out, nobody would have put him out because he tried everywhere, that and then Peter Madcat Ruth.
  • [01:00:25] Amy Cantu: Yeah, that's a nice legacy.
  • [01:00:28] Steve Bergman: I'm happy about that. I like my little store too, because it was like my first store. Then I got to do more one on one with the customers.
  • [01:00:39] Katrina Shafer: Well, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much.
  • [01:00:42] Amy Cantu: Thanks.
  • [01:00:43] Steve Bergman: Well, it's good. It gets it down before I get to my next birthday.
  • [01:00:54] Amy Cantu: AADL Talks To is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.