After nearly 20 years in business, Aboveground Records, the landmark indie Island record store that has had a following among people of all ages, plans to close its doors.
On Wednesday morning this week Aboveground founder and owner Michael Barnes announced a closing date for the beloved store at the Triangle in Edgartown by posting a simple message reading on the store’s Facebook page: “1995-2014.”
“We’re in the final three months,” Mr. Barnes told the Gazette on Wednesday. He said he will likely close in the first week of January 2014.
Mr. Barnes said the decision to close the store was not a financial one but rather a desire to do “something different with my life.” The next stage will probably not involve retail, he said.
“It’s always been like, maybe next year,” he said. “Really, what made me choose to decide to end it was . . . I didn’t feel like I had any future to give to it right now.” When he made his decision a few weeks ago, he said, it was as though a weight had been lifted.
“I’m very much at peace with it, and it’s been a great run,” Mr. Barnes said. He has no plans to sell the Aboveground brand itself or to liquidate the music stock, and will likely have “a very small version of Aboveground at community events,” as a pop-up shop.
Mr. Barnes said he did not want people to be sad about the decision, but said instead that Aboveground Records “is not about me; it’s never been about me.” In the span of 10 minutes at the store on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Barnes had received three or four calls from friends and former employees asking about the news (he also received one call asking for a “Mister Barn-nez”).
“It’s going to be harder for some people to take than others,” he acknowledged.
Mr. Barnes opened Aboveground Records on June 17, 1995. He was 21 years old.
“It was the only thing I knew how to do,” he said. He had previously worked at Poindexter Records in Wilmington, N.C., and interned at MCA Records in Chicago before returning to the Vineyard and starting work at Island Entertainment in Vineyard Haven. In 1995, he was offered a job running Island Entertainment. At the same time, the space at the Triangle became available for rent. Mr. Barnes took a chance and founded his own music store. In the late 1990s, he expanded Aboveground into the unit next door and purchased the entire space outright, a move that would help sustain the business after the digital era of music dawned and standalone record stores became rarities. As the .mp3 became more prevalent, a larger portion of Mr. Barnes’s business model centered around used CDs and vinyl.
Mr. Barnes currently manages Aboveground Records as a mostly one-man show. Lily Cronig and Christian Walter work weekends.
“We’ve made it so much farther than I ever thought,” Mr. Barnes said. In 2012, he downsized the store to its current space, bringing an end to a different era: the live music-store concert. The cozy space had long offered bands a unique showcase, surrounded by bins of vinyl. Local band Kahoots played its first concert at Aboveground Records. Over the years, Mr. Barnes also worked to help promote concerts at other Island businesses, such as Offshore Ale Company and the Atlantic Connection. He still places Island musicians front and center, in both the figurative and literal sense. CDs by local artists Nina Violet, Willy Mason, the Taxidermists and Hee Hawk get front-counter placement at the store. A poster from a 2011 Kahoots tour hangs on the wall just behind the register.
As with any indie institution, the atmosphere of the store is nearly as distinct as its selection of vinyl and CDs — the Star Wars figures on the shelves, the hand-lettered signs, the bumper stickers adorning every shelf.
A neon orange T-shirt hangs in the front window, with yellow type spelling out the store’s name in an all-lowercase font. On the front is a large lowercase-a with an asterisk next to it.
Over the years, Aboveground Records also achieved a following based on these T-shirts, instantly recognizable by the a-and-asterisk combination. A 2005 New York Times story proclaimed Aboveground T-shirts the hottest summer trend, boosting sales considerably.
Mr. Barnes said he did not plan to order new stock of T-shirts before closing, but that he would be placing an order for hoodie and zip-up sweatshirts closer to the holidays.
But he said, where it would say “Edgartown” or “Martha’s Vineyard,” or “Est. 1995,” the text will read “A Good Time Had.”
As a 2003 Gazette story about the store noted: “Underneath the tunes playing from the store stereo system is the conversation, the banter and a friendly vibe that makes you feel like you’ve walked on the set of some homegrown, late-night talk show.”
“We always refer to — it’s Team Aboveground,” Mr. Barnes said Wednesday. ‘”People who just get that it’s a place to go to not get caught up in all the other stuff. What stands out is how people have just been so encouraging of it, and everybody’s kind of made it their own.”
“It’s astounding,” he concluded. “I’m very proud of it, and it’s been a lot of people who’ve made it that way.”