Power to the Peoples: Record Store Rises from the Ashes

With a little help from his friends, Brad Hales is still unpacking. The shelves of his personalized, one-of-kind shop are filling up with shoeboxes with labels like "Early James Brown," or '60s Funk." The walls are being painted in primary colors, covered with bright, cheerful murals. It looks like he hired the Jackson 5 as interior designers.

Peoples Records, one of Metro Detroit's most eclectic vinyl shops, is starting a new life in a new location. And bursting with new life it is.  

When a fire at the Forest Arms Apartments last winter flooded much of his basement shop, where people from around the world came for his collection of rare vinyl, Hales says he had a good idea what to do next.

"I had to reopen as soon as possible," he says. "I never really questioned that."

For five years, Hales, 34, operated out of the basement of the Forest Arms, which also contained Amsterdam Espresso coffee shop. It was a vibrant corner of Midtown, just south of the Wayne State University campus.  

When a fire erupted in an upstairs apartment early in the morning of Feb. 6, gutting the 102-year old structure, thousands of records were destroyed. The colorful nook had been packed with 12-inch records, 78s, and 45s, some of it rare and highly collectible. For years, Hales has been digging for long out of print Detroit soul and funk jams from the 1960s and 1970s (which he also rather famously spins at DJ residencies he has in Detroit and Ann Arbor).

Bringing it all back home

But a fire and a flood could not deter Hales. The day after the shop on Forest was destroyed he made three record buys from dealers, and opened a temporary store in the basement of his Detroit home on Third St. He eventually built the collection back up to where it needed a new storefront. He found a former millinery, at the corner of Woodward and Peterboro St., near Zaccaro's and Atlas Global Bistro, perfectly suited for his needs. Well, almost perfect.

"There was carpeting on the floor," he says, "and a lot of water damage, too. There was a wall down the middle that we had to take down, ceiling tiles missing. But it was one of the only places I could afford." Hales leases the 1,100 sq. ft., two-story space from the Cass Ave. Development Corp. He spent two months this summer at the new location this cleaning, pulling up carpet, scraping and painting.

Now, vinyl junkies walk across restored hardwood floors while they scour through the seemingly endless crates and boxes of records. Despite losing several thousand records in the fire, Peoples Records is already packed to the gills with hard to find vinyl. And only vinyl. That's right, no CDs or cassettes to be seen.

Hales says the basement is currently empty, though he wouldn't be opposed to renovating it in the future. There's street parking in the front, as well as a parking lot in the back.  

Born in Detroit and raised in Wyandotte, Hales describes himself as "kind of an outcast" in high school. He says the only thing he wanted to do after graduating from high school was "keep working in record stores."

That's what he did, putting in stints at Desirable Discs in Dearborn and Encore in Ann Arbor, with a short detour working in Zingerman's Bakehouse. On top of his DJ gigs, he has also performed in local progressive-minded indie bands like Teach Me Tiger, Easy Action and Human Eye.  

He professes a love for music of all spectrums, but says his main interest is in combing Detroit to add to his collection of choice 45s from the 1950s to the 1980s. His collection of records grew, until, he says, "I just started selling them, so I could buy more. Sell three, buy one. I compare it to being an antique collector."

Destination: Detroit

Hales says the 45s he covets were often produced by local labels, sometimes out of private homes, in runs as small as 100. Some 40 years later, only a handful are left, and Hales' joy comes from tracking them down.

He says he was inspired to "get my hands on records that were made around here, and sell them to people around here, so we could keep them (in Detroit)."

Indeed, if Hales gets his hands on 10 copies of an in-demand 45, he often only lists one copy on eBay, and keeps the rest to sell in his store. "I want local DJs to have access to this music in the future," he says.

With Detroit's international reputation as a haven for rare vinyl, keeping records in the area is a challenge. "Detroit is a destination for record buyers across the nation, across the world," he says. "That's something that is unbeknown to most people around here."

Some of his regular customers hail from as far away as England and Japan. "(Collectors) bring their families to Detroit for vacation, and they spend all their time combing the record stores for finds, dragging along their wife and kids," he says.

Hales says the community's response to the new Peoples Records has been outstanding.   

"We've been extremely busy since we opened," he says. "I had a carload of people waiting to get in this morning when I unlocked the doors. And we're busy until I close at night."

Peoples Records is at 3161 Woodward. Call 313-831-0864 for hours.         

Ashley Woods is a local freelance writer. Send feedback here.

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Brightly colored hand painted signs, by Weemes, on the Woodward store front

Open for business, Brad Hales sorts through his collection of rare vinyl

Colorful and warm, the new location is a great place to spend a few hours listening and hunting for rare tunes.

45's stacked high

Customers buying and selling.

All photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.

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