If you’ve driven through South Portland, you might have noticed a new sign going up in the abandoned Blockbuster building. Once a home to overpriced movie rentals, the structure now houses a local (and pretty damn great) Maine/New Hampshire chain: Bull Moose. The Mill Creek record store is brand spankin’ new—in fact, they just celebrated their soft opening today. But owner Brett Wickard already has big plans for the location.
We stopped by last week to chat with Brett about upcoming events, his favorite albums, and how he plans to integrate into the South Portland community. We got a quick look around the store, but when we were there, much of the merchandise was still in boxes. Today, the store looks quite different, with toys on the wall and CDs as far as the eye can see. But don’t take my word for it—swing by and check it out for yourself.
Or go next Saturday, November 17 to help Brett and the gang celebrate at their grand opening party. The festivities will start at 3 p.m. with a performance by Pete Witham & The Cozmik Zombies and Dark Follies. The show will spill over into Sunday, with Rob Schreiber’s Standard Issue playing a set with special guests from the South Portland High School Jazz Ensemble. Portland musicians jamming in a Maine-owned and operated store? That’s pretty freaking locavore, if you ask us.
For now, sate your curiosity by reading our Q&A with Brett, below.
What are you planning for your grand opening, some sort of big event?
Yeah, we have a couple bands coming. It should be a crazy day.
Are you going to have other in-store events?
Like a lot of our other stores, we plan to have an ongoing cavalcade of local musicians and writers, everything like that. One of our philosophies overall is that we’re an entertainment retailer and we should be a part of the community. We want to make sure we are integrated in some way or another, through bringing community members into the store, or by getting involved with local culture.
One thing that is different with this location than with some of our others is that Mill Creek is a true community shopping center. Up by the mall, you get people from all over the place. But this store really needs to represent this community. We plan to have more toys, more birthday gifts, more stuff like that.
Are you going to have more local music for sale as well?
Yeah, we’re also going to feature some local movie makers, and some local writers. One of the other things about being here is that we want to work together with all of our neighbors to bring more people shopping in this area.
How big is the Bull Moose chain?
This is our 11th store. We were really psyched for years to have number 11, so we could do the Spinal Tap reference and everything. A good number of people got it. We made the original announcement on our Facebook page showing the amps to 11, and some people were like… what are you doing? But other people got the joke.
Do you have plans to expand even more?
We do. When the economy went crazy and was booming, we tried to go the reverse of what the economy as a whole was doing. Now that it’s in reverse, we consider it our duty to expand and create more jobs. So we’re going to try and keep moving down those lines. We saved up our pennies, and now is the right time to do it.
Another big advantage is that there are spaces available now that never were before. We liked this space years ago, but it was a Blockbuster before. One of the things we’re really psyched about here—and one thing a lot of the residents said to us—is that no one liked having an abandoned building here. So we’re excited to bring some vibrancy back to the area.
How do you compare yourselves to a bigger chain like Newbury Comics?
I think Newbury is a great chain, but one of the ways we’re different from national chains is that each of our stores is run like its own entity. One Bull Moose inventory can be completely different than another, because we like our inventory to reflect the community they’re in. We have a store in Sanford, Maine that is only about 15 or 20 miles from a store in Portsmouth, but there is more difference in their inventory than any stores in our chain because people are into different stuff. In Sanford, they’re into more street-level rap and in Portsmouth they’re more into college-oriented rap. Why should you put the same thing everywhere? We’re not a cookie-cutter.
What do you see the persona of this store being?
Right now, we think it’s going to be more of a family shopping center. We still want it to have a cool indie feel, but it’s a community shopping area. We’re right near a grocery store, so we expect to get a lot more families. But as a company, we really believe in questioning what we do, so as time goes on, we’ll adjust based on what people really do want. Right now, we’ve got some kids toys and boardgames that we don’t have in other locations. But if people feel that they want to buy fishing lures, we’ll sell that. We really try not to have a chip on our shoulder about it. We want to carry really inexpensive, fun, collectable, artistic stuff. Stuff that people can be fans of, or fanatics of. That’s why we have so much Magic: The Gathering. People get really into that scene. Video games also fit that scene.
Do your employees also have a say in what you bring in?
Definitely. As a company, we feel that you get exponentially dumber the further you are from the actual customer. If you’re talking to people day in and day out, you know way more about what’s going on. We try to make as many decisions that come from the people who actually deal with customers. Some dude sitting in an office doesn’t know… And our industry moves so fast, so having people on the ground is essential.
Is there anything that you are most excited about with this store?
This is the first time we’ve ever built a store. It was a 7,000-square-foot store and we made it larger. This was our own site, so we had more choices. For instance, the rainwater off the top of the building is being treated before it goes into the bay, which makes it safer than it used to be. We treat the water so it doesn’t go in at a higher temperature, which can make things tough for aquatic life. It’s these little things, that you don’t necessarily see, but it’s cool to be able to do it the right way. People might never know it, but this store has less of an environmental impact, even though it is a bit bigger.
Would you say you’re pretty passionate about music, or are you more of a movie buff?
Definitely, I’m a music guy at my core. We believe at Bull Moose to have the stores reflect what our customers want, literally. If it reflected what I want, it would be this little tiny indie High Fidelity-style record store.
Since you mentioned High Fidelity, what are your top five desert island albums?
That’s a good one! Number one would definitely be The Replacements, Let It Be. I could listen to that about eight billion times. The second one would be Camper Van Beethoven’s Telephone Free Landslide Victory. The third one would be REM Reckoning. The fourth one would be Talking Heads Stop Making Sense—you’ve gotta have some sort of pseudo-greatest hits in there. The fifth one would be… hmm. I want something cheesy, too. I think The Stone Roses first album was awesome. If they weren’t jerks, they would have had an incredible music career.