Treehouse Records enters final weeks

Customers scan the new arrivals in the final days of Treehouse Records.
Customers scan the new arrivals in the final days of Treehouse Records.

Treehouse Records still has plenty of albums to sell ahead of the Dec. 31 closing. Staff members continue to clear out the basement where the owner stashed new vinyl and used records he didn’t have time to price.

“People assume that everything has been picked through. It hasn’t,” said owner Mark Trehus.

Trehus said his decision to retire is due to many factors, and the biggest is that he sees better things on the other side. Business has been fine, but it’s time to move on, he said.

“This has been an absolute dream job, but it allowed me to continue kind of being an adolescent most of my life,” said Trehus, who recently married. “Now I’m facing adulthood at 60 and loving it.”

Trehus is fielding proposals from new tenants interested in the space. Given the neighborhood’s trajectory, with an Aldi store and apartments under construction across the street, Trehus said it’s likely that the corner would be redeveloped in the coming years.

“Look at what’s going on on Lyndale Avenue. Everything is becoming gentrified,” he said.

The floor of Treehouse Records shook last week as pile-driving continued across the street. Among those sifting through the records was Jeffrey Herrman, who visited the store as a kid in the ‘80s and works there today. Since news of the closure, he’s seen parents bring in their kids to show them the source of their record collections.

“They learned everything they knew from what was on the walls, and what was on the new release racks,” he said.

Before the Internet, customers relied heavily on staff knowledge, Trehus said.

“I just got my paycheck, I need some new music, what should I buy?” he said. “It happened all the time. … Now, people are hearing stuff before they come in.”

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The tastemakers

26th & Lyndale has held a record store on the corner since 1972, though it’s changed names and owners over time. Originally North Country Music (first located at a house at Lake & James, then at 22nd & Lyndale in 1971, then at 26th & Lyndale in 1972), the record store evolved into Oar Folkjokeopus in 1973.

“We were people that lived and breathed music,” said Oar Folk Manager Peter Jesperson. “We were always on the lookout for stuff. We were constantly turning over rocks, reading through collector’s magazines, trying to track down the odd records.”

They sold The Last Poets, a spoken word precursor to rap music. They sold boxes of David Bowie records before he reached the radio. They paid extra to airfreight singles and stock them two weeks earlier than stores across the country.

Jesperson remembers a crowd gathering to buy the first Sex Pistols single.

“The UPS driver walks in with a box, and he gets a standing ovation, and he has no idea what the heck is going on,” he said. “We opened the box and put the single on the turntable and crank it up for the first time, and everybody hears ‘Anarchy in the UK’ in 1976.”

Paul Westerberg brought The Replacements’ demo tape to Oar Folk in the spring of 1980 and gave it to Jesperson, who co-founded Twin/Tone Records and helped book gigs at the Longhorn downtown. He remembers chuckling to see “Santana Moonflower” written in cursive on the back of the tape. A few days later in the Oar Folk back office, Jesperson worked his way through a shoebox full of cassettes and popped in Westerberg’s tape.

“It really just jumped out at me like nothing else had,” he said. “…Kind of like an X-rated Chuck Berry.”

He called Westerberg to gauge his interest in recording a single or an album, and he still remembers Westerberg’s comment:

“You mean you think this sh-t is worth recording? We were just trying to get a job to play at the Longhorn.”

“All the bands that came through town and played at the Longhorn would come to the store,” former staffer Terry Katzman told Cyn Collins in her book “Complicated Fun.” “They knew there was a store in Minneapolis selling their records, and it was the only store selling their records. That’s why the Ramones and Talking Heads and Blondie and the B-52s and David Johansen all came to Oar Folk. They knew we were responsible for breaking them here.”

The record store became the place where people with adventurous taste went to find things, Trehus said. He remembers visits from talent like Prince, Alex Chilton, Jonathan Richman, Thurston Moore, Elliot Roberts (Neil Young’s manager), Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum and Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü. The Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson sat on the radiator and read, he said.

“As time evolved, our niche was to have things that other stores didn’t have,” he said. “It was the alternative to the alternative, digging deep into the esoteric and interesting stuff. It was the last mom and pop store to really surrender and take in CDs, and the first to get rid of them.”

An evolving business

Trehus started managing Oar Folk in 1985, a year after a fire destroyed the store. He always appreciated that owner Vern Sanden took a chance on him shortly after he stopped drinking and drugging.

Trehus took over ownership in 2001, renaming the store Treehouse Records. He also purchased the building, which helped keep the business viable during lean years in the mid-2000s, he said.

The record business continues to evolve, and Trehus is seeing fewer sales of new records. While a popular new rock record once sold 30 copies, today the shop might sell five.

“Online business is the main competition now for records, especially new titles,” he said.

Trehus will continue managing his label Nero’s Neptune and plans to reissue records like Willie and the Bumblebees’ “Honey From The Bee.” He’s also putting out archival music from a West Virginia church that featured snake-handling as part of the service.

“Everyone that’s heard it has been blown away by it,” he said.

Although he’s decided “there is more to life than having every great record that ever existed,” he’ll continue to patronize friends’ record shops, including Roadrunner Records at 43rd & Nicollet, brokering collectible records upon request.

Jesperson said he continues to collect physical records because he appreciates the artwork and liner notes. (He currently recommends the Australian brother-sister folk artists Angus and Julia Stone, Bob Dylan’s box set “Trouble No More” and Taylor Swift’s new album.) But he’s optimistic about online sales as well, and thinks a day will come when artists are paid fairly for digital transactions.

“The Internet is the new record store of today. … When people are talking about record stores going away or physical product going away, to me, there’s more music available to more people now than ever before. How can that not be a good thing?” he said.

Nevertheless, Jesperson said he’s a bit heartbroken there will no longer be a record store at 26th & Lyndale.

“I’m glad it’s being properly remembered,” he said.

The shop will continue operating until midnight on New Year’s Eve.

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Records Mark Trehus recommended most often in 32 years at Oar Folkjokeopus/Treehouse Records

— Live at the Old Quarter, by Townes Van Zandt

— The Modern Lovers’ first self-titled album

— Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music

— The World Gone Wrong, by Bob Dylan

— Any Big Star record

— Forever Changes, by Love

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