Northfield plays alternative
NORTHFIELD, Minn. -- It's the sort of music that really has no stylistic boundaries and no real definition.
It runs the gamut from the pulsating emergence of grunge, a post-Punk denial of musical norms combining thrashing heavy metal rifts with screeching vocals, to eloquent soliloquies and experimental vocals.
Collectively, this hodge podge of musical underground is known as alternative music, and it found a home in the dorm rooms of this nation's higher education campuses.
After its founding group, REM (named after the sleep stage known as rapid eye movement), gained near canonization through national radio play and at the 1991 MTV Music Awards, the alternative scene has moved more mainstream, and that means big business.
Not necessarily interested in ``big'' business, 28-year-old Northfield native Scot Covey decided Northfield needed an alternative.
``I was at a point in my life where I wanted to (go into business),'' Covey said.
Reacting to a downturn in his personal economic situation, Covey decided to use the connections he made while helping many Minneapolis bands market and distribute their work.
Enter Red Pets Records.
Like the name, which was taken from a song by an obscure British band, the Jazz Butcher, Red Pets is not your run of the mill music store.
It has a mission.
While targeting about 4,500 students at the city's two colleges, St. Olaf and Carleton, Covey has other, more philosophical aims in sight for Red Pets, which he sees as an extension of the Minneapolis music scene.
``I'm not sure my decision (to locate here) is entirely a business one,'' Covey said. ``It is not only to be receptive to that alternative market, but to also create a store that adds to the cultural life of the town, at least in my small little way.''
He is tackling that objective in three main ways in an effort, he says, to create a store where people can get something out of it, even if they don't drop a dime.
His first direction is to stock older releases of alternative groups just emerging on the scene. While he said these are not necessarily best sellers, they do spark interest and draw customers in while providing some additional product knowledge.
A couch and coffee table, Covey said, provide an additional way to bring the customer closer to the music. Complementing this lounging lure is a host of up-to-date industry publications featuring the top of the charts for the underground music fighting to overthrow, or at least taunt, the status quo.
The final main approach merges with Covey's belief that customer service is a guiding principal for success in business. The people hired to staff Red Pets have all been screened for knowledge of the bands and the music they are selling.
Covey said he wanted employees who would be able to provide customers with information that the average music lover would not know.
Special ordering music is another customer-oriented service Covey has implemented. Since his inventory will be somewhat limited due to the size of the store at 303 Division St., Covey said he will special order anything from Lawrence Welk's greatest hit to the latest from the Meat Puppets.
That allows his store to reach people outside of the target market of high school and college-age students.
While Covey encourages special ordering, he said it is important for Red Pets to remain focused on the original alternative market to avoid trying to be everything to everyone and becoming nothing to no one.
Covey said he looks to those expanding minds in college to bring in the bacon.
``I feel in some ways students are more reliable consumers than a lot of other prospects,'' he said. ``(They) are going to an expensive school, and they must have some disposable income.''
He has already reached out to his market while hosting a top billing of Minneapolis and Northfield alternative bands during his grand opening week Feb. 7.
While the promotion was a way to let the Northfield area understand that Red Pets has connections with the inner-city underground, Covey said it is something he would like to continue on an irregular basis.
The main time people will be able to see alternative bands revealing their revelries will be when they are releasing an album that Red Pets will be stocking, he said.