i know that most of the staff of h.h.@m.m. reads this now cause livejournal is the coolest. i want you guys to know that working at harmony house the passed 2 years has been the best thing to ever happen to me. i loved my job and working with all of you. you weren't just co-workers or friends, you were family. it's gonna be tough the next couples month. i don't know if i'll be able to drive be another harmony house without bursting into tears (cause i'm emo...lol). you all taught me so much and i'm glad that it lasted as long as it did. we had some good times. i love you all...rock out with your... -amanda ...does this mean the family is breaking up???
HARMONY HOUSE: Chain of music stores singing the blues
July 18, 2002
BY BRIAN MCCOLLUM
FREE PRESS POP MUSIC WRITER
Bob Seger bought LPs there. Kid Rock bought compact discs. And for 55 years, thousands of Michiganders have fed their own music cravings by roaming the aisles at Harmony House.
BY THE NUMBERS
Founded: 1947 in Hazel Park
Founder: Carl Thom;still owned by his family
Stores closing: 21
Jobs lost with closing: 200
Stores at peak: 38
Workers at peak: Number not available
Sales: $28 million in 2001
But the venerable record store chain is about to sing its swan song. Harmony House executives said Wednesday the company will cease operations by year's end, a move they blamed on slipping sales and gloomy prospects in an era of Internet piracy and entertainment superstores.
Eleven stores will close by the end of August, including several this week. They join 17 Harmony House stores closed during the past 18 months. The chain's remaining 10 shops will be shut down in the fall.
Harmony House president Bill Thom said he won't provide an exact timetable until store employees have been told about specific closing dates.
Wednesday's decision will put about 200 full-time and part-time employees out of work, including several who had logged more than a quarter-century with the company.
Others will likely feel the impact. Local musicians have enjoyed the chain's liberal consignment policy. Ticketmaster runs a sales outlet in every Harmony House store. And metro Detroit is losing Harmony House Classical, the only store devoted solely to classical music.
"Quite frankly, we're surprised it's come all the way to this," said Thom, who took over the business from his father, Carl Thom, in 1991. "But when we crunched the numbers, no combination of scenarios looked healthy. I can't figure out how to make it work anymore."
For area music fans, Harmony House is an institution, as inherently Detroit as Faygo soda pop and the Boblo boat. The late Carl Thom opened his first shop in Hazel Park in 1947 and began expanding by two or three stores annually in the 1970s. The chain eventually grew to more than three dozen locations and $40 million in annual revenue.
That fell to $28 million last year, down from $36 million in 2000. Quiet moves began to reveal the privately held company's poor health: Several key executives received buyout packages last summer, and the company continued to shutter stores.
The fall of Harmony House comes during hard times for the record industry. Nationally, record sales in the first half of 2002 were down 9.8 percent from the same period last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Record retailers, where the industry comes face to face with consumers, have taken the biggest hit.
"It hurts. Everyone grew up shopping at Harmony House," said Glen Uranis, who owns Switched On CDs in Novi and heads the nine-store Detroit Music Retailers Collective. "Those of us who are independent store owners always considered them a fellow independent -- just a bigger one. It's very disappointing to see them fall on hard times. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anybody."
Longtime patrons applauded the chain's deep stock of rare titles, its commitment to local music and the hands-on expertise of sales staff.
"I'm going to miss the selection that they have -- you can usually get what you want, and they give you good service," said Mike Gentry, 49, of Shelby Township. Gentry, who has been shopping at Harmony House since he was a teen, was at the Berkley store Wednesday afternoon. "It seems to me that they bend over backward for customer service."
Just five years ago, Harmony House celebrated its 50th anniversary with a prominent television ad campaign and an opulent party at Dearborn's Ritz-Carlton. An aggressive expansion campaign was under way, reaching a 1999 peak of 38 stores.
Wednesday's announcement revealed just how quickly problems have accelerated for those who sell music.
"It's an increasingly tough environment for the smaller music retailers," said Tom Graves, an equity analyst at Standard & Poor's in New York.
Independent stores now compete against electronics chains such as Best Buy and Circuit City, along with such powerful discounters as Target and Wal-Mart.
Thom fingered Internet piracy as the primary culprit behind the demise of Harmony House. Despite a federal judge's shutdown of Napster in 2000, online song trading has continued to explode.
"I think the Internet has been our No. 1 problem," he said. "It has absolutely eroded the value of music to young consumers. You've got kids who have never bought a CD in their lives."
But he doesn't absolve record labels from some blame, claiming they've priced many young consumers out of the market.
"By abandoning singles as a legitimate format, the industry killed us," he said. "It was basically telling kids, 'We don't want you to shop in our stores anymore unless you've got 20 bucks.' "
Harmony House joins a recent spate of Michigan retail institutions to fade from the scene. Explosives turned Hudson's flagship Detroit store into rubble in 1998. Last summer, Hudson's became Marshall Field's after 120 years. Other vanished names include: Fred Sanders, Winkleman Stores and Arbor Drugs.
"Michigan has always nurtured retail enterprises and a number of chains are thriving," said Fred Marx, a local retail expert. "But we are no different from the rest of the country. We've seen in recent years radical change."
Many in the local music industry said Wednesday that they knew Harmony House was having trouble, but were surprised to hear the 55-year run was ending.
Alex Tear is program director of WDRQ-FM (93.1) and WDVD-FM (96.3), among the radio stations that partnered with Harmony House for promotions and specialty CDs over the years. He lamented it's "another music outlet that has gone by the wayside. It's been a landmark and a staple of the community and we did a lot of business together."
"They still had the customer service and it wasn't a guy in a blue vest coming up to you from the hardware section not knowing about music," Tear said. "You had music fans working there."