Thursday, October 20, 2005

Chasing 45's down Ludington St.

In an era before chain stores dominated the marketplace, independent merchants were no less savvy in bringing pop culture to the masses. In the late Sixties period that meant the latest hit song by the hottest group could probably be found at numerous outlets in bustling downtown Escanaba.

After hearing a new song on radio, you could search for a copy at various stores within a few blocks of one another along Ludington St.

Those stores hoping to snag the teenage rock 'n' roll fanatic stocked a hit list of double sided seven inch plastic discs known as "45s" or "singles." Customers got an additional song on the "B" or flip side of the platter which usually came in a picture sleeve. (By the way, those picture sleeves today are often worth more than the record. That's because spindle-type record storage cases meant a hole had to cut into the sleeve, ruining it.)

In your quest for the hippest tune, let's say "Judy in Disguise" by John Fred and His Playboy Band, you might have stopped at Advanced Electric, located at 1211 Ludington St. The store touted its inventory with a small red sign outside reading "Record Rack." Owned by Arthur Flath, the store sold television sets, radios, Frigidaire appliances and phonographs.

It featured a "complete record department," including both 45s and long players. Customers could purchase discs from in store stock or by special order. The store carried "Phonolog" an impressive catalog printed on yellow paper, updated weekly, which listed all available product. Mrs. Flath, son Brian or their friendly staff would help you navigate the huge Phonolog book to find the right song.

Advanced placed their orders with Radio Doctors, the venerable downtown Milwaukee retailer which also serviced hundreds of mid-west wholesale accounts. Radio Doctors maintained a world-class stock of 45s, enabling customers to purchase both current and older 45s.

Another retailer making noises in the 45 marketplace was Felton Radio & TV Supply. Owned by Oliver Felton, the store was located at 601 Ludington St. until it was destroyed by fire. It reopened at 1105 Ludington St. Felton drew customers into his store with an attractive display of the Top 100 singles in numerical order as determined by Billboard magazine. He spent time every week rearranging his display as songs rose or fell on the chart. The average hit record had a life-span of about three months.

Just a block away at 1011 Ludington was competitor J&R Radio & TV. Like its name stated, the store sold televisions, radios and stereos as well as records. Proprietor Dick Stichman promoted his store with the slogan "where service minded people shop."

The search for the 45 of your desires may have also taken you to Major Utilities at 1300 Ludington St. Major Utilities placed jukeboxes in hundreds of bars and restaurants in the Delta County area. Chances are that if you didn't hear a hit song on the radio, you would hear it on one of their jukeboxes.

Those colorful and bass-booming appliances kept track of how often songs were played so the operator could pull records which didn't get enough spins. When that happened owner Herbert Flath would sell those 45s in the upstairs quarters of his business. Teenagers could climb the 13th St. stairs on Saturdays and buy a slightly-used recent hit for a quarter.

Although Marrier Music at 701 Ludington St. may have quit selling 45s by this period, the store made a significant impact with its "Record Club" during 1963-65. Hundreds of area residents joined Chet Marrier's club to receive a free 45 after the purchase 10 at the regular price.

Of course, Escanaba's trio of dime stores also catered to pop music fans. Those retailing giants included Kresge's at 1104, Woolworth's at 1112 and Neisner's at 1116 Ludington St. Woolworth's had a respectable record department and carried the fan magazines of the day. The store made a big splash earlier by stocking tons of Beatles-related merchandise.

So, those are some of the stops you may have made in your 45 record quest. It was the final step before you could go home and play your tune to your heart's content, knowing that you were an integral part of pop culture.

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