Webster University photojournalism students are creating a photo series on this St. Louis hotspot. The…
The “Vindicated Dinosaur”
Tim Hendrickson began to collect vinyl records when he was six years old. From his high school years, through 30 years of work at Anheuser-Busch, all the way up to his graduation from Webster University in 2008, records have been a part of his life. But the idea of opening a record store never occurred to him until July of 2012, when he was approached by his friend Jeremy Miller about the possibility.
Hendrickson and Miller are co-owners of Dead Wax Records, which sits cozily on the corner of Cherokee Street and Wisconsin Avenue. In the front room, the wood and metal bins (which Hendrickson made himself) hold records by classical artists as well as brand new ones, and the walls are lined with Hendrickson’s and Miller’s favorite records, none of which the two are shy about playing for their customers on the store’s sound system.
Behind the main counter is a recording studio, which they would eventually like to use for music-related events. In its current state, Hendrickson admitted the studio is more like a storage space than anything else. The music coming from Dead Wax’s second-floor neighbor spills into the shop on weekends, the only time the store is open. Although Dead Wax is on the quiet side of Cherokee Street, the shop’s two owners seem to know their neighbors and customers fairly well.
“People come in because we can relate to them. It’s a tiny space, so you can’t just ignore everybody,” Hendrickson said. “And I don’t even like to use the word ‘customers,’ because I’ve made so many friends. It’s so wonderful to have people come in and feel at home.”
Despite the small quarters, Hendrickson estimates the store can hold around 2,600 vinyls, and customers have certainly found no shortage of new material. Hendrickson and Miller mix all genres together in the bins, so someone who shops at Dead Wax might go from browsing John Coltrane albums to suddenly looking at an Alice Cooper record. Hendrickson prefers not to divide the bins by genre. He says it allows people to stumble upon something they might not normally listen to.
“It’s amazing how open-minded people are, musically as well as record-wise,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve had people come in without any idea of what kind of music they want to listen to. I just start playing things, and hopefully they like something I play.“
When it comes to personal taste, Hendrickson is a self-described “hillbilly kid.” He grew up on classic country and bluegrass and pushes aside ‘70s rock for genres like R&B and soul. But Hendrickson said one of the thrills of working in a record store is seeing the renaissance of vinyl records in action.
“I’ve said all along, I feel like the vindicated dinosaur,” Hendrickson said. “When CDs first came in, for example, Vintage Vinyl was slowly getting rid of vinyls. At one point, their store had as many records as we have in here now. And I’ve always said the sound was superior to me. It’s a different experience. It’s a commitment.”
He said his customer base is multigenerational. He sees everyone, from DJs looking for good records to mix with to 10 year olds searching for Beatles albums, and he’s happy to help them all.
He said one advantage of a store like Dead Wax is that the newer collectors don’t get so overwhelmed. Unlike bigger stores like Euclid Records or Vintage Vinyl, it’s more palatable to new collectors, who he sees fairly often. Hendrickson said most of them are kids who found their parents’ vinyls in the closet and got hooked.
Hendrickson is glad to see so many new, younger collectors, because it means people are beginning to appreciate the sound of vinyl again. He said younger generations have a different mentality than he does when it comes to music.
“We have this jukebox mentality, where music is always playing but you’re not really listening to it. It’s nice to sit down in front of a system—and it doesn’t even have to be that nice of a system. There’s just a listening experience there that you don’t get with anything else,” Hendrickson said.
A personal touch
Hendrickson is no stranger to the younger generation. His two children graduated from Webster, and he was a non-traditional student there as well. During a recruitment event for his daughter, Hendrickson met Kim Kleinman, the assistant director of undergraduate advising at Webster.
“Music was the glue that sort of made us come together,” Kleinman said. “So I’m not at all surprised that he runs a record store now.”
Kleinman eventually became Hendrickson’s academic advisor, and the two have become friends since Hendrickson’s graduation.
“Being at Webster, it was the best three years. It was tough, extremely challenging sometimes, but I made so many friendships there. I had a grieving process after I left, I think. It becomes such a part of you because of the people and the place,” Hendrickson said.
During his time at Webster, he would walk over to Euclid Records to browse their selection in between his classes in Pearson House. With the personal collection Hendrickson has gathered over the years, he made his own mark on Dead Wax by adding his records to the bins.
However, the store is just as much for collectors of older records as it is for the younger people who come through. Even the name, Dead Wax, is an homage to record fans: “dead wax” is the term for the manufacturer markings between the end of the record and the label in the center.
Seven years after his graduation, and now retired from his job at Anheuser-Busch, Hendrickson is busier than he has ever been. He said opening a business with Miller has taught him a lot of lessons, but he’s still learning. He has found himself to be surprisingly good at shopkeeping, but he says he does not necessarily like to sell records; for him it’s more like showing his customers what records he loves. Ultimately, Hendrickson’s interest has and always will lie in the music. As long as the records keep coming in, he’ll keep listening.
“That was our biggest fear when we started, was being able to keep records coming in,” Hendrickson said. “Everyone else told us that as soon as you open the door, it isn’t a problem anymore. They were right.”