Local Current Blog

Mill City Sound: New Hopkins record store contributing to vinyl boom

Owner Rob Sheely behind the counter at Mill City Sound. Photo by Jay Gabler/MPR.

Yesterday evening was overcast and grey, but it was cheerful and bustling inside Mill City Sound as a convoy of staff from The Current pulled up to the 115-year-old storefront in downtown Hopkins. We’d been hearing a lot about Rob Sheely’s new record store, and we wanted to see what all the excitement was about.

Sheely, 59, has been collecting records since he was a teenager; his first jobs were running audio for shows, but when he got married and wanted to establish himself more securely, he said, he realized that “working for $20 a night plus all the beer I could drink wasn’t going to work for me.”

He then went into electronics manufacturing (he founded the Minnetonka-based camera electronics company Vaddio)—and he’d always said that when he retired, he was going to open a record store. Last September, that finally came to pass as Sheely and his wife opened Mill City Sound and an adjoining antiques store; the record business quickly became such a success that the pair decided to close the antiques side of the operation and expand the record store.

“Business has been twice what we’d expected,” Sheely told me, saying that he’s had success both with new artists—he listens to The Current’s Chart Show and tries to stock the music that’s popular with our audience—and with classic acts with cult audiences, like Alex Chilton.

“Hey, what was that you were playing when I walked in?” said a customer, walking up to the counter with an armful of records. “It kind of sounded like R.L. Burnside.” Sheely produced a disc by the Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band, and the customer nodded approvingly.

“I walked in and I couldn’t believe it,” said the customer, Michael Deering. “Everything I see online that I want to buy, I find here.”

As Sheely tabulated his purchases, Deering explained that he’s been delighted by the vinyl resurgence—a movement that’s only gaining momentum, with vinyl sales growing 50% last year and record plants backed up with months’ worth of orders for pressings.

“I grew up on vinyl,” he said. “Then everything seemed to disappear. Suddenly everyone was buying CDs, and they’re like, ‘Ooh, was it recorded in DDD?'”

Sheely explained that the Hopkins space originally held a pharmacy and a hardware store, and that the building’s owner knocked down a wall and united the adjoining spaces in the 1950s. In addition to long racks of new and used LPs, Sheely stocks stereo equipment in a space towards the back of the store; downstairs in a basement are dozens of boxes of 45s, which will move upstairs as part of the store’s expansion.

As the shop expands, Sheely plans to display some of his rock memorabilia. He showed me an original How I Won the War poster, and an uncut sheet of 1964 Beatles trading cards; he also, he said, has an original Concert for Bangladesh poster signed by artists including George Harrison himself.

Among the store’s stock is a selection of classical music, and an extensive local music collection that includes an entire section of releases by artists associated with Prince. “Look at this!” said Andrea Swensson, lifting a record shaped like Prince’s signature glyph. Soon, her arms were filled with discoveries. In record stores, that just tends to happen.

  • Walt Dizzo

    Big fan of this shop! I always appreciate an owner that’ll spend hours chatting with you whether you spend $5 or $500

  • Guest

    How’s the Used section?

    • Butch Shin

      It’s great! I was able to find a rare 45 RPM pressing of Danforth Falconhurst’s “Nimbostratus”

  • Michael Deering

    Used section is solid, rotating and most of all MINTY!

  • Nam

    James was helping find all the records i need

    • bro

      Wow James helped you too!? Not only did James help me find what I was looking for, but thanks to his suggestions I ended up buying 5 extra records and I couldn’t be happier! What a hero!

      • Puigs

        James is the handsome devil that helped me find the Claude Debussy album that I needed to complete my collection. Nam r u ok?

        • Chez

          The collection is fairly deep and they’ll always order something for you if they don’t have it. I get all my new music from them and they’re always down to chat about music, especially James. He told me about Ariel Pink and Cherry Glazerr.

        • Mairy-o

          James is the man! Turned me on to some crazy new music.

    • Aaron Golden

      Yea, whoever is the boss there really needs to give James a solid raise… I myself can attest to him helping me find some excellent, rare records!

  • Yaguar Lones

    First time traveling to MN – decided to check out a record store to see how they compare back to those in Vermont. Mill City was the first one I came across and was not let down. Not only do they have a great selection of records, they have a used section with records in great condition. Also, I have to thank the staff members as they were really helpful and friendly, especially the gentleman named James. He went through a lot of trouble to help me find what I wanted and was actually quite an entertaining and interesting character. I’ll definitely pop by the next time I’m in the city. Good vibes.

    • Wow, my experience is very similar to this. I am really into The Ramones but a newbie when it comes to vinyl. James was very helpful for me as well- he was courteous, and just an overall cool dude. Thanks! o/

  • Walt Whuttington

    As and “old timer” who partied hard during the vinyl craze of the late 1970’s it sure is nice to see a brick and mortar record shop pop up in my neck of the woods! I’ve been buying records off of eBay for years paying exorbitant shipping fees to far off locales like Singapore and Florida, and frankly I’m fed up with it! I can’t wait to stop by and talk shop with the employees about the latest trends in music, be it proto-porto-punk, quasi-mathcore, epic doom metal, or vaporwave. I wish them ontinued success with the business, and hope that they can become a kick off point for local Minnesotan rtists.

    • M’uke Hawk

      the 70s were the best years ever.

  • Cookie Mirchandani

    We do not have many record stores in my native Pakistan. However, I have always had a great passion for vinyl records and the indie rock. While taking a visit in Minneapolis to see an old American friend from my university years, he took me to this store while showing me around. The selection is fantastic for western music. However, I must say that I was quite disappointed in the lack of Sindhi music. No Manzoor Sakhirani? Arshad Mehmood? All I could say was “mehrbani karay,” which of course in Sindhi means “please”. Thankfully, a nice gentleman named James was able to assist me in special ordering a few things that came in while I was in town. Thank you James.

    Great store, aside from the lack of non-Western music.

    • M’uke Hawk

      I agree.

  • João Moutinho

    We do not have many record stores in my native Portugal. However, I have always had a great passion for vinyl records and the indie rock. While taking a visit in Minneapolis to see an old American friend from my university years, he took me to this store while showing me around. The selection is fantastic for western music. However, I must say that I was quite disappointed in the lack of Portuguese music. No Tony Carreira? Xutos & Pontapés? All I could say was “por favor,” which of course in Portuguese means “please”. Thankfully, a nice gentleman named James was able to assist me in special ordering a few things that came in while I was in town. Thank you James.

    Great store, aside from the lack of Portuguese music.

    • assassinave

      Unfortunately many folks are not as diverse over here with their music tastes. I saw the diversity on the radio and in people’s collections in Europe when I lived there. Maybe they can corner the market on Portuguese music soon!

  • Yoo Suk Kim

    We do not have many record stores in my native South Korea. However, I have always had a great passion for vinyl records and the indie rock. While taking a visit in Minneapolis to see an old American friend from my university years, he took me to this store while showing me around. The selection is fantastic for western music. However, I must say that I was quite disappointed in the lack of Korean music. No Girl’s Generation? PSY? All I could say was “jaebal,” which of course in Korean means “please”. Thankfully, a nice gentleman named James was able to assist me in special ordering a few things that came in while I was in town. Thank you James.

    Great store, aside from the lack of Korean music.

  • M’uke Hawk

    This store gives off a euphoric atmosphere. It could use a tad more Debussy vinyls to make it a more dank store. James Cowart was an extreme gentlesir during my visit by helping me and my friend Stephen find what we needed. On top of that, his charisma and top tier jokes elicited many keks during my brief visit. 10/10 would visit again. I just hope Nam is ok next time. xD

  • M’uke Hawk

    This store gives off a euphoric atmosphere. It could use a tad more Debussy vinyls to make it a more dank store. James Cowart was an extreme gentlesir during my visit by helping me and my friend Stephen find what we needed. On top of that, his charisma and top tier jokes elicited many keks during my brief visit. 10/10 would visit again pls. I just hope Nam is ok next time. xD

  • dodgersbestteam

    james is an asshole. don’t be so rude next time

  • Danielle Dickins

    Hey its Danielle!!

    Might I add, this music shop is simply the best I’ve seen in the county.

    As a very enthusiastic juggalette, I was glad to see a fellow juggalo there at the store who helped me search for some records. We had matching temporary tattoos, and he even knew the entire Psychopathic records catalog by heart! I can’t wait to come back and spend more time with James ;)

  • Peach

    James was VERY helpful. Although then he started talking about paintball. I immediately had a seizure, and then he made a bleat sound like a goat. wat do?

  • Guest

    Hey, I’d like to thank you all for the recognition. I certainly can’t wait to help you guys find the best vinyls in music next time you all stop by! :)