Laura and Dave Hoenack could not have picked a more precarious time to buy a record store.
The year was 2009, at the height of the real estate crisis and recession. Dave, a special ed teacher, and Laura, who worked in school administration, didn’t have any retail or business experience to speak of, and their personal lives were already at capacity: they had a one-year-old child at home and Laura was eight months pregnant with their second, and Dave was still grieving the sudden loss of both his brother and childhood friend, who died within a week of one another in 2008.
Despite all odds seemingly stacked against them, something told the two of them that it was the exact right moment to purchase Hymie’s Vintage Records, then a two-decade-old record store on East Lake Street, and dive into a new life feet-first.
“It was like we couldn’t be normal people after that,” Dave remembered, sitting next to Laura at a vintage diner booth in the middle of their record store last week. “Being able to be your own boss at that time in our lives was sort of liberating. And it gave me something to do instead of being upset or angry — it gave me a place to put all that emotion.”
Soon, Dave and Laura were practically living at the record store — “I think of this as an extension of our living room,” Laura said, glancing down at their Boston Terrier, Irene, sawing logs beneath the table — and pouring every ounce of their energy into caring for the inventory, papering the walls with memorabilia, and creating a space where everyone from audiophiles to casual music fans and neighborhood friends could feel at home.
Hymie’s Vintage Records was first opened in 1988 by Jim “Hymie” Peterson, whose legacy still looms large at the store. When Peterson passed away in 2000, two of his employees, Julie Wellman and Auralee Likes, kept it going in his memory until putting it up for sale in 2008; Laura and Dave are the third ownership team to oversee the store.
Although it was a tumultuous time in their own lives, the Hoenacks bought Hymie’s around the beginning of the vinyl resurgence, and their old-school approach dovetailed nicely with their customers’ desires over the past decade. Within the first year, they to moved an estimated 72 tons of records (!) five blocks down East Lake Street to a new location, setting up shop in a larger space adjacent to Blue Moon Coffee. They created one of the most popular Record Store Day events with their annual block party, hosted countless bands on their permanent indoor stage, and even launched a small record label in 2014 to issue new releases by some of their favorite local artists.
And all the while they’ve become a fixture on their block on East Lake Street, which has transformed dramatically over the past several years with the addition of the hip Hi-Lo Diner and a new grocery store. Rather than chase after hard-to-find collectors’ pieces or shiny Record Store Day releases, they’ve kept their inventory broad and accessible, providing endless crates full of affordable pieces that can appeal to literally every kind of listener.
“Dave’s always been more of a record collector than I was — and you often see this dynamic when people are shopping together,” Laura said. “There’s one person who loves shopping [for records] and one person who is super bored. So we wanted to do for record stores what Barnes and Noble did for bookstores — a coffee shop next door, things to look at, books to read, I sell my knitting. There’s all these things to do. I think we’ve been really successful with that.”
The longer Dave and Laura talk, the more that their love of the space they’ve created becomes apparent. They speak about their customers with tenderness, and look around to the various bins and posters on the wall with starry eyes. So why then, after nearly a decade of running their dream store, are the Hoenacks putting Hymie’s up for sale?
“There’s no such thing as a week off when you run a shop,” Laura explained.
“The goal was to spend time with our kids when they were small, and to really have the option to be stay-at-home parents,” Dave added. “Now that the kids are big and fairly independent, we’re constrained in another way — I can’t just take them up to Moose Lake or Wild River and go camping.”
They have dreams of taking family vacations together, something that’s been impossible to do when one of them always needs to be at the store. And they hope to find a buyer who will love Hymie’s as much as they do.
“We never had the intention of doing this forever,” Dave said. “I often am reminded that you don’t really own your record collection; you’re just taking care of it for a while.”
They’ve quietly approached a few people they think might be interested, and now they’re casting out a wider net and putting the word out that they are looking for a serious buyer.
“There’s a huge record-collecting community in the Twin Cities. Anyone who takes over the store is going to have a lot of fun and have a really solid customer base,” Laura said. “Yeah, it’s changed over the last 10 years that we’ve owned it, but a lot of folks come in and say they used to come when Hymie was alive and that it still feels like Hymie’s. So I feel like there’s definitely something that will stay the same, no matter what.”