RACINE — Kevin Conrad smiles as he looks at the makeup-covered face of KISS front man Gene Simmons, printed on the jacket for his 1978 self-titled album. At age 9, “Gene Simmons” became the first album Conrad ever owned.
Thirty-nine years later, Conrad has more than 20,000.
About 4,000 of Conrad’s albums are on display in his record store, Harbor PC Music, 3208 Washington Ave., with another 16,000 stacked floor to ceiling in the basement.
Conrad opened the record store in West Racine in 2016. He already owned the storefront; it had been a photo studio, but that had stopped being profitable. Half the building’s floor space is still dedicated to his PC repair business, which has been going strong for more than a decade.
“I’ve never quit playing records. I’ve always had records. I’ve always had turntables,” Conrad said, laughing about how he still hasn’t acquiesced to using Spotify or any other music-streaming services. “I’ve always wanted to have a record store, ever since I was a kid.”
For sale, you can find a “Star Trek” single, “The Breakfast Club” soundtrack, a sprinkling of CDs, an album dedicated to the “All in the Family” sitcom and the audio musings of shock rocker Marilyn Manson.
In the front window, a Grateful Dead LP sits alongside “Eazy-Duz-It” by N.W.A. rapper Eazy-E. There’s also a retro jukebox and posters of the band Creed and the Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie.
Inside, there are more than 1,000 classical albums. On the opposite wall, there’s jazz and R&B. And there’s also plenty of hard rock, pop and country music.
Heavy metal is the bestselling genre for Conrad. As for artists, Johnny Cash might be the fastest-selling one, especially among young people, somewhat surprisingly. Less surprisingly, The Beatles are also a fan favorite.
“I’ve learned a lot about the bands, the musicians, their backgrounds (since opening the store),” Conrad said. “Every day I learn something. I’ve learned an incredible amount about music in general.”
‘Wacky’ stuff required
The true test for how good a record store is, according to Conrad, is the variety.
If you don’t have “wacky stuff” — like the life-size John Wayne cutout on the doorway, or the fishbowl full of stickers, or the 3,000 hip-hop singles, or the cabinet of cassettes — you aren’t doing it right.
Conrad has a small tattoo on his hand of a 45-RPM adapter, a plastic insert that allows the smaller records to be played on traditional turntables. It’s a sign of the 48-year-old’s dedication to all things old school.
“I have a turntable junkyard,” Conrad joked, referring to all of the equipment he has for sale. “I have just about every needle for every stereo out there in stock. I have most of the belts for tape machines and record players.”
A lot of the merchandise for sale comes from donations and reselling used products that customers have brought into the shop.
“Every single day, without fail, people bring more in through the door,” Conrad said. “I’ll buy anything if I think I can make a buck.”
He knows that selling all 20,000 albums in the building is a pipe dream, especially because West Racine hasn’t been bustling with foot traffic as of late.
“Half the storefronts are empty. We’re in a transitional point for this neighborhood,” Conrad said. “A lot of these records, I’ll die with them.”
But he loves the collection, and he loves the music. The store is a passion project. And so long as he can keep it open, he plans to.
If nothing else, the love for music has been passed down to Conrad’s daughter, Amanda. She’s been working in record stores before her dad ever owned one.
“I’ve been doing this longer than him,” the 17-year-old bragged.