Meet Lindsay Cates, the Manager and Buyer for Stinkweeds, a new and used record store in Phoenix, AZ that has been in business since 1987. The shop was started by Kimber Lanning at just 19 years old, and they pride themselves on helping customers find music they love. As you’ll read Lindsay does just that; she has become a fixture there after two decades, and you can really tell she loves what she does. Stinkweeds has been on our list of shops to highlight for awhile, its longevity, and community ethos as a women run business is definitely something to learn from and aspire to.
When Lindsay isn’t at work, live music is a huge part of her life. She loves the intimate nature of seeing bands in small spaces, that rewarding and emotional experience which unfortunately for all has been so interrupted. She also plays bass in a few bands, which pre-COVID kept her busy most nights. In a non-musical world, she’s usually outside hiking, playing tennis, camping or obsessing over dogs!
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
I’ve always been a music head. I started playing in bands as a teenager, worked college radio, then moved home and got my feet wet running sound and working with bands at Modified Arts, an all ages music venue. It seemed like an obvious next step, to work on the front lines of retail. I started working at Zia Records for a few years and then got hired on at Stinkweeds in 1999. I loved it and have stuck with it for the past 22 years!
What is a day in the life like?
So much of what I do is behind the scenes, even though I’m in the shop working the counter 5-6 days a week. My mornings usually start with a few hours on email, securing product for pre-orders, orders, more orders. Then it’s time to jump on social media. Finding new and exciting ways to promote things on social media is fun and probably one of the single most important things of this job right now. In addition to in-store shopping, we sell quite a lot on Instagram, our webstore and Discogs. I also work with a lot of labels on giveaway promotions. It’s always awesome to be able to give away killer promo items, like a Mastodon BBQ set, a Tom Petty Coffee Mug and playing cards, A Gorillaz hoodie, tons of autographed merch, concert tickets, etc. Next, it’s time to open the shop and interact with customers all day, which is the best part. I feel super lucky to work in a retail environment with the best customers!
We usually get restock and new releases orders in daily, so there’s always something to check in, and tons of special orders to tend to. Used buying is a whole other monster of fun and adventure. When I first started working in the shop, pre-internet, and before the vinyl resurgence, using buying was so basic. With a broad enough knowledge of music, you could price stuff based on condition and how well it would sell. Now, we have to look up basically everything single LP that comes in for pricing. Values are changing on an almost daily basis now. After closing up shop, it’s more ordering, social media and building the new release mailer! Definitely looking forward to booking in-stores and events at the shop once the pandemic subsides.
What has been your favorite sale / relationship made from behind the counter?
Hmm, this is a tough one. I often wish I would have started that notebook I always said I should have years ago to remember all the good stuff. Some of my favorite sales are based around parent-child relationships. Especially when adult children put a lot of thought and intention into buying something they think their parents will be into. We once sold a Butcher Cover to a young woman who was buying it for her dad!
In your opinion what has been the coolest thing to come through your shop / the thing you had to keep / almost couldn’t put out for sale?
There have been sooooo many coolest things! One of the great things about Stinkweeds is that we don’t hoard stuff or keep stuff for ourselves. 99% of all inventory gets put out on the floor for our customers. It’s something owner Kimber Lanning has instilled since the get-go. Cool shit always comes though, if you want it badly enough, it’ll probably come through again. After doing it long enough, you still appreciate seeing the cool stuff but it’s often more fun to let it go and bring immense joy to someone else. I will say, during the COVID chaos, when we were closed to the public for a few weeks, we cleaned and sorted through old crates and found some cool ass shit we’ve been incubating since we moved locations 17 years ago. There was some killer first pressing punk and hardcore 7″s from the 80s and 90s we got to sell! “Warehouse find!!”
What has been the craziest experience that has happened at the shop?
Uhhhhh. COVID. Anyone who floated and re-invented a small business during COVID deserves a lifetime of gold medals and stars, hugs and endless pats on the back. I taught myself so many things I never thought possible. We went from having basically no e-commerce to being able to sell a huge amount of inventory online, which completely saved the store during the first few months of COVID. Two other co-workers and I pivoted and went hard.
Alongside the constant paranoia of everyone I know and care about getting sick, I was trying to reinvent new ways of doing things every waking hour of the day. We were operating an online store, a full-on mail order situation, local deliveries, in-store appointment shopping, curbside pick up and tons and tons of phone sales. It was scary for sure but it was a sink or swim situation. We never took a single day off. Those who were able to rise to the occasion gained so much more than could have ever been imagined. It was like we went from having one store to three, it was intense, and the outcome has been amazing.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
Wanna work at the record store? Start hanging out there! If it feels comfortable in there, get to know the staff. The best part of the record shop is the people who run it. I hung out at Stinkweeds in high school, before I could drive. The clerks and Kimber were so kind, respectful, smart and welcoming. It was a true anomaly, a total gem! I hope it still is!
Digest as much as you can about music. ALL MUSIC. Read books, watch music documentaries, listen, listen listen! One thing I pride Stinkweeds on is how eclectic the store has become. The shop is only 900 sq/ft but it is PACKED with everything. The store started out as a highly specialized hub of indie, shoegaze, industrial, punk and imports. We now serve every single kind of taste; indie, metal, dance, boogie, country, hip hop and everything in between. The goal is to make every listener feel welcome and excited to explore.
My job is highly detail oriented. There are tons of spreadsheets, emails and orders to keep track of, and even more cracks for things disappear into. It’s also messy and physical, which I really like. If you don’t mind digging through mold and grime, carrying heavy crates, boxes, staying on top of a library of spreadsheets and email, and maintaining relationships with labels and distros, this job is for you!
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
Yes absolutely, though after working record retail for 25 years, I’ve slowed down with collecting. I’m more into listening to the music than having the exclusive version. But I have a ton of 90s shoegaze and indie rock. (Blonde Redhead, Unwound, Dinosaur Jr, Idaho, Low, Slowdive, Codeine, Rex, Sea and Cake etc). One thing for sure is, a lot of the FOMO going on right now that I encounter is a huge turn off for me. Dealing with grown men who lose their shit over not getting a certain color, usually makes me just want the black version even more. Just sayin…
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Allocations and securing product! Most of this is COVID-related. There is so much demand and the supply chain is kinked up in so many places. When not at the counter, I spend most of my time trying to stay on top of ordering. It’s a shame, the amount of killer catalog titles we could be selling to first-time vinyl buyers. We try to explain the situation to them… that we will get the title they’re looking for back in and it will be priced far more reasonably than the prices they’re seeing on the internet. We hope they understand and come back. It’s such a tricky time right now. We have so many new customers that are experiencing the record store for the very first time. It feels like now’s our chance! We gotta convince ’em the Record Store serves a purpose, one the internet can’t!
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
I’m trying to stay positive about this post-pandemic surge of interest in vinyl, but a lot of what I’m seeing with pricing is scary. So many of the major labels are pricing records higher and higher, which is such a slippery slope that is going to be hard to recover from. We are selling so many $35+ records to teenagers. Now is the time to get first-time vinyl buyers excited about collecting. Pricing customers out, right off the bat isn’t sustainable.
The other aspect of the price gouge issue is the outrageously inflated online auction prices. You’ll see titles online for 5-6 times what they should be. And these are items that are still in print! It’s just that no one can get them because the re-presses are months-out at the plant. People are assuming stuff is out of print and paying way too much. I’m worried this will drive people to shop online more, thinking you can only get certain titles there, and will mess up the overall value of records.
Hopefully once the supply chain gets caught up, we’ll all be filling our bins with reasonably priced copies of Talking Heads and Misfits and Velvet Underground and Radiohead and Father John Misty and Nirvana and Rolling Stones and Phoebe Bridgers and Japanese Breakfast and you get the point. We can only hope and pray the new vinyl fans will still be around and willing to come back to the store at that point.
During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?
If you like a band, buy their records! If you like a record store, buy your favorite band’s records at your favorite record store. As I said above, your local shop may not have the version of the record you’re looking for, but I bet they have the record.
Black vinyl is cool. It always has been and it often sounds better. I’d love for people to worry less about bent corners and variants and more about focusing on their passion for great music and the wonderful community working hard behind the scenes to put it out.
Tell me what you’re listening to:
Music is all about mood for me. There is a ton of incredible stuff out right now. I love spazzy stuff like Squid, new classic country like Charley Crockett, I’m also really into new ones from Shame, Cedric Burnside, Cochemea, Cory Hanson, Flock of Dimes, Hiss Golden Messenger, Reigning Sound, Floating Points + Pharoah Sanders, Bachelor…and tons more!
Stinkweeds Records: @stinkweedsrecords