Last week, Richard Vergez unexpectedly found himself dozens of feet in the air balancing on a narrow ledge. Underneath, car after car roared by on Federal Highway as he carefully wielded a paint roller. That was no big deal, though, compared to many other Herculean acts performed within a 48-hour period. Vergez, along with colleagues Mikey Ramirez, Jasper Delaini, Natalie Smallish and a motley crew of friends and volunteers, lifted an estimated six tons of records and other bric-a-brac to move Radio-Active Records to its new home.
Radio-Active itself represents a fiercely scrappy independent spirit in a
fiercely crappy time for the music industry in general -- and record
stores in particular. The store's move from Fort Lauderdale's Sunrise
Boulevard to new, dramatically more visible digs at 845 N. Federal
Highway is even more DIY. Over the past two weeks, the crew has hauled
crates and crates of records, renovated the new space's interior, and
even refurbished the exterior, with the only extra help coming from a
few dedicated volunteer customers. But rather than dwell on a bare-bones
budget, the can-do spirit of the move -- and the choice of location for
the store -- signals a renewed burst of energy both for Radio-Active and
its new neighborhood.
Radio-Active has already come a long way in the ten years since Ramirez, now the store's operations manager, started there as a sales associate. For one thing, it wasn't even Radio-Active -- it was the CD Collector, a smaller store among several. "There used to be a multitude of CD stores -- especially in Broward County, there were six or seven just in a two-mile radius from here," Ramirez recalls. As the competition dropped off, CD Collector retooled. With the help of Vergez's creative branding and design work, CD Collector became the expanded Radio-Active Records and shifted its focus toward vinyl, local music, and rarities.
Over the years, Radio-Active regulars have enjoyed the store's browsing-friendly vibe -- no High Fidelity-style snobbery -- when they could find it. The store was more or less hidden from street view and usually required complicated traffic maneuvers to reach at its original location in a Sunrise Boulevard strip mall. "At the end of the day, we were hidden, no matter how you look at it," Ramirez says. "People would say, 'It's one of the best-kept secrets in Fort Lauderdale,' but when it's your source of income, you don't want that. You want everybody to see you."
So as the final months of Radio-Active's lease dawned, owner Sean Kayes and the staff collectively agreed it was time to move. "We looked for about five months. We thought about Oakland Park, but then we decided to go south on U.S. 1," Vergez says. Dramatically cheaper rents and a funkier vibe beckoned, but a string of potential storefronts fell through.
"I was just driving home one day, on one of those days where I felt kind of defeated," Ramirez says. "I was driving down U.S. 1, and I saw this, went in, called, set up an appointment... And at the end of the day, they made it very easy to make the transition." The store signed a five-year lease with a five-year option -- meaning each year it has the option to move -- but another move seems highly unlikely.
That's because Radio-Active serves to anchor a budding strip of independent retailers and venues already in the area, including Babylon Tattoo and an upcoming vintage store. A few bays down is a vintage videogame dealer that's rumored to be opening a public arcade, and the bar Laser Wolf and the exhibition/performance space the Bubble are within walking distance. "It seems a little more culturally inclined than, say, a location on Oakland Park Boulevard next to a Little Caesar's pizza," says Vergez.
He and Ramirez have also worked together to make a few modernizing changes to the store's look. Though the square footage is about the same as the old Radio-Active space, the layout boasts less dead space, with racks now rearranged to accommodate much more product. A stage for in-store performances will again feature prominently but has been made more artist-friendly by being built lower to the ground and behind the front windows, perhaps to entice more passersby. Gone is the old track lighting, but remaining is the minimalist, clean look and signage inspired by Peter Saville and Manchester's old Hacienda club.
Another new boon to the store is that Radio-Active has now been accepted as a member of the Alliance of Independent Music Stores. In a nutshell, this allows the store a better deal with distributors that lets it stock product without paying for it up-front. This means a more diverse selection for customers. It also means a nifty, new, Alliance-supplied station that allows you to scan the barcode of any item in the store and listen to it before you buy.
Radio-Active's move has garnered so much enthusiasm that the bands performing at the store's grand reopening party Saturday actually approached the store themselves. "[Our drummer Mario] drives up over the weekend to buy records and just loiter for hours," says Michael Lee, guitarist of Little Beard, which will perform alongside Luma Junger and Möthersky. "We've wanted to play because they're huge supporters and they've been nothing but nice to us."
Besides all of these positives, Ramirez stresses that everything customers liked about the old Radio-Active will remain. "At the end of the day, it's the same store with the same people," he says. "Now there's more product, and it's easier to get to."
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Radio-Active Records' Grand Reopening Party. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, November 5, at Radio-Active Records, 845 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Bands include Little Beard, Luma Junger, and Möthersky and start at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Call 954-762-9488, or click here.