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Record Store Day profiles: Bullseye and Acme Records

The interior of a small record store with long rows of albums in bins, and CDs and cassette tapes on shelves.
Brett Krzykowski
Bullseye Records' décor isn't elaborate but certainly fits the name.

Stepping into Bullseye Records, I got the distinct feeling most customers don’t walk through the door with browsing in mind; they’re there to hunt.

Sure, you’re perfectly welcome to take my approach, lazily flipping through the bins looking for a run-of-the-mill release from an old favorite or a new discovery. But the East Side store’s impressive selection of pre-owned albums seems geared toward the collectors — the people desperately searching for a particular pressing of a beloved (or valuable) album.

Curating an inventory like that requires an almost-bottomless well of knowledge. Milwaukee record-store veteran and Bullseye owner Luke Lavin is good there. But you gotta know people as well as pressings to keep a shop going and customers coming. Based on a social post Lavin shared earlier this week, he seems all set on that front, too.

Long story short: Two people came to Bullseye with a bunch of albums they wanted to donate and asked Lavin to look through them first. It turns out they had treasure in the mix: a “gorgeous copy” of Buddy Holly’s debut LP.

The far more financially advantageous thing to do would’ve been to flip right past it without batting an eye. Instead, Lavin pointed out what they had on their hands, paid them for the almost-donation and put it in the shop window, thus guaranteeing a successful conclusion to some unknown person’s desperate search.

Simple decency like that fits Bullseye’s straightforwardness. The store on Irving Place just off Farwell isn’t flashy or ostentatious. The concentric circles painted around the clock on the back wall are pretty cool, and the replica of Nipper the RCA dog is a thoughtful touch (unless it’s a replica of a regular dog, which is still cool because dogs). But the focus is squarely on the albums and CDs and tapes, and it’ll remain there on Record Store Day.

I asked what the store had planned for Saturday and got a quick gesture to the boxes of inventory behind the counter with a one-sentence schedule of events: “We’ll set up some tables outside so people can look through everything.” Nothing about pop-up concerts or DJs or giveaways — simple and straightforward.

Sounds like optimal hunting conditions.

— Brett Krzykowski, web editor

Acme Records

This Bay View staple has been around since 2012. But owner Ken Chrisien’s record-store bona fides go back even further. The longtime collector and WMSE DJ spent many years behind the counter at Bullseye Records (aka Farwell Music) on the East Side while simultaneously building a collection that numbered in the thousands by the time he officially opened Acme’s doors at 2341 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Today, you’ll usually find Chrisien behind the counter at Acme accompanied by his dog, Gertie, surrounded by walls and well-kept wooden bins full of treasures.

Something cool is always on the shop’s main turntable and speakers, but of course there’s a listening station set up in the window just in case you want to check out something on headphones. And you will. The store is wall-to-wall vinyl of all genres, new to old, 7-inch to LP — and all of it is worthy of consideration.

Chrisien has often remarked that vinyl appeals to him in a very hands-on, visual way, and Acme really opens up that experience to everyone. From showcasing special “Records of the Day” and “Records of the Week” to the way you can easily get into a conversation with Chrisien about what you’re considering purchasing (or definitely plunking money down for), it’s a tactile-oriented, unhurried and enjoyable experience.

Acme’s owner doubled as decorator, creating a truly warm space using reclaimed wood and building a performance space to host intimate in-store sessions. National artists like William Tyler, Mary Lattimore and Marisa Anderson have all graced the Acme stage, along with a handful of local artists.

With its air of hominess, one might be surprised to learn Chrisien rents the building that houses Acme — a business arrangement that has resulted in some hard times (especially recently) courtesy of rainwater leaking through the roof and into the Acme space. Recent photos shared by Chrisien show an abundance of tarps protecting the majority of Acme’s collection. In any normal year, getting ready for Record Store Day is a big job. This year, it’s monstrous.

But Chrisien doesn’t want the situation to wash out the day’s festivities, which this year includes DJ sets from Katie Rose, Armando Velazquez, Sahan Jayasuriya, Stephen Strupp, Eric Mildew and Mike Mildew. He also lined up a live performance from Nathaniel Heuer (Hello Death, Group of the Altos), who will play songs from the Blight Record Project.

As of this writing, Chrisien is still hopeful everything will come together so he can open as planned Saturday. For updates, head to Acme’s Facebook page.

— Erin Wolf, 88Nine music director

88Nine Music Director / On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee