By Jeff Maisey
Newport News pop culture shop Fantasy, whose tagline accurately describes “From the Unique to the Bizarre,” is celebrating its 30th anniversary this week. In a time when internet sales have decimated retail, Fantasy continues to flourish. We recently caught up with owner Mitch Kirsner to learn more about his secret to success.
- What has been key to your success over the past 30 years?
Sometimes I wonder how successful I have been? Despite 30 years in business I still don’t have a house on the water and can’t go to Europe on vacation every year, but I have kept Fantasy going for 30 years while I have watched all the other record stores come and go. At Fantasy the prices have always been lower than at other independent stores in the area and we ALWAYS go out of our way to special order or carry the items our customers have asked us to carry.
- What changes have you experienced in that time?
The business climate has changed completely over the course of 30 years, especially in the music industry. At one time all the record companies would send copies of CDs to play at the store and merchandise to give away in customer promotions. Out of town bands would drop in when they were in the area. We never hear from any of the record companies anymore with only a couple exceptions, old school labels that still appreciate their retail clients. They are disappearing quickly. Instead of focusing on bringing in new music (we still do though) at Fantasy we concentrate on buying-selling-and trading CDs and LPs so we can sell music for even less that downloading. Top selling items come and go as well. A few years ago we were selling a pile of pewter statues. They gave way to resin statues. Neither is that popular now.
- Has the renewed interest in vinyl been good for business?
I have expanded our vinyl selection in the past 5 years from a few 100 new LPs to thousands of new AND vintage LPs. Fantasy is currently selling as much or more vinyl than compact discs, and where CD prices keep dropping, vinyl keeps going up. Record Store Day in May and on Black Friday has turned into a major event at Fantasy!
- What are your top selling items today?
That’s a trade secret but we do well with vaporizers and e-cigarette supplies, martial arts, and gemstones.
- How has online retail impacted your business and what has been your strategy to overcome it?
Online retail is devastating to small businesses. I combat it by buying the best quality unbranded items I can find, and even order direct from overseas. By being original, constantly finding the best and most original merchandise I can, and picking the items that customers would rather see in person we do the best we can.
- You have videoed so many local bands and concerts over the years. When did you start?
Geez, that was over 30 years ago but to the best of my memory it was a Hampton Bay Days show with whatever reincarnation of Rare Earth was touring at the time. I could have done better but I was filming from a bicycle and I had to stay with the bike because I had forgotten a key and lock. Here’s a link, it’s not very good but it’s received over 160,000 views.
- What is your favorite band of all time and why?
I really can’t even begin to answer this and in 5 minutes I’d change my mind. I have a short attention span so it would be whatever band I’m listening to at the time. I’m listening to that Rare Earth song right now, so…..
- What was the best concert you’ve ever seen?
Tom Waits at The Beacon in NYC on the Get Behind the Mule Tour, I think it was ’96.I met his father in law and manager. Bon Jovi was sitting in the row in front of me, Liam Neeson came walking down the aisle, Paul McCartney slipped into a seat across the aisle from me. The show was awesome, it was the first time I had ever seen Waits perform, over the next 15 years I would travel as far as Vancouver to see him again.
- If you could join any band, which would it be?
Geez is there any band for geriatrics? I’m an old fart now, but if I was younger I’d have to front my own. Otherwise a high-energy band like the Pogues or Gogol Bordello.
- Can you tell us one thing most people do not know about you?
People seem to know a lot more about me than even I know…..