As the doors opened at Music Millennium on the Ides of March (March 15), 1969, the times they were definitely a-changin’.
The quiet corner of SE 32nd and Burnside St. had, over the years, housed a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, ARCO Electric, the Smith Drug Store and Hollywood Casual, a women’s boutique. Yet, when Don MacLeod, his wife Laureen and music stalwarts Dan and Patty Lissy opened Millennium, the store was here to stay.
MacLeod was an Intel guy, who wanted something more. Portland’s music market was stodgy, to say the least, with occasional chain stores and record areas of department stores but nary a Soft Machine LP to be found.
MacLeod chose to rack most everything that could not be found elsewhere. With a head shop parked next door, the corner became the place to be, the place to buy and the place to meet others with alternative music interests.
By 1971, Music Millennium had expanded and moved to the corner (its present location) adding its own head shop, The Upper, and expanding the available music selection to include a vast array of imports, especially from lesser known English and European artists and the music heard on Portland’s new ‘underground’ FM music stations KBOO and KINK.
By 1979, the store had expanded its floor plan, installed a stereo store, and added the Classical Millennium wing in the same building. At that point, MacLeod wanted a personal change, and sold the business to start a fruit and nut orchard in Clark County, only to save his store from bankruptcy and assume a half million-dollar debt five years later.
That year MacLeod received a job application from a young man who had already been working for record stores for seven years and was enthusiastic about selling from a much more diverse selection of music.
Terry Currier was hardly aware of pop music before he got his first car equipped with a radio, though he did play clarinet in his high school band. He had grown up a true outdoorsy kid from Vancouver, spending his free time camping and hiking.
Tuning in to Vancouver’s AM station KVAN, he began to haunt local record stores, working as a buyer and store manager at DJ’s Sound City, Jantzen Beach, and Washington Square and Tape Town–absorbing knowledge and music trivia that McLeod recognized as the perfect fit for his own store. Currier was hired, and eventually became operations manager, buyer, advertising/personnel director and later, full time partner.
“At the time,” Currier recalls “We were going to add a micro brewery, which would have been great in retrospect, because we all know you can’t download your favorite beer from the Internet!”
Although it took many years to turn the business around, Millennium took on the mantle of the music store with the savviest and most helpful sales staff in the NW, where one could find or order nearly anything local, national or international that piqued the interest. More Jazz and Blues titles were stocked, and the store embraced changes in Rock, Punk and Alternative bands.
They sponsored a successful series of in-store performances and “meet and greet appearances” by a long list of bands and solo artists including: Richard Thompson, Loreena McKennitt, Blue Rodeo, Shonen Knife, Matthew Sweet, Soundgarden, Sheryl Crow, Everclear, Jewel, Little Feat, Black Eyed Peas, Sons of Champlin and Cheap Trick to name but a few. Randy Newman had his first and only in-store right there on Burnside as did Keith Emerson and Joe Strummer.
Currier’s vision drew national notice: NARM’s “Best Small-Sized Store”, “Best Medium-Sized Store”, and is a three-time winner of The Album Network’s “Indie Retailer Of The Year” and the Portland Music Association’s Crystal Award.
The store spawned its own record label, Burnside Records, in the 1990’s with a re-recording of Johnny and the Distractions’ LP, Octane Twilight, and then released albums by John Fahey, Kelly Joe Phelps, Duffy Bishop, Lloyd Jones, Alice Stuart, Mick Clarke and this author too. A second label, Sideburn, featured Tommy Womack and the Small Faces’ Ronnie Lane.
In order to keep up with the distribution of these titles, Currier and former Mesa/Blue Moon exec Bill McNally, created BDC Distribution which continues to handle over 3,000 titles from 600 different labels.
When founder MacLeod, passed away in 1995, Currier acquired the business along with the store’s long time accountant, Donna Cleaver. In these last seventeen years, the music business has changed so drastically that few could have imagined the downturn in physical record sales and changes in formats, closure of record chains like Tower and Strawberries and more. Through it all, the store has continued to innovate and expand on its simple retail store format.
These days, Millennium hosts a monthly Songwriter’s Circle (that features Jack McMahon, John Bunzow and Jon Koonce on November 5) and in-store performances tally 300 per year.
The Classical storefront has recently been merged into the main store, and Millennium’s Vinyl Room is in its place, filled with collectors and young Indie music enthusiasts alike reflecting the current spike in vinyl sales, up 37% in the last two years.
Their annual Customer Appreciation Day has become a citywide event, featuring live music in the back parking lot, free drinks and barbeque. (Currier began the event as the “Garth Brooks CD Bar-B-Que” when the singer threatened to cut Millennium out of future deliveries if they re-sold used CD’s. Brooks’ attempts failed and the store’s used CD’s offer the best selection in the Northwest.)
With an active, informative website, store employees provide a broad knowledge of the music available just as the younger Currier learned from browsing thousands of record covers back in 1972. As he says, “I just do what I do. Music drives me to do it.”
Music Millennium is a Portland cultural mecca. One can hear music at a listening post, track down rare records, CD’s, (even cassette tapes) of every possible genre, including from our local music scene, which has always been fully supported here plus a full array of “Keep Portland Weird” stuff that originated at the store.
As the store enters its 44th year and Currier celebrates his 40th year, he continues to work so many aspects of the music business.
At Millennium, one can always find a smiling face, information on just about every musical release available and live music every other day of the week.